- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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For the Stanford Cardinal, the next six weeks will be very different than these first seven.
The critics have been out in full force since the Cardinal stomped San Jose State 57-3 on Sept. 3. And there is certainly some validity to that. Stanford’s first six opponents have a combined record of 14-24. None of the teams they faced is better than .500.
But Andrew Luck doesn’t make the schedule. Chase Thomas didn’t have a vote on whether to bring Colorado into the Pac-12. San Jose State is an annual game that will always be on the schedule. The Duke deal was inked before David Shaw was collecting a head coach's paycheck. And I'm pretty sure Sam Schwartzstein doesn't call the plays at UCLA nor Stepfan Taylor at Washington State.
In other words, knock them if you want, but don't blame them.
"We've said from the beginning of spring football what people think about us is not important to us," Shaw said. "It's how we play and can we find a way to win on game day."
And that's what the undefeated Cardinal have done -- in a big way. But now things definitely change. The combined record of the teams in the second half: 23-13. Starting with No. 25 Washington (5-1) on Saturday in Palo Alto.
No one needs to tell the Cardinal they are playing a ranked team. They get it. But that isn't changing their approach to the game.
"I think it's understood," said Luck. "It's also understood the deeper you go into the season and conference play, you're going to have to improve game week to be successful. We've won all of our games. You can't complain about that. We've obviously made some mistakes. That's the nature of the game. But I don't think guys are satisfied by any means, which is a good sign."
Satisfaction, or the lack thereof, seems to be a theme throughout The Farm this week.
"We expected to be undefeated, but we're definitely not satisfied," said tight end Zach Ertz. "We're excited for the U-Dub game ... but I would say it's the same feeling in the locker room."
The No. 8 Cardinal can make a statement with this game. Though that's not their primary objective. Their goal is to keep winning. If it affects the polls, great. If it doesn't, they aren't going to care.
"We can't control (the BCS standings)," said safety Michael Thomas. "All we can control is who we play and how we play. So we're going to go out and keep taking care of business."
It doesn't get much easier in the coming weeks. Following Saturday, they have back-to-back road games at USC and Oregon State (the only sub-.500 team remaining on the schedule as of this week) before returning home for a season finale stretch of Oregon, Cal and Notre Dame.
Shaw said his team is yet to fire on all cylinders. Which is a good thing, because there is still room to grow. No one wants to play their best football in Week 4.
"Record wise, yes (we're happy), but as for style of play, I would say that we are close, but we're not where we want to be," Shaw said. "We'd love to say that we've played our best football. But we've played in spurts. A quarter here, a half there. We haven't done it for 60 minutes and to a certain degree, that's great for coaches because we can show them on film doing it in the third quarter and not doing it in the first or second quarter ... we're putting urgency on it because we're going to need to do it."
The Cardinal have been notorious this season for slow starts on offense. And even though they are yet to yield any points in the first quarter this season, the offense hasn't performed to its abilities in the first 30 minutes. And while Stanford has been outstanding in the second half, the first half issues have to change in the latter part of the season."
"A lot of it has to do with our team's character and resiliency," Shaw said. "We have not started fast in the majority of our games. But we've finished fast in every one of our games, going all the way back to the Orange bowl. That's just excepted at a higher level. That's been one of our calling cards this year. But we know the games are getting tougher. The opponents are getting tougher and we have to play a full 60 minutes to win."