Stanford 65, Washington 21

Did I think No. 8 Stanford would beat No. 25 Washington on Saturday night? Absolutely. Did I think that the Cardinal would obliterate the Huskies by 44 points, providing a resounding answer to the questions around its strength of schedule? To be honest, not really, but that's exactly what Stanford did, adding even more steam to the hype machine.

On the other side, the Huskies got shown up as pretty overrated and unworthy of a top-25 ranking.

The Cardinal improves to 7-0 and 5-0 in Pac-12 play, while Washington falls to 5-2 and 3-1 in the conference. Stanford moves forward as the Pac-12's only remaining hope for a berth in the BCS title game, and all eyes will be on its Nov. 12 showdown with Oregon for supremacy in the Pac-12 North. Washington still has a strong record, and could very easily go to one of the Pac- 12's top bowl games at the end of the season.

Play of the game: In the second quarter, the Huskies had a good deal of momentum on their side. Star running back Chris Polk had just blown the doors off the Stanford run defense, breaking a 61-yard touchdown run to put Washington within a field goal of the Cardinal at 17- 14. Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor had other ideas, though. On the first play of Stanford's drive after a kickoff return to the 30, Taylor burst through the middle almost untouched and took the ball down 70 yards for a touchdown to put Stanford up, 24-14. The score took all the wind out of Washington and injected life into the Stanford sideline and the crowd; from then on, the Huskies couldn't regain any momentum and the Card took a 38-14 lead into the locker room at halftime.

"It's been like that every game," Taylor said when asked about how well the blocking scheme worked. "Just get the ball, follow your aiming point and the linemen's assignments, and the holes are there. We just have to run, make somebody miss and go score."

Head coach David Shaw also talked about the play of the offensive line, saying, "Most of our five starters probably played their best game. I mean, our backs got to the line of scrimmage clean with a head of steam tonight."

Record book rewritten: Stanford's big game didn't just position the Cardinal to win the Pac-12 North—it also was a record-breaking performance. Stanford's 446 rushing yards (on 44 carries) broke a single-game school record. Two running backs— Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney—went over 100 yards, and Anthony Wilkerson added a 93-yard performance. Stanford has also won 10 straight games by 25 points or more, a feat accomplished by no other team in the poll era (since 1936). Shaw talked about both records in the postgame press conference.
"I had no idea until right at the end," Shaw said of the rushing record. "To be perfectly honest, I was not trying to get it. That last run for a touchdown by Wilkerson, I was hoping that he would get the first down and then we would kill the clock. We're not trying to set records, we're not trying to score more points."

Shaw had a similar take on the streak of games won by more than 25 points.
"It means nothing," he said. "We told guys the only thing we've done is put ourselves in a position to go to a bowl game. That's it. We're going to a bowl game, we don't know when or where."

Polk breaks down defense: Perhaps the only black mark on an otherwise stellar performance was the play of Washington RB Chris Polk, probably the most talented back the Stanford defense had faced to date. Polk had a pretty strong game, going for 144 yards on 15 carries (which included a couple of big plays). Overall, Washington gained 172 yards rushing, a great deal more than the Cardinal were accustomed to giving up—coming into the game, Stanford was giving up an average of 59.5 yards per game on the ground. The defense's performance did improve markedly in the second half; out of the 430 total offensive yards gained by Washington, only 109 came after halftime. Safety Michael Thomas, who shifted over to strong safety for this game due an injury to Delano Howell, talked about the shift at halftime. "We got a second half…talk from coach Mason, and he let us know real quick hey, we can't play like that. Everybody just did their job. We didn't really make adjustments; he just told us that if we continued to play like this, the offense is going to have to win this game for us. Everybody got the message and started doing their job better. That was it."

Offensive line shines again: Stanford's offensive line was critical to breaking the rushing record, opening up massive holes for the Cardinal backs and mostly playing mistake and penalty-free football. Past the midway point of the season, the unit looks almost as good (maybe even just as good) as last year's unit, impressive since that line was considered one of the best in the nation.

"They're a great group of players and could easily be sitting at [the press conference] table, but they're too proud to be at this table I guess," said quarterback Andrew Luck. "They work their butts off all week, and take a lot of pride in their work…It's somewhat of a thing of beauty to see those 300-pounders move on their feet. It's amazing."

Polls and bowls: Washington remains one win short of bowl eligibility and will fall out of the BCS top 25, but it's extremely unlikely that the Huskies won't go to a bowl game this year. The implications of tonight's win for Stanford are much more interesting. At 7-0, the Cardinal is already assured a bowl berth and is perched at the top of the Pac-12 North. However, due to its weak slate of opponents before tonight's game, it currently sits at No. 8 in the BCS standings; even if Stanford were to win out, it may find itself at home when the BCS title game is played. Since Wisconsin and Oklahoma both lost (to Michigan State and Texas Tech respectively), Stanford is likely to move up to at least No. 6 in the latest BCS standings. Nevertheless, Shaw insists that neither he nor his team is worrying about the polls and about the Cardinal's chances at the title game. "The biggest pitfall in this profession is to a) worry about things you shouldn't worry about or b) worry about things you can't control," he said. "The only thing we control is how we work during the week and how we play on Saturdays. After that, if that puts us some place, great. If it doesn't, so be it."

Stanford will travel to Los Angeles next weekend to take on USC. Washington's next game is at home against Arizona.

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