Cardinal make it look oh, so easy
October, 23, 2011
By Kevin Gemmell | ESPN.com
PALO ALTO, Calif. -- It shouldn’t be this easy. It just shouldn’t.
It shouldn’t be easy to rush for 446 yards. Not against a top 20 rush defense. It shouldn’t be easy to drop 65 points on anybody, let alone a Top 25 team. With the best quarterback in the country -- who passed up $xx,xxx,xxx amount of dollars to come back for another year -- it should be more than just him handing off 33 times.
“That’s our mentality,” said head coach David Shaw. “We want to by physical. We’re going to play the style of football that we love to play.”
Yeah, that sounds great. But it should be harder than this. Shouldn’t it?
“Just get the ball, follow your aiming point and follow the holes,” said running back Stepfan Taylor. “We just have to run, make somebody miss and go and score.”
Oh. That’s all?
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images Stepfan Taylor and three other Cardinal running backs set a school rushing record by amassing 446 yards.
Saturday night, the No. 8 Cardinal certainly made it look easy in their 65-21 win over No. 25 Washington at Stanford Stadium.
Taylor headlined a rushing attack that featured five touchdowns from four different running backs while amassing a school record 446 yards on the ground -- eclipsing the mark of 439 yards set in 1981 against Oregon State.
The record-setting run was a 38-yard touchdown from Anthony Wilkerson with a 1 minute, 25 seconds left in the game. It seemed that for Shaw, that was the only hard part of the game.
“To be perfectly honest, I was not trying to get (the record),” Shaw said. “That last run by Wilkerson, I was hoping we’d get the first down and then we’d kill the clock. We weren’t trying to set records or score more points. I wanted to end the game … but you can’t tell a runner not to run.”
Taylor led the way with 138 yards and a touchdown, followed by Tyler Gaffney (117 yards, one touchdown) and Wilkerson (93 yards, two touchdowns). Jeremy Stewart also provided his usual pop in short-yardage situations, scoring the game’s first points on a 2-yard touchdown run.
“We all got our opportunities and we made the most of it,” Stewart said. “… It was amazing. The line went out and did a great job. It was good for everyone that was involved.”
Speaking of the line…
“The last time I saw a line play like that was at USC in 2005,” said Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, who was a member of the Trojan coaching staff at the time. “ ... We’d defend a play, defend a play and the one time we got out of a gap -- bang. And it wasn’t 12 yards, it was 50. I tip my hat to them.”
This was supposed to be a showcase of quarterbacks. Andrew Luck entered the game with his usual hype, but Washington's Keith Price was the up-and-comer who was turning heads in the conference and on a national stage. Price finished 23-of-36 for 247 yards, a touchdown and an interception -- a 62-yard pick-six by safety Michael Thomas.
On the other side, Luck was his usual efficient self -- finishing 16-of-21 for 169 yards and two touchdowns.
Both played their own roles in their own ways. But Saturday night, Luck took a backseat.
“We’re more than just Andrew Luck,” Shaw said. “We’ve got a good team. We’ve got a physical team. If a team wants to take away the pass by playing deep safeties, we can run the ball. We’ve got backs after backs. We’re physical up front. We can play both styles of football. Andrew has thrown for over 300 a couple times this year. Now we rush for a bunch tonight. The fact that we can be a complete offense is what we strive for.”
And Washington -- while going blow for blow with the Cardinal early -- had no answers for Stanford’s offense, which scored on its first eight drives and on 11-of-12 possessions.
“It was a pretty good feeling,” said Gaffney, who set a career high with his 117 yards. “You gotta think they were preparing for our Heisman quarterback and we used the run against them.”
Or maybe they were preparing for the tight ends -- that amazing trio that has run circles around opposing secondaries this season.
“That’s a good possibility,” Shaw said. “I can’t speak for Washington. When we have (the three) on the field at the same time, those are three guys who have made a lot of big plays this year. Maybe they were protecting that. I don’t know.”
What he does know is that Washington’s safeties weren’t stepping up. Even when the Cardinal rushed for 128 yards in the first quarter (Washington was allowing just 97 yards per game), or when Taylor broke loose on a 70-yard run in the second quarter.
“Every game we want to run the ball -- ever since I’ve been here at Stanford, that’s what we hang our hat on and try to accomplish,” Luck said. “It was working early. Don’t fix it unless it’s broken, right? And it kept on working.”
This was supposed to be the first team that was going to challenge the Cardinal. The biggest criticism of Stanford was that the Cardinal have played a schedule worthy of a new Hostess product. And yet against their "stiffest" opposition of the season, they averaged 10.1 yards per carry, set a season high in scoring and total offense (615 yards). They had just one three-and-out series the entire game and went a perfect 7-for-7 in the red zone (making them 38-of-38 on the season).
For a team that doesn’t care about making statements, they certainly made one tonight.
And they made it look easy.