PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Whatever Stanford’s offense did during the bye week, it worked.
Whatever the offensive line ate -- keep eating it.
Whatever the tight ends drank -- keep drinking it.
Whatever running back Stepfan Taylor practiced -- keep practicing it.
Whatever quarterback Andrew Luck learned -- keep learning it.
The offense put together a complete game for the first time this season, outplaying Stanford’s heralded defense in a 45-19 win over UCLA at Stanford Stadium.
The No. 6 Cardinal (4-0, 2-0) totaled 442 yards of offense while extending the nation’s longest winning streak to 12 games. Not their highest total of the year. But it was the way they went about swallowing up those yards that was impressive. They looked crisp in the passing game, punishing in the run game and well-oiled moving up and down the field.
Luck and Taylor led the charge for the Cardinal. Luck continued his Heisman campaign with a very efficient 23-of-27 for 227 yards and three touchdowns. For the second straight game, Taylor looked sensational behind a strong game from the offensive line. He rushed for 112 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“We talk all the time about efficiency,” said head coach David Shaw. “When Bill Walsh put the West Coast offense together, we talked about being efficient, gaining ground every single play. Our honorary captain, Condoleezza Rice, talked about acquiring real estate, just chewing up real estate play after play and our guys did that.”
The offense was creative, per usual; reverse wide-receiver passes to quarterbacks, Wildcat formations, end arounds. But they were at their best when they were pounding away at the UCLA defense.
“Our coaches challenge us intellectually, as they do the defense,” said Luck. “Here’s the scheme, here’s how we’re attacking this week and it’s up to you to go execute. All of the guys will attest to it. We want to make it challenging on ourselves because we know that’s going to play to our advantage. I think that’s part of why a lot of guys come to Stanford -- to be challenged athletically and academically and it’s fun to be in that offense."
Luck was certainly testing himself -- and the UCLA defense -- from a cerebral perspective. The Cardinal debuted their extended no-huddle offense for a significant portion of the game. In this scheme, Luck has complete control of the offense and calls the plays he sees fit.
“It’s really something we worked on the entire offseason,” Shaw said. “This was the game we were going to start doing it. We put the formation out there and let Andrew call the play. It’s 100 percent up to him to get us in the right play. We feel like we have a phenomenal quarterback. I don’t know that there are too many college quarterbacks that can truly call the game. It’s not coming from the sideline. It’s coming from him on the field.
“There is a set group we work on, but at the same time, he can get to anything in the offense. I go back to the Tom Moore quote. ‘When you have a great player, don’t hold him back.’ We’re trying to let him go and let him run the plays he feels good about.”
And how does Andrew Luck the offensive coordinator compare to his coach?
“His [calls] were a little bit better than mine,” Shaw said.
Defensively, it was an average performance from what we’ve come to expect in the first three games. The defense yielded 141 yards -- significantly higher than their 36 yards per game average. But then again, they held UCLA to 141 yards rushing, significantly less than its 214 rushing yards per game average.
“We definitely have things to clean up,” said linebacker Jarek Lancaster. “We held them to 140 something. Not too bad. We can definitely be a lot cleaner.”
The defense showed its muscle on the game’s opening drive. UCLA advanced to the Stanford 4-yard line, but the Cardinal turned them away four times -- including once from third-and-goal at the 1 and again on fourth-and-goal from the 2.
That harkened Shaw back to his days with the Baltimore Ravens.
“Ray Lewis used to always say ‘opportunity for greatness,’” Shaw recalled. “The ball is on the 1-yard line, it’s an opportunity for greatness. Our guys stepped up to the challenge and did a good job.”
UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel lamented his team’s inability to punch it in.
“I’m irritated,” he said. “We got stopped on the 1. We had two chances. We’ve got to get it in.”
Safety Michael Thomas called it a confidence boost for the defense – which was playing its first game without linebacker Shayne Skov, who went down for the season with a knee injury against Arizona.
“We knew they were going to try to punch us in the face by running it down our throats because they are a running team,” Thomas said. “We just told ourselves go to the next play and knew we were going to have to put a stand up.”
The offense fed off the stand and proceeded to march 99 yards on 16 plays -- capping the 8-minute, 14-second drive with an 18-yard touchdown pass from Luck to Coby Fleener -- who snatched Luck’s bullet out of the air with one hand.
Of course, the highlight play -- also a one-handed catch -- occurred six snaps earlier, when Luck snagged a pass from wide receiver Drew Terrell out of the air with one hand while sliding his left foot inbounds. It was initially ruled out of bounds, but a replay reversed the call.
“I’m sure it was an incomplete at the next level,” Luck joked. “I’m glad for the one-foot rule.”
Meanwhile, Taylor kept pounding away, picking up a few yards at a time before breaking out for a big run.
“[The offensive line] was attacking up front,” Taylor said. “They keep making a name for themselves. The tight ends were blocking well and the receivers were blocking downfield. It was a balanced game.”