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 The Bootleg's executive management, Major Upset Productions, the Scout Network, Fox Sports, News Corp, Sparky, or Stanford Head Coach Jim "EUTM" Harbaugh.
of thought is that you need to "win big". The other school of thought is that
when you are playing a conference game on the road, you just need to "win,
period". That is what Stanford did at
RUNNING GAME: B
This grade would be a lot lower if it were given for just the first three quarters. ASU did an outstanding job of stopping the run, holding Stanford to just 30 yards on 25 carries before fading in the final 15 minutes. The Sun Devils committed eight and nine players to the box, and they really used the exceptional speed they have at linebacker to fill all the gaps. Nobody had shut down the Cardinal run game so thoroughly during the past two seasons.
Then the fourth quarter arrived and Stanford had two things going for it: Time-of-possession starting to take a toll and the fresh legs of rising freshman running back Anthony Wilkerson. #32 looked great. He ran decisively, he saw the field well, he had a burst of speed when needed and he ran with power at other times. Wilkerson ended up with 10 carries for 65 yards. Of course, he showed a great head on his shoulders (an the ability to take instruction) by kneeling down to seal the game after bursting through the line. A lot of folks, including casino patrons in Las Vegas, won't like that play, but the reality is it guaranteed a cardinal victory. Wilkerson just keeps getting better every game.
Stepfan Taylor (#33) had trouble
getting it going. He ended with 16 carries for 39 yards. The 2.4 yards per carry
is well below his 2010 season average. Stanford also tried Tyler Gaffney (#25),
Jeremy Stewart (#34) and even Usua Amanam (#15) got a carry.
The talented Stanford offensive
line struggled. When they could get in a man-to-man situation, Stanford normally
won the battle, but the quickness of the Devil defenders presented problems.
PASSING GAME: B+
Honors candidate Andrew Luck (#12) was outstanding. The only reason this grade is not an "A" was due to the inability to score more and the sense that without injured wide receiver Chris Owusu (#81), there was not much explosiveness to the offense.
Clearly, Owusu was missed. Senior
Doug Baldwin, as he has done several times this season, did a great job
stepping in with 10 catches for 122 yards. Without Owusu though, the passing
attack seemed to be centered on the short passing game. ASU was bringing
pressure to stop the run and the pass so it left a lot of one-on one-coverage to
the outside and that was hard for Stanford to break free of during most of the
game. Most of Luck's passes were short, many of them screens to keep the
ASU rushers honest, although Luck dazzled the crowd with an
arm-strength-showcasing 44-yard hook-up to
Back to Luck though, Stanford won this game because he was the general. Despite things not going well in the run game, despite the inability to put up big points like the Card offense normally does, Luck kept his cool and kept Stanford on the move. He ended up 33-41 for 292 yards. He was the consummate team leader. He did nothing during this crunch-time victory to lower his near-legendary reputation as it continues to blossom on The Farm.
The offensive line was again challenged early. The speed rush from the outside forced one sack and created a couple of holding penalties. Overall though, the Tunnel Workers Union (TWU) did a nice job of giving Luck enough time, especially in that fourth quarter.
RUN DEFENSE: B+
For the most part, the defense
played pretty well. ASU averaged 4.8 yards per carry which is higher than you
would expect or prefer. Cat-quick Cameron Marshall had some nice runs and ended
up with 92 yards on just 12 carries including a game-best 39- yard run. But
Inside linebacker Shayne Skov (#11) continues to be a madman on defense. At times it feels that he is everywhere. Two-way teammate Owen Marecic (#48) also played a very solid game. When a running back does make it past the front seven, nobody gets past Delano Howell (#26). He defines the word "safety" in the secondary. It was disconcerting to see that Howell sat out the fourth quarter, presumably with a minor injury.
PASS DEFENSE: A
Stanford's pass defense down in Tempe was outstanding. Devils QB Steven Threet could get nothing going on offense. He ended the evening 16-26 for just 158 yards, with one touchdown and one tipped interception. The pass rush was consistent. But this may have been the finest hour for the secondary. With Johnson Bademosi (#27) still unavailable, true freshman Barry Browning (#31) got the start and looked pretty good at one corner. He showed great improvement from his last game to this. Versatile playmaker Michael Thomas (#3) was back at corner too, usually in the slot so he could both take away a receiver and also help support on the run. Thomas was very solid. Richard Sherman also had a good game on his side of the field and showed durability after taking a shot at the goal line. Safeties Howell and Taylor Skaufel played great support, with Skaufel on several occasions showcasing his outstanding tackling ability. There were not many open ASU receivers, when they did get open they would be brought down fast.
The Card air defense finally demonstrated that they could stop the short-passing game to the outside. Stanford committed more bodies, it seemed, to stopping the outside pass to the wide receiver, but the corners themselves just seemed more confident and aggressive in playing it.
Marecic may have produced the play of the game when he knocked the ball away from an ASU running back on a fly pattern down the middle on a critical third-down play in the fourth quarter.
The key stat for the pass defense, they limited ASU to 1-9 on third-down conversions. That is an outstanding number! That will win ballgames!
Lesser teams find ways to lose games like this on the road. While Coach Harbaugh would deny the implication, it was pretty clearly a "trap" game with the 113th Big Game looming large. It was the final road trip outside the Bay Area. It was against a wounded, but proud Sun Devils team that has played better in 2010 than its record would indicate. Many previous editions of the Cardinal would have lost this game. While Stanford did not play its best, it did what it needed to do. Vic Fangio's defense gets a lot of credit. On offense, it certainly seemed as though the scheme choices were solid and eventually managed to wear the Sun Devils down.
As stated above, this was a monumental win. What is different about this one is that Stanford can say the defense stepped up and won a game. Despite two road shutouts this season, the defense was always supported by a powerful offense. Without that offensive support, the defense was the difference in this game. The Cardinal is not one-dimensional anymore. They have a "great" offense that we all know about. Now they have a "very good" defense to go with it.
Bootleg Players of
the ASU Game:
OFFENSE: Andrew Luck
DEFENSE: Michael Thomas
SPECIAL TEAMS: Drew Terrell
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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