Survive and advance: Taking stock of Stanford’s Halloween night road win

November 4, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 4, 2015

Stanford’s 30-28 road victory at Washington State on Halloween night was extremely dramatic, so much so that I did two write-ups — one for the first half and the very beginning of the second, while the remainder of the game is recapped here. It was so dramatic, in fact, that it’s easy to overlook some of its larger significance.

Let’s start with the most important result: Stanford is now 7-1 overall and 6-0 in the Pac-12, which puts the Cardinal atop the conference’s Northern Division. Tied for second-place are Oregon and Washington State, which are both 3-2 in league and 5-3 in toto.

The path to the league title game is clear for Stanford: The Northern crown will be secured with the combination of one Cardinal win and one loss by the Ducks. (Even if Washington State won its next four games, all in the Pac-12, and Stanford only won once more in league, the tiebreaker would go to Stanford because of its head-to-head victory over the Cougars. In that scenario, both teams would finish 7-2 in circuit play.)

Now to the deeds of the players. It was, in a sense, the best of times and the worst of times for many Stanford team members.

Veteran quarterback Kevin Hogan was a paltry 10 of 19 passing for 86 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. However, Hogan virtually turned the game around single-handedly with two long third-quarter runs — a 39-yard dash that set up Remound Wright’s TD carry from the Wazzu 2 and a 59-yard touchdown run that cut Stanford’s deficit to two points. (The 39-yarder was the longest of Hogan’s career until it was eclipsed by his touchdown scamper.) Hogan also scored with a six-yard keeper on the team’s ensuing drive, giving the Cardinal its first lead of the night. In all, Hogan netted 112 yards on 14 carries, despite his being sacked four times, and finished as the game’s leading rusher. (He’d never previously had more than 57 yards in any one contest.)

His backfield colleague, Christian McCaffrey, finished with 136 all-purpose yards, which was 30 yards below his previous season low, 166 yards against Central Florida. McCaffrey had a single return, of a punt, for only three yards. But he did have four catches for 26 yards, and his 22 rushes netted 107 yards. That made for a stellar 4.9 yards per carry; it also, I might add, made for the sophomore’s sixth straight 100-yard game. His and Hogan’s rushing performances marked the first time the Cardinal had two players hit the century mark in the same game since Stepfan Taylor (138) and Tyler Gaffney (117) did so against the Washington Huskies in 2011.

The Coloradan remains atop the nation’s all-purpose leader board at 244 yards a game, averaging nearly 25 yards per game more than the runner-up, San Jose State running back Tyler Ervin. And McCaffrey’s 1,060 rushing yards on the season ranks eighth nationally.

Stanford finished with 40 carries for 226 yards and two touchdowns. Statistically, it wasn’t as impressive as Washington State’s Luke Falk, who passed for more than 300 yards and two touchdowns, but the Cardinal ground attack ultimately had a bigger impact on the game. (The Cougars netted just 88 yards on 23 carries.) As I tweeted after the contest, “226 yards rushing (at 5.7 yards per pop, thanks to some huge Kevin Hogan gains) > 354 yards passing.”

And the Cardinal still leads the nation in time of possession at 34 minutes and 56 seconds per game.

Championship teams usually have to escape close scrapes, and scrapes don’t get much closer than Saturday’s 30-28 squeaker. If Stanford can keep asserting its will and playing its game — springing McCaffrey and an associate for multiple big runs, getting first downs and long gains through the air, and limiting opponent scoring — things will fall into place.

The College Football Playoff selection committee released its initial rankings Tuesday evening, and the Cardinal was ranked 11th, beneath seven undefeated teams and three teams with the same record as Stanford (7-1).

No matter; it bears repeating: If Stanford can keep asserting its will and playing its game — springing McCaffrey and an associate for multiple big runs, getting first downs and long gains through the air, and limiting opponent scoring — things will fall into place.

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