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STANFORD, Calif. - Stanford's 50-13 rout of Duke on Saturday did one thing, it reassured Cardinal followers that the team didn't lose its dominance when Andrew Luck graduated last spring.
For one night at least, the Cardinal, while wearing all-black uniforms for the third time in school history, recalled its high-scoring teams of recent years, in contrast to a season-opening 20-17 struggle against San Jose State last week.
These Cardinal were physical on defense, and gamebreakers all the way around, scoring touchdowns on offense, defense, and special teams. The performance was undoubtedly a boost - not only in confidence, but in creating even more interest going into its showdown against visiting USC next Saturday.
"We won big on the scoreboard," said David Shaw, Stanford's Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. "But we can play so much better. The way we played tonight, we still wouldn't beat USC."
Regardless, the Cardinal's streak of three consecutive victories over the Trojans seemed in jeopardy after Week One. Not so much in Week Two. Gametime is 4:30 p.m.
For Josh Nunes, the game provided a clearer view of his capabilities. He wasn't perfect, but he made his share of on-the-money throws during an offensive display that was far more open than the conservative approach of a week ago.
Nunes completed 16 of 30 passes for 275 yards and threw three touchdown passes, with one interception. The Cardinal ran for only 84 yards - one of its smallest totals since it moved into the power-running game with the advent of the Jim Harbaugh era in 2007.
However, that was by design. Duke loaded up the box with nine defenders, daring the Cardinal to throw.
"If you know a way to run against a nine-man front, let me know," Shaw said.
But it wasn't unnecessary. On the second play from scrimmage, Nunes hit Ty Montgomery for a 33-yard gain. It would have gone for a touchdown had Montgomery not gotten briefly tangled with a defender on his route to throw off his timing.
That play certainly was one sign of the hope for Stanford in the post-Luck era, with Nunes making a series of perfect throws, including a 43-yarder down the seam to tight end Zach Ertz, which set up the second of Jordan Williamson's three field goals.
Nunes also hit Drew Terrell (19 yards), Levine Toilolo (3 yards), and Jamal-Rashad Patterson (27 yards) for scores.
Asked how he played, in comparison to the San Jose State game, his first as a starter, and as All-America Luck's replacement.
"A heck of a lot better," Nunes said. "Things are definitely getting a lot more comfortable."
On most days, such a performance would be worthy of headlines, but Terrell and free safety Ed Reynolds may have superseded their quarterback.
After the Cardinal (2-0) held Duke (1-1) to a three-and-out on the game's opening series - the first of seven consecutive punts by the Blue Devils - the kick was fielded by Stanford's Drew Terrell.
After catching the ball, Terrell ran right to avoid a would-be tackler and found a seam, and got a smothering block that enabled him to burst down the right side - untouched - to the end zone. The play covered 76 yards and set the tone for a blowout victory.
"I noticed that the punter outkicked the coverage," Terrell said. "We had a right-return called. I saw there was only one guy to beat. Fortunately, I was able to beat him."
The two touchdowns were a nice reward for Terrell, a player whom Shaw had once described as the team's best blocking receiver.
"I felt great for Drew Terrell," Shaw said. "He's been a block away from breaking a bunch of runs."
If the gamebreaking plays ended there, that would have been sufficient, but the Cardinal was helped along by two interceptions from Reynolds, the same player who clinched the victory over San Jose State with a late pick.
The first was returned 71 yards for a third-quarter touchdown. The second was returned for 50 yards. The Stanford interception leader in 2011 was Michael Thomas, with three. Reynolds already has equaled that total after only two games.
"He's got a great knack for reading quarterbacks," Shaw said.
Reynolds deflected the praise, but speaking for the team.
"We were just disciplined this week," Reynolds said. "We played with heart every snap. We just executed the gameplan."
The last time Stanford scored on offense, defense, and special teams was on Sept. 19, 2009, in a 42-17 victory over San Jose State when Chris Owusu returned a kickoff for a score, Richard Sherman brought home a punt, and Corey Gatewood returned an interception. Plus, there were offensive scores by Toby Gerhart and Owusu.
Though overshadowed, a pair of veterans made some noteworthy plays as well. Running back Stepfan Taylor moved up two Stanford all-time lists. He passed Brad Muster to move into third in career rushing (now with 2,955). He also ran for a score, from 13 yards, to move into fifth in career touchdowns, with 32.
Also, linebacker Shayne Skov returned to action for the first time since injuring his knee nearly a year ago at Arizona. Skov made four tackles, including three solo. The Cardinal held Duke to 27 rushing yards.
"I feel fantastic," Skov said. "My knee didn't bother me at all."
But this game meant more.
"Being away from the guys was really tough," he said. "I got a lot of butterflies before the game. That wasn't typical."
Said Reynolds on Skov, "It's great to have his energy. He brings so much passion to the game."
Not unlike the Cardinal on Saturday and, perhaps, beyond.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics