Play of the game: It's not often that the game's best play comes on its opening drive, but that's exactly what happened in this one. On the opening kickoff, the Buffaloes caught the Cardinal off guard, leading to a fumble and a Colorado recovery. After the Cardinal defense held to force a field goal attempt, linebacker Max Bergen ran through the Colorado offensive line almost untouched, blocked the kick, scooped it up and ran it back for a 75-yard touchdown. The play squashed any momentum Colorado had gained from its kickoff recovery and firmly put Stanford in the driver's seat for the remainder of the game.
"I'll have to watch the film but I don't think anyone blocked me," Bergen said after the game. "It was pretty clean."
"I think it might have just got us started," he said later. "Just a little play like that got the offense rolling and the defense playing pretty good."
Luck does it again: Star quarterback Andrew Luck had another Heisman-caliber performance, going 26-of-33 for 370 yards, three touchdowns and one interception (which occurred when a pass bounced off Chris Owusu's hands). Luck has thrown for more passing yards only once in his career, a 423-yard performance against Arizona in 2009. Luck also distributed the ball very evenly—four receivers caught four balls apiece, and no one caught more passes.
"I've got to see the film, but I thought he was outstanding," head coach David Shaw said of Luck. "He was phenomenal. We had two catchable balls that were incompletions, one was an interception and besides that he was pretty close to flawless."
Whalen makes it to next level: Tops among the receiving corps was Griff Whalen, who hauled in four catches for 92 yards and a touchdown, his first of the season. Whalen also made a highlight-reel catch in the second quarter, when Luck hit him for a 27-yard gain on a 3rd and 25. That play took the offense to the one-yard line and set up a short touchdown run by Jeremy Stewart.
"It was a great catch, with Griff staying alive," Luck said. "Anytime you can convert on third and long the O-line is doing something right. They did a lot of things right all game… Griff stayed on his route, kept working and caught a good ball."
Defensive injuries hurt for the Buffs: The Buffaloes couldn't seem to do anything right in this game, either offensively or defensively. Of course, entering the game, Colorado was dealing with a rash of injuries to its secondary, not a good position to be in when facing one of the best quarterbacks in the country. The inexperience in the defensive backfield showed early, when Stanford receivers seemed to have no trouble finding and exploiting big gaps downfield. Though Stanford never had a huge, highlight-reel type play—its longest pass play was 37 yards— Luck consistently found sizeable chunks of yardage underneath.
Rodney Stewart stays quiet: The biggest weapon available in Colorado's arsenal was running back Rodney Stewart, but the Stanford front seven did a very effective job in bottling him up throughout the game. Stewart only had 21 yards on 11 carries, though he did break off a big 76-yard play on a check-down pass completion in the second quarter. By contrast, Buffs QB Tyler Hansen did play a decent game, going 15-21 for 202 yards, with a touchdown and an interception.
Special teams make the difference once again: With Bergen's field goal block, Stanford opponents have now made just two field goals on 10 attempts all season. Shaw didn't really have any explanation for that phenomenon. "We're trying to get blocks and for some reason guys have just missed some kicks against us," he said.
Personal fouls trouble the Cardinal: Stanford's Cameron Flemming, Levine Toilolo and Tyler Mabry were each whistled for a personal foul. Though none unduly affected the Cardinal, Luck believes that it's an issue that needs to be addressed. "It's all our faults," he said. "There's no one else to point the finger except at ourselves. Luckily we were able to bounce out of that hole today in certain situations, but you can't win consistently playing like that."
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