Defense Finishes What The Offense Started
The Cardinal's primary weapon is hardly concealed. If the nation didn't know who Toby Gerhart was, it should now.
Coming off a attention-grabbing 200-yard performance
The convincing victory helped Stanford avoid a sixth-straight loss to the Bruins. The Cardinal improved its season record to 4-1 and remains undefeated in the conference – marking the first time the team has started 3-0 in the Pac-10 since the Rose Bowl season of 1999. Home turf protection continued as the Cardinal held serve at Stanford Stadium for the third time in three weeks.
Coming into the game the Bruins boasted the No. 15-ranked defense in the country and had not surrendered 300 total yards in any game this season – so much for that. Stanford rolled up 372 yards of offense and had close to 250 at the end of the first half alone.
UCLA's No. 9-ranked
rush defense couldn't contain Gerhart (aka "Toby The Strong") which allowed Luck
to enjoy more success. He looked poised and settled in the pocket, much
different that his appearance last week against
Luck connected on his first five pass attempts and finished the night completing 14-of-20 passes for 198 yards. He was again mobile on the ground, rushing for a critical first down and would have had his second touchdown run of the season, but the play was nullified by a holding penalty.
"I thought Andrew was exceptional getting the ball downfield today," coach Harbaugh said. "Really on the money most of the day and then he did a great job with his legs. He did it with his feet; he managed the game, ran the offense and came up with a couple of big scrambles. I thought it was his best game."
Receiver Ryan Whalen hauled in a couple of beautiful bombs from Luck. He finished the night with six catches for 118 yards with the most notable coming on a perfectly-executed flea-flicker play on Stanford's first drive of the second half.
"We handed it off to try and get the safeties and the DBs up, then Toby pitched it back, and a very nice pitch it was," said Luck. "All week in practice the ball was going to Owusu, sort of down the sideline, so it was a surprise to see Chris [Owusu] covered and then I looked over at [Ryan] Whalen and he had beaten his guy and he ran under the ball well and made a nice catch."
The Stanford offense was very balanced in the game. The air attack efficiently amassed 198 yards while Gerhart and his chain gang came away with 174 on the ground. The Card didn't have to punt the ball until there was about a minute left in the first half.
The conversion rate was spectacular as well. Stanford was 7-of-13 on third downs, with Gerhart finding success on many of those, and improved immensely in the red zone offense, going 4-4 inside the 20-yard line with three touchdowns and one field goal.
"What gets lost in that mix is how well the O-line does," Luck stated. "When they are run-blocking like that it is easy to throw. And when Toby's running, it is easy to throw. When we're completing little dinks and dunks here and there, it wears the defense down. I think it's very pleasing to see a three-TD rusher and a lot of yards in the stat book."
But even with the wonderful offensive play, it was the Cardinal defense that came through in the end. The relentless unit only gave up one touchdown last week versus the Huskies and similarly yielded but one score this week.
And the touchdown surrendered was aided by a very questionable pass interference call against cornerback Richard Sherman in the final frame. The penalty set up first and goal, and Bruin tailback Johnathan Franklin cruised into the endzone for a one-yard score.
"[The defense] is
attacking, they're playing with confidence, they're focused and they're loose,"
said Harbaugh. "I think they are playing great ‘team defense' which is what's
exciting about it. Clinton Snyder plays in that middle and he's gotten really
comfortable in there. And we're getting good pressure up front. We didn't have
Lorig all game, but [Tom] Keiser, [Sione] Fua, Tom McAndrew stepped in and did a
nice job. I thought Will Powers played very well.
UCLA began to build momentum with about four minutes left in the game, after a 35-yard Kai Forbath field goal that cut the lead to 24-16. The Bruins got the ball back with a chance to drive the field and tie the game, but Power's paw deflected the final attempt from quarterback Kevin Craft.
"I was just working a pass-rush move on the left side, on the left end," said Powers. "Our coverage held long enough for me to be able to get a hand on the QB and deflect his throw a little bit. It was just a joy knowing that we had accomplished what we set out to do. We wanted to go out there and show we are capable of finishing games."
On the season, the Cardinal had only trailed for two seconds coming into the contest against UCLA. We need not mention the game the team fell behind in (see Gerhart postgame quote), but Stanford found itself playing from behind for nearly six minutes as UCLA got on the board first with an early field goal.
"The game was real early at that point…there was just something about our team today, there was a real look in the eyes," Harbaugh said. "At halftime, we said we were going to meet back here at the end of the game, and come back with a great victory. There was just something about them today, it was in their hearts and it was in their eyes."
The fumbles remain a disconcerting problem. In Stanford's last four games, the team has put the ball on the ground 10 times and seven of those fumbles have been lost. Ball security is something Gerhart has emphasized recently and he did not lose a fumble today, but it is an area that still needs to be polished.
"We have to just keep coaching it," Harbaugh said. "I've noticed Chris [Owusu] getting the ball away from his body a little bit last weekend and Andrew's was in the process of throwing the ball. He got hit without seeing it. We've just got to keep attacking it."
Many wondered how Bruin head coach Rick Neuheisel would approach kicking to Stanford's dangerous, nation-leading return man, Chris Owusu. Well, when you have one of the best kick-off men in the country in punter Jeff Locke and he can kick it out of the endzone nearly every time, it doesn't really afford the returner an opportunity. But as the game went on, the winds changed, and presumably Locke's leg grew tired, Owusu did get a chance to return one deep kickoff for 34 yards.
UCLA free safety
Rahim Moore, who leads the nation with five interceptions, was forced to leave
the game in the second quarter after sustaining a concussion. This was prompted
by a highlight-seeking hit delivered to tight end Coby Fleener down the middle
of the field. Fleener resurrected uninjured from the blow, but
"I just saw the tail end of it," Whalen said. "I saw Coby get drilled and his head hit pretty hard. But he popped right back up and he was alright. You never want to see another guy get injured like that, but it just happens sometimes."
After starting off a
dismal 1-11 in its new stadium, Stanford is now 8-1 in its last nine home
games dating back to the 2007 Big Game. The confident Cardinal hits
the road next weekend and will face
Gerhart continues to make headway on Stanford's all-time rushing leaderboards. He passed Kerry Carter (1999-02) and into a third-place tie with Darrin Nelson (1977-81) with 24 career rushing touchdowns while also supplanting Glyn Milburn (1990-92) for fifth-place with 2,301 career rushing yards.
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