Giant-Killers or Giants?

Stanford stormed out to an incredible 31-7 lead against the Rose Bowl bound Bruins on Saturday, but watched UCLA rocket back to a tight 31-28 margin. With momentum against the good guys, times were tense in the waning moments of this Pac-10 classic. For Stanford to hold on in the second straight dramatic win against a #5 team in the land... well, it's nothing less than a statement to the college football world.

It's time to stop thinking about Stanford as a team pulling off upsets, and time to start thinking of the mighty Cardinal as the king of the hill the other kids are gunning for. After all, the widely held dominant defense from Westwood just got whacked by the Card's O, to the tune of 463 yards and 38 points. Stanford's much maligned defense (without their stellar starting interior linemen) stuck a cork in UCLA's jugger-not running game, to the tune of just 57 yards on 22 carries.

Heck, even the consistently porous Stanford special teams played an impeccably clean game.

Oh yes, the Stanford Cardinal have just taken their place atop the new world order... at least, in our world (Pac-10 pigskin).

The path to get to this place wasn't a smooth one. But that's becoming par for the course on this season. You can count on heartstopping moments, stretching into a full quarter or so of increasing terror and doubt. There was the fourth quarter fold to the Cougs; the second quarter malaise against the Mallards; and Saturday, the second half slip against the Bru-Crew. But to be more specific, here's how the game played out:

  • Stanford started the game on the first possession by a painfully ironic mishap, with Brian Allen dropping a backward pass (read: lateral) from Chris Lewis, which was a live ball. UCLA linebacker Ryan Nece nabbed the pigskin and sauntered into the endzone unmolested. In what was sure to be the toughest all-around matchup this season, Stanford had handed the Bruins a quick seven and dug an early hole.
  • And just as we expect, the unexpected followed: the good guys ran up no less than 28 unanswered points in the first half on a combination of prolific & efficient offense with stiffling defense. By both land and air, Stanford moved the ball seemingly at will against the most stingy defense in the league. The first two scoring drives covered 146 yards on 24 plays, methodically moving over, around and through the Bruins. Chris Lewis displayed great precision and poise, with excellent protection from the O-line. On defense, DeShaun Foster was absolutely invisible in the first half, with the exception perhaps of his costly second quarter fumble. Credit Anthony Gabriel for putting his hat on the ball, one of two fumbles he forced on an outstanding day. Brian Allen took that same ball from the spot of Foster's fumble, and scampered 35 yards to paydirt for the third TD of the day for the Cardinal.
  • Another turnover led to Stanford's fourth and final TD of that fine first half, this time coming on a great pick by Ryan Fernandez at the goalline, ruled at the 3-yardline. All Chris Lewis and Kerry Carter did was sashay 97 yards in 7 plays for score number four, the second successful drive greater than 90 yards of the half for Stanford.
  • All told, Stanford dominated time of possession, first downs, rushing and passing in the first half. 363 yards by the "O" was eye-popping, but the worm was about to turn...
  • The UCLA Bruins had outscored opponents some 72-0 in third quarters through six games this season, reflecting some outstanding halftime adjustments. Perhaps it wasn't surprising to then see the Westwood Warriors storm back. After an early Mike Biselli field goal made it Stanford 31 UCLA 7, the Bruins scored 14 unanswered in the third quarter. UCLA had to work awfully hard for those scores, including a 15-play TD drive that covered just 65 yards. Stanford's defense was still playing at a high level, but two key fourth down conversions kept the drive alive. Backup QB Scott McEwan didn't do much of the work, completing just 4 of 9 passes; it was a rejuvenated DeShaun Foster who powered the drive with 26 yards on 5 straight carries to finish the series, including an easy trot across the goalline from the 1-yardline.
  • Stanford's secondary did start to soften as UCLA gained strength, giving some large cushions and ignoring some wide-open targets in nickel and dime sets. But the D still kept up the big play, forcing a fumble, and interception and two sacks. And though the Bruins did convert three of four possessions for TDs in one stretch, the Cardiac Card defense returned the ball to Chris Lewis & Co on the final two fateful possessions for UCLA on downs. Even in coverage formations, a banged up Stanford defensive line muscled through to put heavy pressure and hard hits on the El Lay QBs.
  • After the first of those two final stops, Stanford handed the ball to Kerry Carter to run the clock and seal the deal. On the third run, KC blasted through the line and found the promised land 27 yards later for a crucial score that lifted Stanford's margin from a field goal to ten points. Some 60,000 Cardinalmaniacs™ wiped the sweat from their brow after that score. It proved to be the last of the day, capping a 38-28 win.
  • Other scores were recorded by Luke Powell (20-yard strike from Lewis in the 1st quarter), Teyo Johnson (outstanding one-handed grab in the 2nd quarter) and Kerry Carter (this time by air, on a crossing route for 26 yards).
  • Miscellaneous game notes of note: Ryan Wells, bad knee and all, led receivers in the game with 103 yards by air - his second game over the century mark this season... Chris Lewis looked a little too confident in the lob pass to Teyo, throwing three absolutely awful interceptions. The discouraging part was that he just made bad decisions to throw into multiple coverage when he should have thrown the ball away... but credit CL with an otherwise accurate 20 of 29 game for 250 yards. Pretty darned good against UCLA's defense... Stanford turned the ball over 6 times on the day, while UCLA turned it over 5 times. Plenty of agony for both sidelines... Stanford's special teams played it's cleanest game of the season on perhaps its lightest day of work: just 2 punts, 2 punt returns and 1 kick return... Even with UCLA's time-consuming drives in the second half, Stanford still won the possession game: 35:58 to 24:02... Redshirt frosh Scott Scharff surprised many a Bootie by getting work at nose tackle in relief of Travis Pfiefer. Scharff has worked mostly at defensive end in his young Cardinal career.

Just a monumental win for this season and this program.

I haven't run the numbers, though someone on the BootBoard is likely to do so in the coming hours and days, but it's also time to think about Stanford climbing back into at least outside contention for the Rose Bowl. The undefeated ranks took an incredible hit today, with just Nebraska, Miami and BYU remaining. BYU's schedule is likely too difficult to overcome for a top-two BCS spot... Nebraska has a possible rematch with the Sooners in a Big XII championship game, and Miami still has Virginia Tech and the Pac's own Puppies. Stanford has made an incredible statement with back-to-back wins over previously undefeated championship contenders ranked #5 in the land, which means the polls should start coming in line with what the computer rankings have been saying. Add in one of the very top schedule strengths in the country, and you just might come up Roses...

Playing up in Seattle has been about as easy for Stanford over the past 25 years as selling snorkeling gear in North Dakota, but the rough-and-tumble part of the Cardinal's schedule is mostly in the rearview mirror. If Stanford can get past these charmed chihuahuas, giddiness will be more or less unavoidable. Of course, only a few thousand Cardinalmaniacs on this green planet will get to see the U-Dub game: those at Husky Stadium. Our good friends at LABC have made sure of that.

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