Sept. 18, 2011
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - Andrew Luck dinked and dunked passes, winged a few into impossibly tight spots. Stepfan Taylor churned out yards, more than he ever had. The big, powerful line seemed to get better and more bruising as the game wore on.
Balanced and efficient, Stanford was a lot like Arizona would like to be - heck, any team would like to be at this point.
Luck threw for 325 yards and had both of his touchdown passes in the second half, Taylor ran for a career-high 153 yards and the sixth-ranked Cardinal pulled away for a 37-10 victory over Arizona on Saturday night in the Pac-12 opener for both teams.
"Certainly, they know what they're doing," Arizona coach Mike Stoops said. "They manipulated us pretty good."
Struggling to find the end zone in the first half, Stanford (3-0) wore Arizona down in the second.
Luck picked the Wildcats apart on 20-of-31 passing, throwing touchdown passes to Zach Ertz in the third quarter and Levine Toilolo in the fourth. Stanford shut Arizona out in the second half and had a balanced 567 yards overall to win its 11th straight game, the Cardinal's longest run since taking 13 straight from 1939-41.
"We challenged our guys to take the fight to them, challenged our guys to be physical and see if we can wear them out," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "That's our philosophy we believe in: our second half has got to be better than our first half, (and) that's what we did tonight."
Nick Foles threw for 239 yards and a touchdown, but couldn't overcome Arizona's struggling offensive line by himself.
The junior hit 24 of 33 passes, but was sacked five times and the Wildcats (1-2), one of the nation's worst rushing teams, had another anemic game on the ground, netting just 51 yards rushing on 23 carries in their sixth straight loss to an FBS team.
"Our inability to have some balance in our offense will continue to keep from us becoming a good football team," Stoops said.
Stanford rolled through its first two games, outscoring San Jose State and Duke by a combined score of 101-17. Luck, not surprisingly, was the catalyst, throwing for 461 yards and six touchdowns with one interception.
Playing Arizona in the desert figured to be a stiffer challenge for the Cardinal.
The Wildcats have one of the nation's best quarterbacks in Foles, who, like Luck, figures to be a first-round NFL draft pick. The 6-foot-5 senior doesn't have the polish that Luck has, but is prolific, completing 76 percent of his passes for 810 yards and six touchdowns the first two games.
Arizona also sent Stanford home with a disappointing loss in its last trip to Tucson, scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter for a 43-38 comeback victory.
That was just two years ago, but it seems like forever with the direction these teams have headed since.
The Cardinal rolled over the Wildcats 42-17 last season behind Luck's 293 yards and two touchdowns. Luck may be even better this season and Arizona struggled against a good passer last week, allowing Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden to pick it apart for 397 yards and two touchdowns in a 17-point loss.
The Wildcats also have been one-dimensional on offense, relying almost solely on Foles while the running game has averaged just 58 yards per game, 115th in the nation. Stanford was second nationally through the first two games, allowing 28.5 yards per game, so it was weakness against strength.
And, though it wasn't pretty at times, the game turned out about how you might think.
Arizona again had trouble running the ball - minus-6 yards on 10 carries in the first half - but Foles made up for it, completing his first 17 passes while throwing for 198 yards and a touchdown. The score went on a 6-yard pass to Juron Criner, who showed no ill affects from the appendectomy that kept him out of last week's game against Oklahoma State.
The Wildcats kept it close, but could have been closer: Jaime Salazar missed field goals to end the second quarter and start the third, making him 1-for-4 on the season after Arizona was haunted by missed kicks a year ago.
"We need to get points in those spots," Foles said. "It's like missing a wide-open layup."
Stanford's kicking game worked just fine - Jordan Williamson hit from 20, 45 and 33 yards - but the Cardinal wanted touchdowns after getting so deep into Arizona's end. The only one Stanford got came late in the first quarter, when Anthony Wilkerson scored on a 24-yard run on a fourth-and-a-foot misdirection play.
Leading 16-10 after one half, Stanford stomped the Wildcats down in the second.
Luck hit tight end Ertz on a 16-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter, then had two choices to open the fourth quarter on a defensive breakdown by Arizona. He settled on Toilolo (he was deeper), who scored easily on a 34-yard pass to put the Cardinal up 30-10.
That's seven touchdowns to tight ends - out of nine - this season for Stanford and 53 TDs overall for Luck, moving him one ahead of Jim Plunkett for third all-time in Stanford history.
Stanford closed it out with a drive that took nearly seven minutes, capped by Jeremy Stewart's 2-yard TD run.
"Tonight, we started off very slow, but came in toward the second half," Taylor said. "Those big plays helped us out a lot."