There was no letting up this time for Stanford.
The No. 13 Cardinal football team (7-1, 4-1 Pac-10) cruised past Washington (3-5, 2-3) on Saturday afternoon, rolling up 28 first-half points en route to a 41-0 victory.
The Cardinal won the battle at the line of scrimmage throughout the game-its offensive line manhandled the Washington front seven and opened up huge holes for Stanford’s running backs, getting big blocks both at the line and downfield. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Andrew Luck had excellent pass protection and plenty of time to make throws to his receivers.
“The line played excellently today,” said sophomore running back Stepfan Taylor, the Card’s leading rusher. “The two touchdowns I got, I was basically untouched, and they blocked well for [freshman running back Anthony] Wilkerson and [sophomore running back] Tyler Gaffney.”
While the offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage when Stanford had the ball, the defensive front seven made sure the Huskies couldn’t do the same. Stanford defensive linemen and linebackers were in the backfield all game long, notching three sacks and six tackles for loss. The unit kept up constant pressure on Washington quarterback Jake Locker, constantly forcing him out of the pocket and pressuring him into making poor throws.
Stanford’s defensive line was especially impressive. The trio of redshirt junior defensive end Matt Masifilo, senior nose tackle Sione Fua and redshirt senior defensive end Brian Bulcke kept the Washington offensive line engaged and freed up the Cardinal linebacking corps to stuff the Husky running game.
Masifilo had one of the best games of his career, making five tackles, including three solo tackles, and sacking Locker twice himself.
“We just took the opportunity to get after them,” Masifilo said. Fua and Bulcke “were dominating the line so much in front that everything had to bounce outside to us. We just stressed playing as a team.”
Overall, Stanford’s defense limited the Huskies to just 107 total yards on offense, the second-fewest yards allowed in Stanford history. The rushing attack was held to 19 yards on 25 attempts, and Washington never got past the Stanford 42-yard line.
Leading the defense were sophomore inside linebacker Shayne Skov and redshirt sophomore outside linebacker Chase Thomas. Thomas had nine tackles and a sack, while Skov added eight tackles. Both helped the Stanford defense bounce back from a few tough outings-in its last three games, it gave up 52 points to Oregon, failed to stop USC at numerous critical junctures and gave up three fourth-quarter touchdowns to a one-win Washington State team.
“Our linebackers were outstanding,” said Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh. “They kept up a lot of pressure on Jake and clogged up the running lanes.”
“We were making it an emphasis to stop them on first down, put them in long-yardage situations and then let our defensive line play aggressively and wreak havoc,” Skov said. “Anytime the quarterback gets hit that frequently, that’s tough [for Washington].”
Stanford’s much-maligned pass defense also played very well. Locker, believed to be one of the top NFL prospects of the upcoming draft, was severely limited, earning just 64 yards on 7-14 passing with no scores and two interceptions. His vaunted mobility was also shut down, as he ran the ball eight times for one net yard (he gained 17 yards but lost 16). Both Stanford interceptions killed Washington drives that looked to be gaining some momentum and ensured that Washington would be unable to get back in the game.
While Locker struggled, Luck had a strong game both through the air and on the ground. Luck threw for 192 yards and a touchdown on 19-26 passing. He also threw an interception on a Hail Mary play as time expired in the first half.
Perhaps a bigger story was Luck’s mobility, as he gained 92 yards on five carries. His biggest run came on a so-called “read option” play on Stanford’s first drive of the game. Luck faked a handoff to Taylor, who drew the defense to the right, and ran 51 yards down the left side of the field into the end zone. The play gave the Cardinal early momentum and sucked the energy out of a raucous Husky Stadium crowd.
“The guys had a great block on the edge, and I cut inside of him,” Luck said. “Stepfan did a great job of carrying his fakeout. I don’t think people realized I had the ball, and it was easy to sprint from there.”
“It was just an incredible fake by Andrew,” Harbaugh said. “I thought Stepfan Taylor had the ball for 20 yards and thought, ‘Oh, good, we got a 10, 15, 20-yard gain with Stepfan,’ but then I realized that Andrew Luck’s got the ball, and he’s streaking down the sideline, and I couldn’t be more pleased.”
Luck’s big run was just one element of a Stanford running attack that repeatedly pounded Washington, moving the ball methodically and keeping the clock running. Taylor took 20 carries for 104 yards and two touchdowns, and Gaffney added 13 carries, 50 yards and a touchdown in his first game back from a leg injury. Overall, Stanford gained 278 yards on 47 carries for an average of 5.9 yards per carry.
More than any other statistic, the disparity between the two running games illustrated the gap between the two teams. The Huskies only ran for 19 yards on 25 carries, or an average of 0.8 yards per carry. The Card also held a big advantage in time of possession, holding the ball for 37 minutes and 30 seconds.
For Washington, the loss means a difficult path to earn bowl eligibility. The Huskies need to win three of their last four games to become bowl-eligible, but with their next game against No. 2 Oregon, that could be a formula to missing out on the postseason.
Meanwhile, Stanford took another step toward a high finish in the Pac-10 and potentially earning a BCS bowl berth. However, next week’s matchup against Arizona (7-1, 4-1 Pac-10) looms large. The two teams are tied for second in the conference, and the Wildcats have looked impressive in conference play so far.
Nevertheless, Harbaugh believes his team can have success, highlighting the improvements it has made over the course of the season.
“I’ve thought a lot about what success is and what makes a successful year, and to me, it’s improvement,” he said. “It’s an improvement-equals-success formula. Improvement will lead to wins, and wins will lead to championships. We’ll move on with humble hearts and see if we can’t make some improvements when we get back.”