The Arizona State Aftermath

OK, we get 72 hours to enjoy the supremely satisfying home victory over ASU before worrying about the dangerous Ducks landing on our pigskin pond. An outstanding team effort restored the squad's confidence, which it will need so badly heading down the stretch! Had we emerged injury-free and played in front of a full-house, it would have been a pretty perfect Homecoming for the Cardinal faithful.

The Arizona State Aftermath 


After two consecutive conference road losses, frustrated and fired-up Stanford responded in a very big way on Homecoming, decisively defeating Arizona State 33-14 Saturday night at Stanford Stadium, where the Cardinal has now won nine of its last 10.

"We've had two rough weeks," running back Toby Gerhart said. "Like we said earlier…we truly believe we should be 6-1. It was great to get back out there and play Stanford football – get back to winning again."

 

The domination of the Sun Devils (4-3, 2-2) was a complete performance in all three phases of the game by Stanford (5-3, 4-2). The offense was in a rhythm from the second series on, the defense rebounded with a "relentless" outing and special teams continuously set up great field position.

 

"I'm proud of our guys overall – offensively, defensively, special teams – I'm really proud of the way our team played," said a satisfied head coach Jim Harbaugh. "I thought they showed great resolve in going out and really taking care of business tonight."

 

Halloween is next weekend, but the Sun Devils weren't spooking anyone with their offense, or defense, in this meaningful Pac-10 affair.

 

Coming into the game boasting the nation's No. 7-ranked overall defense, Arizona State looked like the No. 107-ranked defense. The unit was giving up less than 250 yards per game, but was torched by the Cardinal offense for 299 yards – in the first half.

 

The supposed run-stuffing, No. 2-ranked rush defense (57.8 ypg) in the nation couldn't contain Stanford's downhill, power-running game led by all-world tailback Toby Gerhart. The senior churned up 125 yards and one touchdown on 27 carries and now ranks fourth in the country with 994 rushing yards.

 

Stanford's offense has continued a weekly trend of facing "tough" defenses and humbling them in every facet. Arizona had the No. 17 defense going into last week and the Cardinal rolled up 584 yards and 38 points. During Week 6, Oregon State was armed with the No. 12 rushing defense and Stanford ran for 149 yards. UCLA assumed the No. 9 run defense in the land when it traveled to Palo Alto, but Gerhart rumbled for 134 yards and a trio of scores.

 

The pounded but proud ASU defense definitely puckered up in the second half, holding Stanford to nine points and denying the team on a goal line stand.

 

That fourth-down attempt was just one of many calculated risks Harbaugh and his staff took in the game. The riverboat gambler pulled out a trick play with a halfback lateral pass from Gerhart to Luck that did not connect with the downfield receiver, who was double-covered. Two fourth downs were not converted and a two-point conversion late in the game. in an attempt to extend the lead to 21. failed.

 

In this contest against a deflated Arizona State team these rollings of the dice were acceptable, but taking chances against the next four Cardinal opponents could prove to be costly. And it almost seemed the Sun Devils were ready for Harbaugh's chance-taking shenanigans.

 

But the tremendous offensive balance displayed by Stanford on Saturday was unprecedented. The team gained 236 yards through the air and 237 on the ground.

 

"It was just a good mix of run and pass," said Gerhart. "When you can do that, it keeps the defense off-balance."

 

All three Stanford tight ends caught passes against the Sun Devils. Coby Fleener, Jim Dray and Konrad Reuland combined for four catches for 67 yards, and Fleener had a terrific touchdown reception overturned in the third quarter as a result of a questionable, perplexing "ineligible receiver" penalty called against WR Ryan Whalen.

 

Blue-collar fullback Owen Marecic even got in on the Cardinal's offensive onslaught. One of the nation's premier blocking fullbacks, Marecic hauled in a 29-yard reception, his first catch since the Washington game, and also scored on a two-yard goal-line run.

 

Quarterback Andrew Luck has really settled into his position and is blossoming into the special player that the Cardinal faithful expected to see. He displayed precision accuracy on the run and found his go-to receiver Ryan Whalen seven times for 93 yards. Even Luck's mobility has been uncanny, scrambling for a first down and stiff-arming Sun Devils defensive end James Brooks on another run.

 

"The O-line did a great job and when they have to respect our running game so much it's easy to drop back, use the play-action or fakes," Luck stated. "I felt like we got into a good rhythm offensively and I think that helped the passing game a lot. The receivers did a great job getting open and the O-linemen did a great job blocking."

 

On the defensive side of the ball, Stanford returned to the team that was present the first five weeks of the season. Many may attribute the spark on defense to the lineup changes administered by Harbaugh, Ron Lynn, Andy Buh and the rest of the defensive staff.

 

Veteran players Corey Gatewood and Richard Sherman relinquished their starting cornerback positions to a pair of true sophomores in Johnson Bademosi (#27) and Quinn Evans (#33). The Stanford secondary needed a boost of aggressiveness and these two provided that tenacity.

 

"I thought [the new corners] were physical," Harbaugh said. "Playing press coverage, making tackles on the perimeter. Johnson [Bademosi] had a couple of really nice hits."

 

Another head-turning hit came from strong safety Delano Howell who immediately created problems for the Arizona State offense with his return to the lineup. Howell made a thundering stick against receiver Jamal Miles that jarred the ball loose and created a rare and much-needed turnover.

 

"We gave [Howell] the game ball for that," mentioned Harbaugh. "That was a big hit; it gives you a warm feeling. Delano has been missed on our defense. When he gets somebody lined up, he's going to make the tackle."

 

But the grading of success on defense must factor in the quality of the opponent.

 

The Sun Devils offense looked anemic during most of the game. Danny Sullivan could be the least effective quarterback in the Pac-10. He was missing open receivers and did not complete a pass until 20 seconds remained in the first quarter. The Sun Devils were also without their leading receiver, Kyle Williams, who did not make the trip due to a hamstring injury.

 

The ASU gameplan was worthy of a few yawns as the evening went on. Absent was the offensive guru persona that Dennis Erickson embodies, but with an ineffective quarterback, there isn't much a coach can do. The Sun Devils gained a paltry 99 yards of offense in the first half. Highly-touted 6-8 freshman Brock Osweiler replaced Sullivan in the fourth quarter.

 

Stanford had freshmen playing all over the field Saturday. On the team's second series, true freshman receiver Jamal-Rashad Patterson, a "pigskin playmaker" who has been itching to get in on the action for weeks now, took a reverse 22 yards for his first career touchdown -a spectacular crowd-pleasing one at that. Linebacker Shayne Skov made an impact on special teams, getting his named called after almost every kick coverage opportunity and started at WLB for the second consecutive week. True freshmen running backs Tyler Gaffney and Stepfan Taylor provided solid support for Gerhart in the ground game with the latter cashing in on a game-icing 33-yard touchdown burst in the final frame.

 

Freshman Drew Terrell also appears to have a fair stronghold on the punt returner job. He took back three kicks for 40 yards, but did have a muffed punt at the end of the third quarter.

 

"It's guys developing," Harbaugh stated. "After you get to this part of the season, you don't consider them to be true freshmen anymore. They've been around here long enough to get in the ballgame and play well. I was proud of those guys."

 

The Cardinal ride the momentum of the win into the team's bye week, now known at Stanford as "improvement week". After being idle during the Halloween weekend, Stanford will face the Pac-10's first-place incumbent – the conference-leading Oregon Ducks.

 

"Each week is going to be like an NFL playoff game – it's kind of 'do or die' " Gerhard emphasized. "We are going to take it one game at a time and give it our all. We have some good opponents and we're going to be ready for them."

 

About the Author: Scott Cooley is a seasoned sports writer who was groomed as a reporter for ESPN.com, and he most recently served as the media relations manager for the San Jose SaberCats arena football team. He earned a Business and Economics degree from Hendrix College where he also played baseball. Cooley has a passion for producing sports content, and his writing evokes thought into the minds of his readers with a witty and entertaining style. He is a freelance writer who has been published on multiple media platforms and is always looking for additional opportunities. Cooley and his wife, Christina, reside in Palo Alto where she is pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry at Stanford. Contact him at scottwcooley@gmail.com


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