Sept. 18, 2010
STANFORD, Calif. - Quarterback Andrew Luck’s 52-yard touchdown run typified Stanford’s 68-24 rout of Wake Forest on Saturday night.
“There were probably five different points where I thought, ‘should I slide here, should I slide here,’” Luck said.
He didn’t, and Stanford didn’t. They hardly faltered throughout the nonconference contest before 39,016 at Stanford Stadium and an national-television audience of insomniacs watching on ESPN2.
It was one of those games where just about everything worked. Take Luck, for instance. In eight possessions, he led eight touchdown drives. Eight! In 34 minutes!
“He played a flawless game,” Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said of his quarterback’s 17-of-23, four-touchdown performance.
So, did the rest of the No. 19 Cardinal in improving 3-0 by totaling 155 points – the most for its first three games since 1923. And the 68 points were the most since the then-Indians put the same number on the board against San Jose State.
Beyond that, Stanford welcomed the returns of receiver Chris Owusu, who had two touchdown catches, and linebacker Shayne Skov, who had four tackles, from injury. The only negative was the status of starting receiver Ryan Whalen, who did not return after suffering an apparent injury in the first quarter, though he walked off the field.
Facing a triple option attack, Harbaugh was concerned about preparing for an offense the team rarely sees, and doing so in only five days. But the Stanford three-man front line of Brian Bulcke, Sione Fua, and Matt Masifilo dominated the Wake Forest line.
“Fua and them were really knocking people back,” Harbaugh said. “That was big, because they like to pull either tackle. But they couldn’t because our line was pushing them into the backfield.”
On the other side, Cardinal ballcarriers combined for 303 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. Altogether, Stanford piled up 535 offensive yards.
The game had a unique feel to it in other ways. Stanford arrived in all black uniforms – black jerseys and pants – for the first time in history. It was the first time Stanford did not wear cardinal-colored jerseys for a home game since the team wore white in the 1971 Big Game.
Harbaugh said the team had them already, but without a specific date to use them. The players had asked for them, but were surprised when the coach told them Wednesday that they were to be unveiled.
No word on whether they will be used again.
Another oddity: Kickoff was at 8:25 p.m. Back in Winston-Salem, N.C., that’s 11:25 p.m. By the time the game ended, the time was 2:37 a.m. ET.
In the beginning, it was a game. Luck went 5-for-5 on Stanford’s opening drive before hitting Owusu on the first of his two touchdown catches – this one from eight yards.
But Wake Forest (2-1) matched Stanford with an 80-yard scoring drive pushed along by a roughing the passer penalty tacked to a 21-yard pass play. Chris Givens scored two plays later on a 22-yard misdirection end-around play to tie the game, 7-7.
But Stanford struck back immediately. Redshirt freshman Usua Amanam returned the kickoff 60 yards to the Wake Forest 38.
Stanford ran two plays, both with a hurry-up offense. The first was a three-yard gain by Stepfan Taylor. The next a deep pass to Chris Owusu, who was wide open down the right sideline. Owusu caught the ball at the goal-line as he was hit, but completed the play for the first two-touchdown game of his Stanford career.
A Chase Thomas third-down sack – one of five for Stanford in the game – stopped Wake Forest’s next drive, and Stanford got its running game in motion with Tyler Gaffney scoring the first of his two touchdowns by bulling through a defender on the end of a four-yard run.
And the rout was on. By Gaffney’s second score, with 3:00 left in the second quarter, Stanford had a 41-7 lead. In between was Luck’s version of Steve Young.
Lined up in a spread offense, Luck went back to pass, but was forced from the pocket. He tucked the ball in, took off left, broke a tackle, and evaded a diving attempt by another defender. Luck turned right, appeared to think about going down, but saw another gap and accelerated through it – all the way to the end zone.
“The speed was the surprising thing,” Harbaugh said. “I didn’t think he’d get all the way to the goal line.”
Owen Marecic continued to make an impression, but in a more subtle manner. Starting at fullback and inside linebacker, as he has all season, Marecic kept scoring drives alive by picking up short-yardage first downs on third- and fourth-down plays. He made a big block on Gaffney’s first touchdown. And, on defense, had a sack, and made three tackles.
Harbaugh has said that one of Marecic’s greatest qualities as a linebacker is that he doesn’t miss tackles. When he has a player in his range, he doesn’t miss and he doesn’t let go. That was certainly the case Saturday night. On one play, he even ran down a running back from behind on a screen pass.
Now, the team reaches a daunting stretch in which the Cardinal plays at Notre Dame and Oregon in successive weeks, followed by a home game against USC.
Whether Stanford can continue to come up the schemes and exploit weaknesses against teams of that caliber remains to been seen. But over the first three games, it’s hard to imagine a team playing much better.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics