Cardinal flirts with perfection in 55-17 stomping of Arizona

October 8, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 8, 2015

In recapping Stanford’s 42-24 road win over Oregon State, I wrote that I thought the Cardinal offense “has yet to play at peak efficiency. If and when that time comes, it doesn’t matter who the opponent is — they’d better watch out.”

The University of Arizona football squad came to town on Saturday night, and they got steamrolled. The Cardinal scored 13 points in the first quarter, 14 points in the second quarter and 21 points (!!!) in the third quarter en route to a 55-17 walloping of the Wildcats.

This was the first time that the team had scored 40 or more points in three consecutive games since quarterback Andrew Luck and head coach Jim Harbaugh were helming the squad that went on to win the Orange Bowl. With 325 yards vs. the Beavers and 314 yards against the Wildcats, the Cardinal has recorded 300 or more rushing yards in consecutive games for the first time since 1981.

Quarterback Kevin Hogan’s mobility was still limited by the ankle he rolled against USC — witness the fact that he only carried the ball one time — but he turned in probably the most efficient game of his college career: 17 for 19 for a completion rate a shade under 90 percent, with 217 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Christian McCaffrey was his usual magnificent self, carrying 17 times for 156 yards and his first college rushing touchdown. He also garnered 104 yards on receptions and returns for a total of 260 all-purpose yards; he ranks first in the nation in that category with 1,149 all-purpose gains, an average of 229.8 yards per game.

Barry Sanders rushed just four times, but one of those was a 65-yard touchdown — amazingly, this was the second straight game in which Sanders scored a 65-yard touchdown on a single-play possession. Remound Wright did his usual magic on only 11 touches; that yielded two short rushing touchdowns, 29 rushing yards and a 16-yard touchdown reception from Hogan. (Veteran left guard Joshua Garnett, an All-America candidate, laid down a key block for Wright on the receiving TD.)

Michael Rector caught the ball four times for 79 yards; his 18-yard touchdown catch rounded out the scoring by Stanford’s starting unit. (The play featured a nice stiff-arm by Rector and only occurred after Hogan was able to pick up a snap out of the shotgun formation that hit the ground.)

There was only one scoring drive by either team in the fourth quarter, but it boded well for the Cardinal’s future: Sophomore quarterback Keller Chryst was a perfect 4-4 with 39 yards, including a six-yard toss to fifth-year senior receiver Rollins Stallworth that constituted the first NCAA touchdown for both players. Chryst also made the highlight reel by laying down a solid block on a first-down run by McCaffrey in the second quarter.

I wrote last week that had it not been for the team kneeling out the first half and a missed field goal, “the Cardinal might have scored on more than half of its 13 total possessions.” This time, had it not been for Chryst being sacked on third down, which forced a punt, and the team kneeling out the fourth quarter after gaining a crucial first down, Stanford might have scored on all 11 possessions.

Senior kicker Conrad Ukropina recovered from his first miss of the season, against Oregon State, to boot field goals of 38 and 41 yards in the first quarter. The only criticism for the offense might have been that it started slowly, with failed third-down conversions prompting head coach David Shaw to send out Ukropina. (Overall, Stanford converted 7 of 11 third-down tries.)

That slow start did not matter in the end, of course, because the Cardinal defense was on point for much of the game. Arizona, which didn’t bring its normal starting quarterback to California due to injury, sent out backup QB Jerrard Randall, who botched many easy throws. (He finished with a not-abysmal 178 yards on 15 of 28 throwing, but the damage would have been a lot worse if Randall were a better passer.) The Wildcats managed just a field goal in the first half, and their only two touchdowns came in the third quarter when Randall was able to string together some completions.

Stanford, which is thin on the defensive line and fairly inexperienced in its secondary, has been relatively fortunate when it comes to opposing quarterbacks: All but USC’s Cody Kessler have been inexperienced, a trend that is likely to hold through the rest of the season. (Sefo Liufau of Colorado and Cal’s all-world signal caller, Jared Goff, seem to be the only veterans on the schedule.) But the Cardinal defense has done its job: It’s allowed only 11 touchdowns and 95 points (19 points per game) this season and is a close second in the conference to Washington in allowing opponents 327.6 yards of offense per game, which is about all you can ask.

The Cardinal defense let the Wildcats convert on third down just eight of 17 times. Blake Martinez again led the team by bringing down the ball-carrier 13 times, either alone or jointly. The senior inside linebacker and team co-captain leads the nation with 63 total tackles (12.6 stops per game), and his 32 solo tackles are ranked 15th best in the nation (6.4 stops per contest).

Stanford, which is now 4-1 overall and 3-0 in league, will take this weekend off before hosting UCLA in a nationally televised Thursday-night game on Oct. 15. The team has an extremely favorable schedule coming up. The Cardinal misses Arizona State and Utah this year — although boosters are already chattering about a Pac-12 championship game matchup against the Utes. And the club must venture on the road just twice more this year, both times against conference bottom dwellers, Washington State and Colorado.

The squad’s embarrassing loss at Northwestern feels as if it occurred aeons ago. There are some stiff tests ahead — see: UCLA; Oregon; Cal — but ever since that cringeworthy start, Shaw’s squad has shown itself to be more than capable of rising to a challenge. I’m excited about the games to come.

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