Oct. 27, 2012
STANFORD, Calif. - When Henry Anderson went belly to belly to wrestle down Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel on the final play of the game - preserving a 24-17 Stanford victory on Saturday night at Stanford Stadium - the Cardinal made a statement.
The statement was: "We have to play better."
Those were the words of coach Dave Shaw, Stanford's Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football, to his team following a performance that combined the highs of a record number of sacks with the lows of an uneven offensive production against a team winless in conference play.
"We played to about 70-75 percent of our capabilities," Shaw said. "We did not play as well as we practiced. We played hard, but the execution was lacking."
No. 19 Stanford (6-2 overall, 4-1 Pac-12) did produce another victory that enabled it to remain in the Pac-12 North Division race, but didn't feel good about it.
Asked if he subscribes to the coaching theory of jumping on his team after a win and consoling it after a loss, Shaw responded during a postgame press conference with: "The first jump happened about 15 minutes ago."
Stanford trailed briefly at 7-3, and was tied at halftime, 10-10. But the Cardinal appeared to break the game open with its only sustained drive of the game, to open the second half, and got what seemed like a clinching 25-yard interception return by safety Ed Reynolds to build a 24-10 advantage with 10:43 left in the fourth quarter. However, Washington State (2-6, 0-5) rallied behind Tuel, who totaled 401 yards on an arm-weary 43-of-60 passing, with two touchdowns and one interception.
This contrasted Stanford's total offensive output of 256 yards. Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes completed 7 of 15 passes for 136 yards - 70 of those on a touchdown pass to Jamal-Rashad Patterson - and Stepfan Taylor was limited to 58 yards on 21 carries.
"I wouldn't say the offense was flat," Nunes said. "We feel we shot ourselves in the foot."
Some blocking issues contributed to the lack of production, but Stanford did make the plays it desperately needed, particularly the pass to Patterson.
After WSU had moved into the lead midway through the second quarter, Nunes looked to his left and caught the eye of Patterson. The cornerback was showing blitz, leaving Patterson, a sprinter on the Cardinal track team, with room to run.
Indeed, Patterson was uncovered and made the catch about 25 yards downfield. He easily outran the secondary to complete the longest touchdown pass of Nunes' Stanford career.
Again, when Stanford was in great need of some offense, Nunes directed a 13-play, 78-yard drive that ended in fullback Ryan Hewitt's one-yard run off left guard out of a fullhouse backfield, breaking the tie.
Meanwhile, the Stanford defense was excited. The object of its anticipation was the notion that by completely shutting down the Cougar rushing game, which finished with minus-16 yards (the third fewest allowed in Stanford history), the Cardinal could pass-rush with abandon.
Stanford finished with 10 sacks - the most in school history. The previous high was nine, against Cal in 1998 and San Jose State in 2008.
There was little joy in the sack total itself, but rather the affect it had on the game.
"It's nice," defensive end Ben Gardner said. "But that's what we needed to do to win."
But sometimes it seemed that the constant pressure wasn't enough. Tuel often scrambled for yardage, gaining 52 yards on such plays, and he often followed with a crushing completion into the heart of the Cardinal secondary.
Reynolds paid close attention to Tuel's eyes and tendencies and began to cheat to his right on coverage. Reynolds jumped the route and scored without an offensive player coming anywhere close to him.
"The quarterback stared a little bit," said Reynolds of his fourth interception of the season and second touchdown return. "I just went in, stole second base and got one more."
The play would prove to be even bigger than it seemed at the time, which was substantial. Because, with nothing to lose, the Cougars drove 75 yards to score on Tuel's 10-yard jump ball to Kristoff Williams in the back of the end zone with 6:29 left to cut the deficit to a touchdown.
One time-consuming drive would have been enough for Stanford to salt away the game, but the Cardinal only partially completed the task, having to punt after gathering only 28 yards on seven plays.
WSU regained possession with 2:52 left and immediately got in trouble when Gardner nailed Tuel as he threw on third down, but a pass interference call to extend the drive. Moments later, Tuel lofted a deep pass to Marquess Wilson on a post, for a 42-yard gain to the Stanford 23.
A Murphy sack helped slowed the Cougars, but Tuel responded on fourth-and-21 with a 25-yard pass to Bobby Ratliff to the 9 with 48 seconds left.
Here's where it got good for the Cardinal. Amanam blindsided Tuel, who unloaded the ball, but was called for intentional grounding. Ten seconds were taken off the clock, and without any timeouts left, that would be pivotal, because Anderson made his game-saving sack on the next play. And the Cougars were powerless to stop the clock as the game ended.
With a collective sigh of relief, Stanford survived. And any victory in the Pac-12, perhaps the most balanced major-conference in the country, is a good one.
And yet ...
"We can play so much better," Shaw said. "We're going to need to."
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics