Stanford offense sputters as Northwestern kicks its way to the upset

No one is going to accuse either of these teams of producing too many fireworks. Just the opposite, as each offense struggled to find points. But Northwestern was much better at keeping its offense on the field (see below) en route to a 16-6 home upset over No. 21 Stanford. The Wildcats defense was crisp with its open-field tackling and did enough to force seven Stanford punts.

What the wins means for Northwestern: Obviously, it’s a huge confidence boost for a team that has missed the postseason the last two years and was starting a redshirt freshman quarterback in the season-opener against a Top 25 team. Clayton Thorson wasn’t perfect (12-of-24, 105 yards). But he was efficient enough, he made the plays with his legs when he had to (providing the game's lone touchdown on a 42-yard run) and, most importantly -- he didn’t turn the ball over. Justin Jackson ran the ball well with 28 carries for 134 yards. The Wildcats should be feeling pretty good against Eastern Illinois next week with a trip to Duke on the horizon.

What the loss means for Stanford: Stanford’s performance on offense has to be quite worrisome moving forward. In a word, it was abysmal. And this was supposed to be the strength of the Cardinal moving forward while the newly rebuilt defensive front gets acclimated. No such luck, as the Cardinal, who dropped passes, committed multiple procedural penalties and were generally sloppy in their execution. They produced just 85 yards on the ground and 3.1 yards per carry. The coaching staff played the conservative card (as they are known to do) for the first three quarters. But when they needed to open up the playbook, the players didn’t respond.

The game turned when: After the Cardinal cut the deficit to 13-6 midway through the fourth quarter, the Wildcats were able to milk the clock down inside of four minutes before Jack Mitchell connected on a 49-yard field goal -- a career long -- to make it a two-score game at 16-6. As an exclamation point, Kyle Queiro intercepted Stanford's Kevin Hogan in the end zone in the final minute to snuff a comeback.

Stat of the game: One team was able to get off the field on defense, the other one wasn’t. Northwestern converted 12 of 22 third downs, while the Cardinal were 3-of-15.