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It only took one kick for
Stanford has gotten off to a quick start in all four of its games this season, capitalizing with a touchdown on every one of the team's opening drives.
"You want to set the tone early and that's your first opportunity to do that - and it helps your field position the rest of the game because they aren't really kicking to Chris [Owusu] after that and we're getting the ball at the 35 or 40," Harbaugh said.
"Field position", however, didn't play a big part in the Cardinal's 34-14 victory over the No. 24 ranked Huskies. Toby Gerhart rumbled for a career-high 200 yards on 27 carries, including a crowd-wowing 60-yard scamper into the endzone (also a career-best).
Gerhart's yardage total propelled him into sole possession of sixth place on the Stanford all-time rushing list with 2,167 yards, passing Kerry Carter and Brian Allen. His touchdown also moved him up the Cardinal historical leaderboard, placing him in a tie with Mike Mitchell with 21 career rushing scores.
"Toby is a great teammate," said redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck. "He's humble and works his butt off everyday. He doesn't say much and is a quiet leader for our team."
Stanford's improving defense flexed its muscles for the second consecutive game. The Card only surrendered one touchdown in the game, one that came on a Jake Locker pass to Jermaine Kearse in the second quarter. Cornerback Corey Gatewood had solid coverage on the receiver, but Kearse used his size to block out the defender and then made an NFL-caliber move to shake off the tackle and dart down the sideline for the score.
The other seven Husky points came on a fluky play with two minutes left in the first stanza. Luck created some time while scrambling around to find tight end Jim Dray, but the sure-handed, but unexpectant Dray dropped what turned out to be a backward pass (lateral).
Cardinal and Husky players stood
around thinking the play was over, but
"I was standing around too," said Harbaugh. "I think it caught us all by surprise. It was a gift touchdown; we've got to do a better job taking care of the football."
There wasn't much argument from the Cardinal head coach or players on whether or not it was the right call. From the press box bird's eye view, it was most likely a lateral, but it also looked like Luck crossed the line of scrimmage prior to releasing the pass which, had it been a forward pass, would have rendered the play dead due to penalty.
Coming into the game, the Huskies
ranked No. 3 in the nation in third-down conversions with a 60.4 success rate.
Stanford lowered that percentage as the
"They were just the more physical
football team on both sides of the ball tonight," said
Another key component to the victory
was the outstanding play of Stanford's safety Delano Howell (#26). The sophomore
intercepted his first Locker pass of the night at the Stanford goal line on the
Huskies' initial possession of the game, thwarting a 40-yard drive that had
But Howell didn't contribute on defense alone. He embodied the old-school, two-way player that you read about in sports history books when players donned leather helmets. Howell recalled coming in on "four or five" offensive plays and lining up as a slot receiver. He served as an integral downfield blocker on Gerhart's 60-yard touchdown run.
"Coach had me in there to block and it's my pleasure to block for Toby," Howell said. "So I wanted to try and string the block as long as possible and Toby did the rest."
Stanford has struggled in the red zone
so far this season, ranking last in the Pac-10 with a 66.7 conversion mark
(6-of-9). Inside the 20-yard line wasn't worlds better against
"I was really upset about [the fumble]", said Gerhart. "We take pride in ball security and that's two games in a row now where we've put the ball on the ground. Going into the game we emphasized ball-security because we felt confident in our gameplan in moving the ball and protecting it. It was really upsetting, but we bounced back and kept trucking along."
Another area of improvement the
Cardinal made was in the penalty department. Holding infractions have taken
points off the scoreboard for Stanford almost every game this season, but the
team limited its mistakes against
The Cardinal now sit alone atop the
Pac-10 standings with a 2-0 conference mark. The two favorites to win the
Pac-10, USC and
The 3-1 overall record Stanford now boasts is the program's best start to a season since 2004 campaign. The Card also improved to 7-1 in the team's last eight home games., a remarkable turnaround for a team that was 0-5 at home in 2006 and was 1-11 in its first dozen games at the new Stanford Stadium. How times are changing!
Stanford hosts UCLA next week at 12:30 p.m. (PST). Young Luck will have to be a little more polished and improve upon the sometimes shaky 7-14, 103-yard performance he put forth against the Huskies because the running lanes are not likely to be as wide open versus the Bruins.
Junior running back Jeremy Stewart left the game during the first quarter with a right leg injury. His status for next week and beyond remains uncertain.
"When we checked on him at halftime we
did not feel like [the injury] was going to be a season-ender," said Harbaugh.
In the case it were to be serious, which we all hope it is not, at
least the injury occurred in the 2009 season's fourth game and it would
be possible for "Patch" to use a redshirt.
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