Simulation Station: Duke

You can read previews of opponents' strengths and weaknesses anywhere. But who cares about the outlook for some third-string tailback? That's why, here at The Bootleg, we took matters into our own hands, quite literally. We played out Stanford's upcoming season in NCAA Football 2012, and are faithfully reporting our video game results. How will the Card do this week? Read on!

DURHAM, N.C. – Sept. 10, 2011

Stepfan Taylor ran power left on the Cardinal's first three snaps of the game, gaining nine cumulative yards on his team's signature play. On fourth down, Stanford didn't think twice. From their own 48, the Cardinal ran power left yet again, picked up the first down, and were on the way to the first of Taylor's four rushing touchdowns.

Taylor's spectacular day was enough for the Card to down host Duke 42-21 in a game closer than the final score indicated, or Stanford would have liked. Andrew Luck added to Taylor's efforts with key passes and scrambles throughout the afternoon, and the defense came up with eight sacks, offsetting a sloppy performance from the Cardinal secondary.

"A win's a win and we'll take it," Coach David Shaw said. "But maybe this is a reminder – we haven't done anything to earn our ranking yet, and we're not good enough to overlook anyone."

Though the Devils entered the fourth tied 21-all with the Cardinal, prohibitive favorites, Taylor and the Card's offensive line proved too much in the final stanza.

Two minutes into the fourth, the Texan junior broke an ankle tackle to give Stanford the lead for good, 28-21. Stanford then forced a Duke punt, setting the stage for a 49-yard Luck touchdown strike, which two Duke defenders deflected into the hands of a surprised Griff Whalen. Duke turned the ball over on downs, and Taylor then iced the game with his fourth score of the afternoon, a five-yard run up the middle with 3:37 left.

Taylor started his banner day with a 17-yard score in the first quarter and a one-yard touchdown six seconds before halftime. He ended with 114 yards on 26 carries, and a lot of praise from his teammates.

"Stepfan saved us today," safety Delano Howell said. "No matter who you are, everyone's going to have a down day, and you need your teammates to pick you up. It wasn't our day in the [defensive] backfield today, but Stepfan was there to pick up the slack."

Indeed, on a muggy afternoon more fit for July, Stanford's lethargy was evident nowhere more than in the defensive backfield. Duke junior Sean Renfree threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns, aided greatly by three passes longer than fifty yards off Stanford defensive breakdowns. Conner Vernon caught two of those longballs, the first a 60-yard strike that gave Duke a 14-7 lead with four minutes to go in the first half, and the second a 57-yarder that knotted the game at 21 as the third quarter ended.

Duke's spread offense, with four or five wideouts, near-empty backfields and a no-huddle tempo, comes from the same mold as Pac-10 co-favorite Oregon's. That the Cardinal struggled in Durham this year, as they had in Eugene last year, must be a cause for concern for the Stanford football braintrust.

Nonetheless, Stanford won by 21 points on the road on an off-day, and Andrew Luck quietly finished with 243 yards and two touchdowns in a game that saw Stanford focus on its ground attack.

Stanford's front seven also thrived against the limited protection, managing 15 tackles for loss, including eight sacks. End Matt Masifilio led the way with three sacks.

"Good teams find a way to win when they play well, but great teams find a way to win even when they don't," Renfree said. "The way their D line played, and the way they came out in the fourth quarter, those guys might be better than you think."

Stanford's showing came in front of East Coast alums and, perhaps more importantly, Southeastern recruits. A clear majority of Stanford's currently committed high school seniors are from Texas and the Southeast. Many were at the game and went home with plenty to think about, as Georgian Chase Thomas stood out with three tackles for loss, and fellow Georgians Henry Anderson and Jamal Rashad Patterson also contributed. Georgian James Vaughters, meanwhile, became the first Stanford freshman to burn his redshirt, entering the game in the mid-third quarter.

"We don't plan it like that, but it was nice for our East Coast guys, our Georgia guys to get to shine," coach David Shaw said. "Stanford's a long way from Georgia, a long way from Maryland, so for guys like Thomas and Patterson and Terrence Stephens, I'm sure they appreciated it."

Disclaimer: The Bootleg's crystal ball cannot be held responsible for any wagers placed. Also, EA Sports doesn't know about injuries and depth chart changes and such. Take the stories in the spirit in which they're intended.

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