In another dominant performance, the Stanford football team stayed undefeated on the season and extended the nation’s longest winning streak to 12 games–dating back to last season–by topping Pac-12 foe UCLA 45-19 on Saturday night.
In front of just the fifth sellout crowd since the new Stanford Stadium opened in 2006, the No. 7 Cardinal (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) had little trouble pushing its way past the struggling Bruins (2-3, 1-1), but that isn’t to say there wasn’t excitement and intrigue–like star quarterback Andrew Luck splitting wide out to snag a pass.
On the Cardinal’s first drive of the night, Luck tossed the ball to junior halfback Tyler Gaffney, who then flipped the ball back to junior wide receiver Drew Terrell, who wound up and fired a high pass to Luck, who snagged the ball with his right hand and tapped his left foot inbounds in perfect succession for a 13-yard completion.
“I just hoped I had a foot inbounds, I’m sure it was incomplete on the next level,” Luck said afterward, referring to the NFL’s two-foot rule.
“There’s about five positions the guy could play–receiver, tight end, outside linebacker,” said head coach David Shaw. “We just put him in position to make plays, and he never disappoints.”
Luck certainly did not disappoint on Saturday, playing his regular position flawlessly as well. The Heisman candidate completed 23 of 27 passes for 227 yards and three touchdowns, mostly capitalizing on short passes that kept the Cardinal offense on the field for over 34 minutes of game time.
Luck’s spectacular performance with passing and receiving overshadowed the Cardinal defense on Saturday night, which (for the most part) didn’t miss a beat despite the loss of junior linebacker Shayne Skov.
The Cardinal defense did give up season highs in rushing yards allowed, total yards allowed and points allowed, but that was mostly due to Stanford’s defense setting the bar very high in the first three games of the season. After only allowing 36 yards per game through the first three matchups, UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin took 12 carries for 96 yards to help the Bruin offense to 141 yards on the ground, but that didn’t mean the defense was left in a panic after the game.
“We stood up a lot of times when we needed to, but we definitely left a lot of plays on the field,” said senior safety Michael Thomas. “Guys were doing their jobs, but we just weren’t finishing plays. So that’s just something we have to work on.”
“[UCLA] ran the ball a lot, and with all the misdirection in the offense, it blurs your vision for a second,” Shaw said. “I think our guys did a decent job of containing it, but [UCLA] still popped out a couple of long runs.”
Thomas also complemented junior Jarek Lancaster and sophomore AJ Tarpley (who combined for 10 tackles) for their efforts stepping up to fill in for the injured Skov at inside linebacker.
“I’m proud of those guys. They did their job, and they played a hell of a game,” Thomas said.
Stanford’s defense set up the offense for success right from the start by stuffing the Bruins’ first drive of the night on the Cardinal one-yard line, a start that Shaw said helped ignite the team on both sides of the ball.
“It was huge,” he said. “When it happened, for a split second I flashed back to my time in Baltimore, and [Ravens linebacker] Ray Lewis used to always say, ‘Opportunity for greatness. When the ball’s on the one-yard line, it’s an opportunity for greatness.’ And the guys stepped up to the challenge and did a great job.”
The Cardinal then pounded out a 16-play, eight-minute, 99-yard drive highlighted not only by Luck’s but also by tight end Coby Fleener’s one-handed touchdown catch.
“I knew Andrew was trying to make me look bad with his one-handed catch,” Fleener cracked after the game. “So I felt like I had to one-up him.”
The Cardinal kept that pace up for the rest of the game, as Luck and junior running back Stepfan Taylor, who rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns, kept the offense perfectly in balance to combine for 442 total yards, including 202 on the ground.
Stanford used all of its considerable offensive firepower to score on its first four drives of the night before finally being forced to punt for the first time in the third quarter. Luck and company authored five scoring drives of 59 yards or more when all was said and done.
Shaw said that he was pleased with his offense’s effort and particularly with his quarterback, who drove a new, speedy, no-huddle offense at several points during the game.
“[The no-huddle offense] is really something we worked on the entire offseason, and this was the game that we were going to start doing it,” Shaw said. “We just put the formation out there and let Andrew call the play. It’s not coming from the sideline, it’s coming from him on the field. When we’re in the no-huddle, he’s calling the plays. ”
And despite his new receiver’s highlight-reel catch, Shaw didn’t foresee going back to Luck to catch any more passes this season. “We won’t come back to it again this year,” he said. “We kind of like what he does at quarterback.”
The Cardinal will return home this weekend for another Pac-12 matchup against the Colorado Buffaloes at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 8.