After a wild, turbulent, underwhelming and unprecedented upset by the Arizona Wildcats, Stanford has found their way back in the PAC-12 Championship Game for a second straight year. After the Cardinal’s huge (upset?) win over the Oregon Ducks on November 7th, a game that everyone and I mean EVERYONE thought the Ducks would put up “at least 40 on them”, Stanford had the inside track and controlled their own destiny to host the PAC-12 Championship once again. But after a heart-breaking 17-20 loss in the Coliseum to a USC team who have had their fair share of different emotions this season, Oregon took back control of the PAC-12 North and the Cardinal were in deep trouble to see their streak of 3 straight BCS bowls come to an end.
But who would of thought the word “Wildcat” would be a source of joy for Cardinal fans.
As Stanford started to pound Cal into the ground early in the first half, there was a strange feeling inside of Stanford Stadium. It was if everyone had eyes on a certain score coming out of Tucson, Arizona, but no one was saying anything in fear of jinxing one of the biggest upsets of the year in college football. And as the Wildcats started to pull away with it, the student section started chanting;
A 42-16 victory for the Wildcats meant all Stanford had to was win the Big Game, and they could claim both the Axe and the PAC-12 North, the first time both have been claimed in the same game. Last season, Stanford knew who their opponent was going to be. A victory over UCLA in the final game of the season meant they would host UCLA in the Championship just one week later. This year, after the Cardinal’s 63-13 win against the Golden Bears (the largest margin of victory AND most points ever scored in 116 year history of the Big Game), there were still three teams that could be representing the PAC-12 South.
ASU, UCLA and USC were all still alive for the PAC-12 South, however, Arizona State took care of business in a victory over UCLA and abruptly ended any drama for who would be champion. Now, Arizona State controls who will host the Championship game, if they win next week vs 7-4, Oregon-upsetting Arizona Stanford will be heading to Tempe. If Arizona gets the job done once again, all eyes will be watching in Palo Alto for the second year in a row. Stanford still isn’t guaranteed a BCS bowl, and with no opportunity for an at-large berth like previous seasons, the Cardinal will have to find a way to defeat Sparky one more time this season, the only PAC-12 team that has defeated the Sun Devils this year.
After the finale of that Stanford vs ASU game earlier this year, Sun Devils head coach Todd Graham said to his team “Shake their hands boys, that’s a championship team.” Now, his team will have the chance to dethrone the defending PAC-12 Champs, and reach their first Rose Bowl since 1997.
Saturday’s game was a tale of two halfs for the Stanford Cardinal as they downed 23rd ranked Arizona St 42-28. The Cardinal were unbelievable in the first 30 minutes of the contest, putting up 29 points (4 touchdowns and a blocked punt resulting in a safety) while shutting out ASU, allowing a mere 83 yards of offense for the Sun Devils.
The 5th ranked Cardinal playing in the only game of the week that featured 2 ranked teams squaring off, Stanford looked to finish the second half and make a statement to the college football nation that they can be considered as a BCS contender. However, the Sun Devils didn’t go away without a fight.
Stanford’s defense held strong in the 3rd quarter, only allowing 7 points after a quick score on the second half kickoff. Stanford answered the score with a field goal and a one play, 16 yard rush by RB Tyler Gaffney for his second score of the game. The Cardinal entered the 4th quarter with a 32 point lead, their biggest all night long. But that lead would vanish quickly in the last 15 minutes of play.
After 3 touchdown passes from ASU Quarterback Taylor Kelly, the Sun Devils were only down 11 points with over 6 minutes left in the game. After the ensuing onside kick was recovered by Stanford, there was never really any danger of the Cardinal blowing the lead they built in the first half. But the win was no longer as sweet as it should have been.
The comeback by the Sun Devils could have been due to the fact that David Shaw perhaps got a little too conservative towards the end of the game. ASU out-gained the Cardinal 417 to 391 yards with Arizona St QB Kelly throwing for 367 yards on 55 attempts. QB Kevin Hogan for Stanford only attempted 17 passes, completing 11 of them for 151 yards and 2 touchdown passes, both to WR Ty Montgomery.
Shaw’s biggest mistake came when early in the 4th quarter he replaced Hogan with backup QB Evan Crower. The Cardinal did not even ATTEMPT a pass in the 4th quarter, something that the Sun Devils picked up on and was able to contain the run. Stanford only had one play over 7 yards in the 4th quarter; a 27 yard bootleg by Hogan (who came back into the game for the final possession of the 4th quarter) that fooled everyone in the Stadium. He even fooled his own team, who thought the ball was once again going to be handed off to RB Anthony Wilkerson.
Stanford kicked a field goal at the end of that drive to move up by 14 points with just 30 seconds left to play. An interception by Alex Carter (his first INT of his career) on a final play, hail mary attempt sealed the final score at 42-28, moving the Cardinal to 3-0 and nothing their first win in PAC-12 play. The second half might not have been what Stanford wanted, which also included senior safety Ed Reynolds to be ejected because of the new targeting rule this season, forcing Reynolds to also miss the first half of next week’s game vs Washington State in Seattle.
Only being 3 games into the season, the Cardinal still have time to adjust for a schedule that really pressures them late in the year. And if they find a way to play an entire 60 minutes like they did in that first half, they will definitely be in the mix to be considered for that game on January 6th.
Stanford embraced their mantra of winning with character and cruelty this past weekend when the 5th ranked Cardinal traveled nearly 3,000 miles to take on the Army Black Knights. With the remembrance of September 11th just a day before Stanford traveled 3 time zones to the east, it was a very humbling experience for both players and coaches.
Stanford got off to a slow start, perhaps because of that early 9am PST game time. QB Kevin Hogan fumbled on the 3rd play from scrimmage, which led to an early Army field goal to go up 3-0; the first time Stanford had been trailing this season. Stanford got their first points on the board with just 30 seconds left in the first quarter to take the lead 7-6, and they never looked back on their way to a 34-20 victory.
Tyler Gaffney had another outstanding game on the ground, once again rushing for over 100 yards and furthering himself from the rest of the running backs as Stanford’s best ball carrier. Gaffney ended the day with 155 total yards; 132 rush yards on 20 carries and a catch for 23 yards that resulted in a touchdown. He also had a 4th quarter rushing touchdown, giving Gaffney 3 total on the year.
Kevin Hogan only had 188 pas yards on the day, but threw for 3 touchdowns and just 1 interception. Hogan was replaced halfway through the 4th quarter, proving that head coach David Shaw was not trying to put up any style points this game. His team played good enough to leave the east coast with a win and get back to the Farm to prepare for conference play next week.
Defensively, Stanford was a little shaky, but overall good enough to get the win. The Black Knights ended the day with 284 rushing yards; that’s almost 100 more yards than Oregon put up against the Cardinal in 17-14 OT thriller last season in Eugene. However, they did hold the passing game to just 49 yards and the 34-20 final score made the game look closer than it was. After a one play, 46 yard touchdown pass from Hogan to Ty Montgomery early in the second quarter to put the Cardinal up 14-6, it did not feel like the Black Knights had any chance to win this game.
Army won the time of possession battle this week, the first time Stanford did not have more TOP since the game against Washington St. last season (however, WSU was held to -16 rushing yards in that game). But even with 8 less minutes on offense and 80 less rushing yards, the Cardinal did what they needed to do; to get out of West Point with a “W”.
The day before the game, members of the Cardinal football team were given a tour of the campus. Players took to Twitter to thank the students and soldiers of West Point and show their respect for what they got to experience this past weekend. Cardinal FB Ryan Hewitt did not play this weekend because of a bruised knee, but still got to make the trip and take part. “Absolutely blown away by the mentality and humility of our nations military. Truly humble people that help maintain our right to liberty.” Hewitt said. Shayne Skov, LB, also remarked on Twitter about the tour. “Leaving West Point…but left in amazement by the honesty, humility and hospitality of the students and soldiers on campus.”
Stanford has their first test of the season next week as they match up against 23rd ranked Arizona St. at Stanford Stadium at 4pm on FOX.
Stanford allowed on average 17.2 points per game in 2012. They seemed as though they didn’t skip a beat on Saturday.
The Cardinal rushed their way to a dominant 34-13 win to kick off their 2013 season, a season where preseason expectations couldn’t be higher for Stanford. A defense lead by 5th year seniors Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy had San Jose St. Quarterback David Fales under pressure all night long. The Stanford defense sacked Fales 4 times throughout the game, a high number considering Fales is projected to be a NFL QB prospect. The Spartans relied on their QB to try and upset the Cardinal, attempting 43 passes and completing 29 of them for 216 yards and 1 touchdown.
Other than that, everything went Stanford’s way. Ed Reynolds, after being cheated out of 2 NCAA records last season, recorded his first pick of this season, continuing the Cardinal’s streak of 25 straight games with at least one turnover. And the rushing defense also showed that not only are they as elite as last year, but they may even be a sept up from the 2012 season. Stanford averaged allowing only 97 rush yards a game last year, good for 5th in the country. On Saturday, the Cardinal only gave up 35 total rushing yards to the Spartans. Remember, this team won 11 games last year and finished ranked in the top 25.
Defense wasn’t the only bright spot for Stanford this week. Kevin Hogan remained undefeated as a starter in his career, moving to 7-0 with 17 completions in 27 attempts for 207 yards and 2 touchdowns. Hogan was expected to be good, but the bright spot on offense came from senior running back Tyler Gaffney, who was playing in his first game since returning from Minor League Baseball.
Gaffney had 20 carries for 104 yards and 2 touchdowns as he emerged as an early leader to take the majority of the snaps in this running back by committee philosophy. Anthony Wilkerson was second highest in rushing yards with 9 carries and 65 yards. Wilkerson had the longest rushing play of the game with a 27 yard run towards the end of the game.
So in a game where everything seemed to go their way, what does Stanford have to work on in order to keep improving for a schedule where it seems every opponent gets tougher as the season goes on? Stanford was decent against a good quarterback, but definitely could improve their secondary and be tougher against the pass. Allowing only 216 yards on 43 attempts isn’t bad, but a completion percentage of 67% is hopefully a number that will be lowered as the season goes on.
David Shaw after the game stated that “Not a lot of teams look like us…and we’re just fine with that.” Stanford will continue their unique, one-of-a-kind, smash-mouth football when they head to the east coast next weekend for a bright and early, 9am matchup with Army on the CBS Sports Network.
With their late, 8pm start this past weekend to begin their 2013 season after a first week bye, the Cardinal were officially the last FBS team to begin their 2013 campaign. Hopefully, they’ll be the last team to finish their season as well.
The 2012 season meant uncertainty for Stanford football. They were coming off a tough bowl loss, losing what many call their greatest player of all time, and having doubts on both sides of the ball. The talk about Cardinal football entering 2013 is the exact opposite of that.
With the 2013 season just on the horizon for the Cardinal, the hype could not be bigger for this upcoming season. Stanford started the 2013 season ranked #4 in both the AP and Coaches poll; the highest ranking they have ever received for preseason polls and the highest they have ever been in the rankings (Stanford was also ranked #4 during the 2011 season before being upset by Oregon at home). The Cardinal remain #4 in the coaches poll after their first week bye, but have dropped to #5 in the AP poll due to Clemson’s upset of now #11 ranked Georgia in week 1.
So instead of questioning whether Stanford still can compete with the elite like they did at the beginning of last year, now the question is, can Stanford be the team to beat this year? They definitely have a lot going their way for this season; David Shaw is entering the season as back-to-back PAC-12 Coach of the Year in only his first 2 seasons as a head coach.
Stanford returns defensive players like Shayne Skov, Ben Gardner, and Trent Murphy; all who have returned as 5th year seniors for one more shot at the National Championship. The Cardinal also remain dominant because of players who made names for themselves last season like Ed Reynolds, Alex Carter, and Henry Anderson. But this year, Stanford is strong on both sides of the ball.
Kevin Hogan brings a lot more confidence to the offense this season. While he lost big passing targets with his tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo and receivers like Drew Terrell, Hogan getting an entire offseason to improve his offensive play will without a doubt improve his ability to make big plays. The Cardinal also loses their all-time leader rusher with Stepfan Taylor, who leaves with the record in career rushing yards (4,300) and career touchdowns (45).
However, Stanford gets a shot in the arm with the return of Tyler Gaffney from minor league baseball. Having Anthony Wilkerson healthy again and up an coming running backs like Barry Sanders should allow Stanford to keep running the ball just like they have before. They’ll just use more guys to do it, rather than putting the load on one guy. Losing the biggest receiver in Ertz is also a big hit, but you also have to remember that Ty Montgomery wasn’t a big factor with his injuries last season, so having an experienced receiver in him returning healthy this season also is a big help to Stanford’s offense.
Stanford’s defense averaged allowing just over 17 points a game last season. An average that will most likely be even lower this season. With the look of this 2013 team and what they were able to do last year, Stanford has a legitimate shot to run the table this year. And as a Cardinal fan myself, I would love to see that matchup of Alabama and the Cardinal for the National Championship. Instead of calling Stanford they Alabama of the west, maybe they’ll say Alabama is the Stanford of the east.
The Stanford of the east with a lot lower GPA’s.