Sunday, September 9, 2012
Defense carries day for Stanford
By Kyle Bonagura, Special to ESPN.com
PALO ALTO, Calif. -- That's more like it.
A week after Stanford sputtered to a 20-17 win against San Jose State, the Cardinal returned to form in a 50-13 victory against Duke.
Back to usual on the Farm? Not exactly.
The lopsided win didn't follow the script Stanford fans have become accustomed to over the past three years. There was no power running game to open up the pass, in fact Duke's nine-man defensive fronts caused the Cardinal to nearly abandon the run completely.
"If anyone has nine-man front run plays, please, don't keep them to yourselves," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "I give the coaching staff of Duke a lot of credit. They did the same thing to us last year; they made it tough on us. They made it hard on us and just like last year, you got to make plays in the passing game."
Stanford (2-0) finished with just 92 yards rushing on 26 carries, which snapped a 49-game streak in which the Cardinal ran for over 100 yards as a team. The last time it fell short of the century mark was a 31-14 loss at TCU on Sept. 13, 2008.
Without much room to operate, running back Stepfan Taylor ran for 69 yards on 14 carries and scored on a 13-yard run early in the second quarter.
While Duke (1-1) stacked the box to have success against the run, the Cardinal’s base 3-4 defense fared even better. The Blue Devils had negative yards rushing for most of the first half and finished the game with 27 yards on 23 carries.
Ed Reynolds, left, scored two interceptions against Duke, returning one 71 yards for a touchdown.
By no coincidence did the stout defensive effort coincide with the return of linebacker Shayne Skov. Skov, who missed most of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, made just four tackles, but the potential All-American’s presence on the field was no doubt felt by his teammates.
“It’s great to have his energy,” safety Ed Reynolds said. “He brings so much passion to the game as a teammate, as a leader and just having him out there running around doing what he does best was definitely a plus for us.”
Skov said there were no lingering effects from the torn anterior cruciate ligament.
“It didn’t bother me at all today. I think adrenaline is a hell of a deal, it can completely change you,” Skov said. “It changes how you feel and tomorrow, if you ask me how I feel, it’ll probably be a completely different answer.”
When it mattered, the Cardinal pass defense was effective too. Duke lived on a steady diet of quick, high-percentage passes to the perimeter throughout the game and didn’t hit on anything deeper until the game was well out of hand.
Reynolds, who has taken on a lot of the responsibilities that Michael Thomas held last year, has been an obvious bright spot through the first two games. After opening the season with an interception last week, he added two more against Duke and returned the first 71 yards for a touchdown to put Stanford up 43-6 late in the third quarter.
“Nothing has ever seemed too big for him,” Shaw said. “He’s got a great knack for reading quarterbacks and great knack for getting to the ball and the thing with him is that he’s a former running back, so once he gets his hands on the ball he can be dangerous.”
Last year, Thomas led the team with three interceptions and it took the team seven games to combine for that many.
Duke quarterbacks Sean Renfree and Anthony Boone combined to complete 42 of 63 passes for 358 yards, but just 105 of those yards came in the first half as Stanford built a 23-3 lead.
Drew Terrell took a lot of the pressure off the Stanford offense before it hand a chance to step on the field. After the defense forced a three-and-out to open the game, Terrell took the ensuing punt 78 yards for a touchdown.
“I saw on film earlier in the week that their punt team wasn’t real good at getting out,” Terrell said. “The punter outpunted the coverage. I saw there was one guy to beat. Fortunately, I was able to get inside of him and I saw it was me and the punter and as a returner you can’t let the kicker bring you down.”
Quarterback Josh Nunes couldn’t have been happier with how things opened up.
“That gave us an extra boost of confidence,” he said, “seeing Drew run down the sideline, it gets us all hyped up.”
Terrell added three catches for 39 yards and another touchdown to round out the best game of his college career.
With Duke set on stopping the run, Nunes had a chance to air it out more than in his debut. He completed 16 of 30 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns, but threw his first career interception.
As well as the Cardinal played Saturday, it’ll take another significant week of improvement if the team expects to contend with No. 2 USC in the Pac-12 opener for both teams next week.
“All hand on deck, honestly,” Skov said. “It’s going to take everything we got and we know what’s ahead of us.”