Nov. 6, 2010
STANFORD, Calif. -What now? After a 42-17 rout of No. 13 Arizona, what does Stanford dare dream of?
The Rose Bowl? The BCS? Or merely history?
The No. 10 Cardinal was so clinical in its performance at Stanford Stadium on Saturday night, that it removed all the drama by the second quarter from a showdown that ABC-TV had determined to be the best in the country.
What will come of such a performance is uncertain with three games left in the regular season. Its' meaning remains foggy even as Stanford continues to prove itself among the nation's elite.
"We understand this has the opportunity to be a very special season for Stanford," quarterback Andrew Luck said. "But we know that doesn't matter unless we win."
For Stanford, its' 8-1 record matches the 1970 Rose Bowl team for Stanford's best nine-game start since 1951, and matches its victory total of last season. And, at 5-1 in the Pacific-10, the Cardinal stands alone in second place in conference play, with only No. 1 Oregon in front at 6-0.
Several scenarios would have to fall in place for Stanford to return to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1999 season. Regardless, the Cardinal is likely to vault from No. 13 in the BCS rankings into the top 10 and could maneuver itself position to play in one of the other BCS bowls - Fiesta, Orange, or Sugar.
The road ahead remains fraught with danger, with games at Arizona State, Cal, and a regular-season home finale against Oregon State yet to come in one of the strongest Pac-10 seasons in memory.
But the Arizona barrier was formidable, and Stanford overcame it with swiftness and efficiency.
Stepfan Taylor tied a school record with four rushing touchdowns.
Luck completed 23 of 32 passes for 293 yards, threw for two touchdowns, and had no passes intercepted.
Receiver Chris Owusu had nine catches for 165 yards and scored his first touchdown since Sept. 19.
Consider that Arizona entered the game ranked No. 6 in the nation in rushing defense. The Wildcats were allowing an average of only 88.4 yards per game on the ground. Stanford rushed for 228.
Arizona had allowed only four rushing touchdowns all season. Taylor matched that total by himself.
Arizona was ranked No. 7 in the nation in scoring defense, giving up only 14.4 points per game. Stanford ran up 42.
Those numbers and some ear-rattling hits by safety Delano Howell certainly got Arizona's attention.
"They out-executed us, outplayed us, and outcoached us," Arizona coach Mike Stoops said. "We just got beat by a better team today."
After last week's 41-0 domination at Washington, and this one, it's hard to imagine Stanford playing any better than it is right now.
"I told the team that I thought it was our best game," Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said. "Offensively, defensively, special teams. I thought they played very smart, disciplined football."
A pregame speech by John Lynch, a former Stanford and NFL star safety who was inducted into the Stanford Athletic Hall of Fame on Friday, helped as well.
As Harbaugh recalled, Lynch told the team "we're not asking for 65 great plays. We're asking for one great play 65 times. And I think that really resonated with our youngsters. They played every down to win."
Stanford came out with a gameplan that mixed power running, with option zone reads, bootlegs, short passes, long passes, and enough creativity to keep the Arizona defense guessing.
Exhibit No. 1 came in the first quarter when Luck pitched to Anthony Wilkerson and led the interference for the freshman downfield. Luck's block sprung Wilkerson for an extra 20 yards on a 39-yard jaunt.
It was all part of an offense that worked together seamlessly from the opening kickoff. Luck used short passes to Coby Fleener and Owusu to pick up first downs on the opening drive, and then went deep. Luck used a play-action fake to Taylor to set up a long throw that reached Owusu in stride behind the defense at the goal-line for a 45-yard scoring play.
And that wasn't even Owusu's best play. Early in the fourth quarter, he made a diving catch so spectacular that Arizona ordered a replay. Fortunately for the replay official, he got to watch it several times before confirming the catch.
"That might be the best catch I've ever seen from the sidelines," Harbaugh said.
Arizona's Nick Foles, the quarterback who torched Stanford for 415 yards last season in the Wildcats' 43-38 victory in Tucson, returned to action after missing two games with a knee injury and was pressured hard by a variety of blitzes. He finished with 192 yards passing (21 for 35 with one interception and one touchdown), his lowest total for a full game this season.
Arizona (7-2, 4-2) was forced to punt on its first three possessions. And by the time they scored its first touchdown, with 5:45 left in the third quarter, the Wildcats were attempting to climb out of a 28-3 hole.
Taylor's streak of 100-yard rushing games ended at five -- he finished with 82 yards on 19 carries. No matter. He scored on runs of 2, 5, 1, and 5 yards.
In addition, Wilkerson had his best game, with a collegiate career high of 81 yards on 10 carries. One carry was a slicing, spinning 17-yarder on a Stanford scoring drive that immediately answered an Arizona score that had cut its deficit to 35-17 early in the fourth quarter.
"This was about trusting each other," Howell said. "When we trust each other, we're able to focus on our own job and play together as a team."
And when they do that, Stanford can continue to dream.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics