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STANFORD, Calif. – David Shaw has answered questions about Stanford's ability to remain a football powerhouse since he succeeded Jim Harbaugh as coach in January 2011, and the debate fires up any time his team begins to slide.
The "outside noise," as Shaw calls it, might be at the loudest level of his tenure.
The Cardinal's third loss of the season — a 26-10 defeat at Arizona State last Saturday — took the program out of The Associated Press poll for the first time since 2010, ending a school-record 72 weeks in the rankings. Some are wondering where the program is headed, and others are criticizing Shaw's schemes.
With the two-time defending Pac-12 champions at another crossroads, Shaw is trying to remind everybody that all is not lost. Stanford (4-3, 2-2) still controls its destiny in the North Division — needing to win its final five games to reach the conference championship game — and is focused first on facing Oregon State (4-2, 1-2) on Saturday.
"The sky is falling every single year," Shaw said. "Coaches and players don't do that. Fans can do that. Talking heads can do that. We go back to work and we try to solve our problems."
There's no shortage of those right now on The Farm.
Stanford has the conference's lowest scoring offense (24 points per game) and has committed more turnovers (14) than any team in the league. Kevin Hogan has been inconsistent at quarterback and the power running game that was once a staple has evaporated.
Most of the struggles are due to a young offensive line showing more holes than it's opening, and the running backs have been nowhere near as punishing as Toby Gerhart, Stepfan Taylor or Tyler Gaffney before them. Playmakers such as Ty Montgomery, Kelsey Young and Barry Sanders are getting less room to roam as a result.
"What's really eating me is, with the personnel we have, there's no reason to score 10 points against anybody we play," Shaw said.
Shaw shouldered the blame for the offense's ineptitude and promised to make dramatic changes, though he said a complete overhaul is not necessary — and a quarterback change is not even being considered. Without mentioning specifics, he said he has to maximize his players' skills better and take a different approach to move the ball.
"There's a lot of criticism of our offense, and I deserve it," Shaw said.
The defense is giving up a league-low 12.3 points per game and has been good enough to win, Shaw said. But, he said, the offense's struggles have put more pressure on everybody — citing Montgomery's muffed punt against Arizona State as one example of the team's best assets trying to do too much.
Cornerback Alex Carter finally admitted as much. He said the defense feels like it has to take more chances to create turnovers with the offense continuing to struggle.
"Interceptions are what we're after right now," Carter said. "I feel like we've been doing our job, we've been doing like the minimal of what we can do. But in order to really get to that next step, we have to really start pushing."
Shaw said the team's goal — winning a Pac-12 title — has not changed, and he doesn't need to remind his players that they still have the opportunity to reach the conference championship game.
If anything, Shaw said, the criticism from some fans and media over three losses shows how far his alma mater has come.
"The silver lining to that is we've created a program where everybody has high expectations," Shaw said. "That's not a negative thing. It's not. It feels like it when you don't reach those expectations. For us, we have high expectations on our own that we're trying to meet."
NOTES: Shaw said NT David Parry (leg) is doubtful and WR Devon Cajuste (undisclosed injury) is "questionable leading to probable" to play against Oregon State. ... Harrison Phillips and Nate Lohn are expected to play more on the defensive line in Parry's absence. ... Shaw said RG Johnny Caspers has played well enough to keep his starting spot but Brendon Austin will get more opportunities to play at the position.
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP