In a game featuring two of the nation’s top passers, the anticipated air war instead turned into the Stanford Cardinal doing its best Forrest Gump impersonation.
After passing for 702 yards in its last two games, the Stanford football team ran, ran and ran some more in Saturday’s 65-21 blowout of the Washington Huskies.
The No. 6 Cardinal rushed for a school-record 446 yards on 44 carries, riding a strong offensive line to shred the then-No. 25 Huskies’ run defense, which had only allowed an average of 97 yards per game rushing coming into Saturday’s contest, a fact that made the Cardinal players beam at their own efforts.
“We were very aware of it when we broke [the school rushing record]. What a testament to the O-line, to the coach, the tight ends, to the fullbacks and wide receivers,” said redshirt junior quarterback Andrew Luck. “It was a total team effort on the ground today, but first of all, to the backs making it happen with unbelievable plays. They’re special athletes, and it’s fun to have four of them, four really good ones.”
The running back foursome of juniors Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney, redshirt senior Jeremy Stewart and sophomore Anthony Wilkerson contributed 368 yards and five touchdowns to the Cardinal attack, with Taylor tallying 138 yards and Gaffney running for 117 of his own.
Altogether, it was an effort that was good enough to continue two impressive streaks for Stanford—the Cardinal has now won 15 straight games and has defeated its last 10 opponents by more than 25 points. Both stats were in doubt early on, though, as the Huskies were the ones showing off their speed on the ground.
After Stanford took its first two drives in for a touchdown and a field goal to jump out to a 10-0 lead, Washington responded to early defensive pressure from Stanford by feeding running back Chris Polk, who dashed 46 yards for a touchdown to make the score 10-7 with 3:46 left in the first quarter.
After Luck led the offense to another score with a one-yard touchdown toss to redshirt senior tight end Coby Fleener, Polk again ripped off another touchdown run, shucking missed tackles en route to a 61-yard score that made it 17-14 early in the second quarter.
Stanford’s run game responded right away, though, as Taylor went untouched on a 70-yard touchdown run on the first play of the next drive to make it 24-14.
After the Huskies missed a field goal, Luck tossed another touchdown pass, this time to junior wide receiver Drew Terrell. The first touchdown catch of Terrell’s career extended the Cardinal lead to 31-14.
Stanford then struck its knockout blow moments later when senior safety Michael Thomas intercepted a Keith Price pass and returned it 61 yards for a touchdown ahead of a trailing Price to make the score 38-14 and put the Huskies a little too far behind.
“That was a play we’d been working on for about three weeks, so I knew it was coming, and the quarterback finally threw it,” Thomas said. “When I caught it, that was the first thing going through my mind, you know, I see the angle, and if this guy catches me, everybody in my locker room is going to mess with me and all my boys from back home are going to mess with me. So I had to kick it into second gear.”
The Cardinal took the 38-14 margin into the half and dedicated the second half to grinding the clock with the run game—along with extra effort to stop Polk from ripping off any more long runs of his own.
“Basically, we got a second half ‘not-pep talk’ from [defensive coordinator Derek] Mason, he let us know real quick that we can’t play like that,” Thomas said. “And everybody just did their job, we didn’t really make adjustments, he just told us that if we continue to play like this, the offense is going to have to win this game for us.”
The “not-pep talk” led the defense to a dominant second half. After Polk tallied 143 yards rushing in the first half, the Cardinal defense clamped down and held the junior runner to one yard in the second half. Polk’s poor second half came in especially stark contrast to the Stanford offense, which added 199 yards rushing after eating up 247 yards on the ground in the first half.
As the clock wound closer to the end of the game, the Cardinal runners could feel the pressure to break another school record.
“It was exciting to see everybody go out there and have fun,” Taylor said. “When we came back in at halftime, I told Gaffney, ‘Let’s try to get 500 (yards) out here.’”
While Stanford didn’t quite eclipse that high mark, the record finally fell with 1:25 left in the game, as Wilkerson took a draw play up the left side and broke free for a 38-yard touchdown, his second of the day.
While the new record left head coach David Shaw all smiles, he insisted that he wasn’t trying to pile on the points in order to rewrite history—or impress BCS voters.
“I had no idea [about the record] until right at the end, and to be perfectly honest, I was not trying to get it,” Shaw said. “That last run for a touchdown by Wilkerson, I was hoping he’d get the first down and then we’d kill the clock. We were not trying to set records, we were not trying to score more points. I wanted to end the game.
“The biggest pitfall in this profession—and I’ve lived in this profession my entire life—the biggest pitfall in this profession is to a) worry about things that you shouldn’t worry about or b) worry about things you can’t control anyway,” Shaw continued when pressed about wowing BCS voters. “The only thing we control is how we work during the week and how we play on Saturdays.”
Shaw of course credited the offensive line and running backs for the dominant ground performance, but he also made sure to give his quarterback a little recognition after an efficient but not eye-popping passing performance, completing 16 of 21 passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns.
“I give Andrew and [offensive line coach Mike] Bloomgren a lot of credit as far as making sure we got to the right play every single time,” Shaw said. “On every single play, [Luck] can audible to a fourth or fifth play, he has it all at his fingertips, and every single play tonight he got us to the right play.”
And even though his star quarterback didn’t amass gaudy stats, Shaw said that those tuning into the primetime game most likely learned a little something about a team that’s more than just one Heisman-caliber player.
“We’re more than just Andrew Luck,” Shaw said. “We’ve got a good team. We’ve got a physical team . . . We can play both styles of football. Andrew’s thrown for over 300 [yards] a couple times this year, now we rushed for a bunch tonight. The fact that we can be a complete offense is what we strive for.”
Stanford will travel to Los Angeles to take on USC on Saturday at 5 p.m.