Another week passes, and we still do not have a whole lot to talk about regarding Stanford football. Sure, the Card made an emphatic statement of dominance (yep, we’re going that rhetorically far) on national television by routing Wake Forest 68-24 on Saturday night, but such lopsidedness means that through 3 weeks of the season, Stanford has not played a real, hotly contested game. Cardinal QB and Heisman Trophy candidate Andrew Luck was spectacular. In the 8 drives during which he played (Harbaugh yanked Luck in the 3rd quarter to give back-up quarterbacks Alex Loukas and Josh Nunes experience on the field) Luck led Stanford to 8 touchdowns. Luck himself was credited with 5 of them: 4 through the air and 1 off a 52-yard scramble. Though his 207 passing yards on the night don’t look impressive on paper, the context is revealing. Luck got in barely more than 2 quarters of work, he was spot-on with his passing accuracy (74%) and he had racked up over 150 passing yards by halftime. As we mentioned in our Quick Reads published right after the game, WR Chris Owusu kicked off his 2010 season with a bang against Wake. The 6′ 2″ junior caught 2 touchdowns on only 3 catches.
And then the run game. The Cardinal piled up 303 rushing yards on just 38 attempts (that’s an average of 8 yards per carry). 5 Stanford players–RB Tyler Gaffney, Luck, RB Stepfan Taylor, Loukas, and sophomore RB Usua Amanam– averaged over 6 yards per carry, and Gaffney led the way with 76 yards and 2 touchdowns on only 7 carries. Sophomore Stepfan Taylor, who we believed would get the majority of Stanford’s carries on Saturday, did lead the team in rushing attempts with 8. However, that was only one more than Gaffney had and only two more than freshman halfback Anthony Wilkerson. At this point, it appears that Stanford will stick to an almost strictly egalitarian running-back-by-committee approach in which Taylor, Gaffney, and Wilkerson all get similar numbers of carries while Amanam gets a handful of touches per game and Owen Marecic pounds in goal-line touchdowns and converts short 3rd and 4th down attempts.
Once again, the new 3-4 defense looked good. After Wake’s touchdown on the Demon Deacons’ second drive of the game, Stanford held the opposition scoreless until nearly 5 minutes into the 3rd quarter had ticked off the clock. By that point, Stanford had already subbed out many of its first-team defensive players. Prior to Saturday, Wake Forest was one of the nation’s premier scoring and yardage offenses, but the Card held them to pedestrian offensive production. Wake manufactured only 283 total yards, and a pitiful 76 of them came from the passing game. Wake Forest actually had a slight edge in time of possession (30:33 to Stanford’s 29:27) but the Card’s methodical and hasty scoring skewed that statistic in Wake’s favor. In his first game back from a knee infection that kept him out of the Sacramento State and UCLA games, sophomore inside linebacker Shayne Skov had 4 tackles and looked solid. He had one noticeable misstep when he tried to jump the snap on a linebacker blitz and ended up getting called for encroachment. Though embarrassing–the whistle blew when Skov tripped on an offensive lineman’s foot and fell to the grass–it didn’t look like a sign of lingering injury, so much as some mental rust.
Were there any concern-provoking moments? Sure. Senior placekicker Nate Whitaker missed not 1 (which would have been bad) but 2 extra points. Although Whitaker still hasn’t missed a field goal this year, missing extra points is inexcusable. Thank goodness the game wasn’t close. Ryan Whalen went down in the 1st quarter with what appears to be an elbow injury, although the team has not given the media any updates on the injury or how long they expect Whalen to sit out. Our completely unscientific and largely irrational snap-judgement diagnosis says that he’ll at least miss the Notre Dame game this Saturday in Indiana, but we will keep you posted.
All in all, there wasn’t a whole lot to complain about. Stanford looked good on the field, even though their black uniforms are hideous. (Expect more on the uniform crisis in a forthcoming post.) All things are looking up for the Cardinal, which is now inside the national top 20 in every important poll.
Stanford travels to South Bend, Indiana, to face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Saturday at 12:30 PST on NBC. Expect our official preview of that game this Thursday.