"The Report Card-inal": Stanford 37, ND 14

The Bootleg's special partner Dave Fowkes is once again challenged to find much fault after yet another impressive outing by the Stanford Cardinal this past Saturday. A decisive defeat of a storied program on a tradition-tinged turf has the country paying increasing attention to Harbaugh's Heroes™. Read on to hear who how Stanford's units graded out against the shocked and awed Irish.

"The Report Card-inal": Stanford 37, Notre Dame 14

Editor's Note: The following commentary offers the author's personal views of the on-field performances of some of Stanford University's exceptional student-athletes. In no way should constructively-intended criticism be deemed as a lack of respect or admiration for our players' obvious desire, dedication, sacrifice and commitment. The views expressed below do not reflect necessarily those of Bootleg management, Major Upset Productions, the Scout Network, Fox Sports, News Corp or Coach Harbaugh.     

The Stanford Express just keeps on rolling. On Saturday the fast-starting Cardinal rolled right into South Bend and barreled straight over the once-proud Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The final score was 37-14. A look at the scoreboard indicated that the game was closer than it really was as it took a couple of fourth quarter Stanford touchdowns to really blow the game open. At the same time, did anyone really think Notre Dame was coming back in this one? With complete domination of the line of scrimmage by the visitors from Palo Alto, this game was not as close as the score would suggest.

Either way it was another big, momentum-building victory for Stanford. A 23-point road win in a place Stanford has not won since 1992, a 4-0 start for the first time since 1986, and a top-ten ranking courtesy of the Associated Press. Things look good for the Cardinal, and as one might expect, so do the grades.


Big props go to sophomore Stepfan Taylor (#33). The Cardinal running game was supposed to be "back by committee". However when Tyler Gaffney (#25) went down to injury in the first quarter, it became Taylor 's show. He responded with a very solid, grinding performance. Taylor rushed the ball 28 times for 108 yards. There were no huge gains. His longest run was only nine yards. But it was a very consistent effort. In the fourth quarter, when it was time to go on a long, time consuming drive, the Cardinal went to the 5-11, 208-pound back time and time again. In such times during the recent past, Stanford would turn to Toby Gerhart, but this time it was all about Taylor and he answered the call with a very solid effort.

As with anytime a running back gets credit, the offensive line is often equally deserving of praise. As they had proven in the first three games, the Tunnel Workers Union was once again the more physical and dominant line group on the field. The holes may not have been as big this week, but they were there. It really showed up in the second half as the Irish defense just got worn down.

Despite Taylor's fine work, losing Gaffney seemed to hurt the team's depth and rotation. Usua Amanam (#15) had a few nice carries but in all candor does not look like the durable type of back that can carry the ball 20-times. Freshman Anthony Wilkerson (#32) had one carry early and again showed that for now he is essentially a straight-ahead runner.

The secret is out on Owen Marecic (#48). He is Stanford's short-yardage man. He got stopped twice, but he did barrel over the top for one touchdown. Down the road Stanford will need to find other ways to gain a tough yard beyond just handing it to Marecic because sensible teams will be keying on him now.


I was tempted to give this closer to a "C" rating, but decided that would be too harsh. We all have such high expectations for Andrew Luck (#12). Luck was not perfect, therefore it was a "bad" game? Yes, let's agree that such a judgement would be a bit too harsh.

Luck threw his first two interceptions of the season, each a tipped ball. He added a couple of very questionable throws that easily could have been picked. He was only 19-32 in passing for a modest 238 yards.

That said, Luck was great when he needed to be. He helped Stanford convert on 11 of 16 third downs. He had more than one critical third-down completion. He established a nice rhythm with tight end Coby Fleener (#82) to the tune of four receptions for 57 yards and a touchdown.

Even allowing for the windy conditions, there were a few times Luck seemed to "loft" the ball more than he should have. A little more "zip" would have resulted in a few more catches and another touchdown. That said, a lot of this is classic nit-picking. Luck's ability to manage the game is still the most impressive of his many great attributes and the redshirt sophomore has led Stanford to a remarkable #9 ranking.

 Doug Baldwin (#89) had a nice rebound to a bad start. In years past, when he got off to a bad start it would affect the rest of his game. Baldwin dropped the punt early and Notre Dame capitalized for a field goal. Baldwin responded with two key third down receptions later in the game.

Griff Whalen (#17) looked good filling in for the injured Ryan Whalen (#8). Tight end Konrad Reuland (#88) returned to his initial college campus with three catches for 48 yards.

It was hard to tell from watching the game on television what the reasoning was, but it appeared the Cardinal receivers were struggling to get open against a solid, but unspectacular Notre Dame secondary. Uncharacteristically, Chris Owusu (#81) could not get open on the fly patterns down the sideline. The open patterns seemed to be underneath, which may have been simply a case of the coverage scheme being deployed by the Irish.

All in all, the passing game supported the ball-control game plan as it was intended to do.


If you want a text book illustration how the 3-4 defense is supposed to stop the run, watch the game again. The three defensive linemen stood up the offensive line. The two inside linebackers patrolled sideline to sideline and the outside linebackers forced everything back inside to the middle backers.

Notre Dame ran for 64 yards on the game (before the sack total was taken out of the net yards). Given the fact that the Irish had one carry for 11 yards and another for nine yards, that leaves 45 yards on 17 carries the rest of the way. Those are winning numbers under any circumstances.

Safety Delano Howell (#26) was dominant leading the Cardinal with 12 tackles from his safety spot. Sophomore linebacker Shayne Skov (#11) also played his best game with eight tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble, shaking off an injury to get right back into the fight. Chase Thomas (#44), who is showing us all why the coaches have been raving about him since he arrived on campus in 2008, was also huge for the Cardinal with seven tackles and Marecic added five to go with his memorable, game-icing "pick-six".

Overall, the Irish simply could not run effectively on Stanford and that was a game-changing scenario seldom seen in South Bend. 


The big question going into this game was how would Stanford's pass defense hold up against the best passing offense they had seen so far this year. Even yielding some yardage, Stanford passed the test easily.

It all started with the pass rush. The blitz scheme was remarkably effective. Skov, Thomas, Thomas Keiser, and Marecic were all regulars in the Irish backfield. The plan was obvious, hit Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist as early and as often as they could.
Crist looked good early on, but after absorbing hit after hit, he wore down and, somewhat understandably, became a bit gun-shy. Even when he did have time, he no longer looked as comfortable or confident in his throws.

Once the pressure had been established, the secondary took over. Keiser had one sack on a three-man rush because the secondary threw a blanket over the Notre Dame receivers. Richard Sherman (#9) continues to impress at one cornerback position. He was constantly in good play-making position. The few times someone would catch the ball, he would make the tackle.

Safeties Michael Thomas (#3) and Howell are playing terrific football. Both make big plays. Both are excellent tacklers. If Thomas's injury is severe, he will be a big loss. That said, Taylor Skaufel (#40) was solid off the bench and made five tackles. At the other corner Johnson Bademosi (#27) occasionally gives up a bit too much room in front of him, but he has been solid on the tackling as well.

Speaking of tackling, it is truly the one biggest difference from last year to this year. Even when Stanford does give up a play, there is someone there to make an open field tackle. Last year a number of those plays would have been broken for touchdowns. This year, it seems as if Stanford is converting that first hit into a tackle 90% of the time.

The numbers may be misleading as Crist did end up throwing for 304 yards, but a lot of those yards came against the second string in the fourth quarter. The starting defense should be proud.


dropped punt in the first quarter will drop this grade. That could have been a very costly turnover. The defense bailed him out by holding Notre Dame to three points and killing the Irish "buzz". 

Other than that, it was a pretty impressive show on special teams. Kicker Nate Whitaker (#39), one week after missing a pair of extra points, converted all five of his field goal attempts in his emotional return to South Bend. His kickoffs were beyond the goal line more than not. The coverage unit was outstanding, keeping the Irish inside the 20 most of the time.

Stanford did not need to punt often. When it was necessary, the coverage squad (#28 Harold Bernard) downed the ball inside the Irish five-yard line. That was a nice touch.


On the surface Stanford's game plan is straightforward and simple. Stanford will pound you into submission on offense and defense. The basic strategy is to get the job done. 

On offense, the run game continues to use off-balanced lines. The number of combinations of tight ends and receivers and running backs used is innumerable. "Attention to detail" may be used as a cliché at times, but it applies like never before to this offense.

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has opposing offenses off-balanced and confused. Will he blitz? Will he drop eight in coverage? The aggressiveness and unpredictably of the defensive play calls is resulting in the putting of very good players in very great positions.


Stanford has not beaten Notre Dame very often. The Cardinal notched another important road win. Managing to win somewhat easily against the Irish is nothing short of special. The Cardinal is now 4-0 and moving forward to a top-ten battle against Oregon in Eugene on Saturday evening (game time has been moved from 8:15PM to 5:00PM Pacific). Through the first month of September, it is all "A" grades for the Cardinal.


OFFENSE: RB Stepfan Taylor

DEFENSE: ILB Shayne Skov (by a narrow margin over Delano Howell)


HONORABLE MENTION: FB/ILB Owen Marecic (C'mon, how can we not honor a guy who scores on offense and defense in a 13-second span?!)

Dave Fowkes is a longtime Stanford Cardinal fan, who is finally seeing his loyalty pay some serious dividends. Born at Stanford hospital and raised on the Peninsula, he has been a football season ticket holder since 1981. In that span he has only missed three home games, but of course never a Big Game. Dave currently works in media both on the air and behind the scenes in advertising sales. He has covered sports on and off since 1992. Currently he works as a traffic, news and sports man on several Bay Area radio stations under a few different on-air aliases. Dave blends the passion of being a fan with the perspective of being a reporter in his stories. For more Stanford football coverage by Dave Fowkes, you can read the "Stanford Football Examiner" at www.stanfordfootballreport.com  

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