Sept. 19, 2009
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STANFORD, Calif. -
Chris Owusu set the tone and Stanford followed, rolling to a 42-17 home-opening football victory over San Jose State on Saturday night.
The electrifying sophomore returned the opening kickoff 94 yards before 33,560 at Stanford Stadium, providing just the first of three scoring returns for the team in the same game. It's been a long time since Stanford has had breakaway ability of this kind -- maybe never.
Owusu may have set a precedent with his second kickoff return for a touchdown this year, a feat that hasn't been achieved at Stanford since at least 1964 (Stanford records in that department go back only so far).
It helped propel Stanford (2-1) back on the winning track as it returns to Pacific-10 Conference play with a home game next Saturday (6 p.m.) against giant-killer Washington.
The victory over San Jose State (0-3) continued in recent stretch of domination in the series for Stanford, which beat the Spartans for the third consecutive time and seventh in eight games.
Pair Owusu's return with Richard Sherman's 48-yard punt return at the end of the third quarter and Stanford may have broken new ground with two touchdowns on kick returns in the same game. There's no official record of that either.
However, the returns were only part of the story for a Stanford team that sacked Spartan quarterbacks six times and got a typically strong game from running back Toby Gerhart. The major blemish for the Cardinal: four turnovers that led to all 17 San Jose State points.
Gerhart ran for 113 yards - extending his streak of 100-yard games against the Spartans to three - and scored two touchdowns on 24 carries. His 20 career rushing touchdowns moves him into sole possession of sixth on the Stanford career list. In four career games against San Jose State, Gerhart has gained 483 yards on 71 carries.
His 1-yard scoring run - accomplished by reaching the ball over the plane and withstanding an officials' review - rebuilt a lead that had been cut to 14-7 with 5:50 left in the second quarter.
Gerhart's score unleashed a 28-3 Stanford run over a span of 16 minutes that included a 23-yard interception return by Corey Gatewood, a 22-yard Owusu touchdown reception and Sherman's punt return.
Stanford's huge lead combined with San Jose State's inability to run the ball (24 yards net on the ground) led to the Cardinal defense's opportunity to tee off. Sophomore defensive end Thomas Keiser had three sacks and senior linebacker Will Powers had two. Each was a collegiate high. Keiser's total was the most for a Cardinal player since Julian Jenkins had three against UCLA in 2005.
But it was Owusu who carried the day. The sophomore was untouched while finding a seam up the left side on the opening kickoff. It followed an 84-yarder in the third quarter against Washington State in the season opener. San Jose State avoided kicking to Owusu thereafter, leaving him with five kickoff returns this year for 264 yards - for a remarkable 52.8-yard average.
Stanford followed by scoring on its first offensive series, which doubled as the first at home for for first-year starting quarterback Andrew Luck. Gerhart followed fullback Josh Catron and pulling right guard David DeCastro for a 3-yard scoring run off left tackle on third and goal, after a 34-yard catch-and-run by fullback Owen Marecic helped set it up.
Luck finished by completing 9 of 12 passes for 170 yards, with an interception at the goal line, before giving way to Tavita Pritchard in the fourth quarter.
Overall, the Cardinal left with the satisfaction of a strong performance mixed with enough mistakes to keep the team from getting complacent.
Some season firsts for the Cardinal included a fumble forced by defensive end Erik Lorig in the second quarter (Stanford's first takeaway), Gatewood's interception of an overthrown ball in the flat and subsequent score (Stanford's first interception), and Sherman's punt return score (Stanford's first since 2003).