A lot of what occurred two years ago today at Stanford Stadium remains fresh in the minds of Cardinal fans. It's not that the 36-28 victory over Oregon State on a warm Thursday evening was hugely memorable, but the particulars became very familiar.
Toby Gerhart scored 42 touchdowns in his final two years with the Cardinal. He found the end zone twice against the Beavers, while rushing for 147 yards on just 19 carries. It marked his first action since injuring a knee the previous September against San Jose State. Stanford – with some nice contributions from Anthony Kimble – reached 210 rushing yards on the night, opening a season where it put up nearly 200 yards on the ground per-game.
Stanford won a Pac-10 home opener for the first time since 2001. The Cardinal is 9-2 at home since 2008 began. The effort was just the third home win since Stanford Stadium was rebuilt.
In between No. 1 USC's visit in 2004 and its victorious 2007 Big Game, Stanford played 23 home games. It lost 19. The defeats ranged from Buddy Teevens' final home game, the UC Davis disaster, the winless home slate of 2006, and one of Notre Dame's three wins back in 2007.
Against the Beavers, Stanford took the field in a recognizable look. The team's extended period of losing, which followed Teevens' arrival, only began once the Cards ditched 62 seasons of tradition and donned black-accented uniforms. The new unis fit like a suit with the hanger still in it. Cardinal faded from black for 2008, which marked the return of longstanding kit.
"They say the first one is the biggest – it kind of sets the tone for the season," commented quarterback Tavita Pritchard. "It's giving us confidence going into this season, knowing what we're capable of."
Pritchard won a three-way starting competition over Jason Forcier and Alex Loukas. The fear surrounding the Stanford camp was that the aerial game would be a liability. The ensuing struggles through the air throughout the season – 152 yards passing per-game just doesn't cut it in the 21st-century Pac-10 – confirmed such.
But on the fourth quarter's first play from the Oregon State 15, Pritchard found Kimble on a screen pass. The senior tailback slipped through a maze of blockers and defenders en route to paydirt. Stanford held a 29-20 lead.
And when Bo McNally stepped in front of a Lyle Moevao pass and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown, the lead midway through the fourth stood at 16 points. A team picked to finish ninth by the Pac-10 media poll was having its way against a quality opponent.
The last great Pete Carroll-led USC squad walloped both Ohio State in September and Penn State in that season's Rose Bowl, but Oregon State beat the Trojans three weeks after falling to the Cardinal. The Beavers – 25-point underdogs to USC before winning by a 27-21 score – didn't lose again in conference until falling to Oregon in the Civil War game. A win would have clinched a Pasadena vacation. Mike Riley's crew settled for a Sun Bowl triumph over Pittsburgh.
The early-season chatter west of the Rockies, when not discussing USC's disappearing invincibility, involved the emerging Mountain West Conference. On the weekend Stanford was upended at TCU, the Pac-10 played three other games against Mountain West foes – and lost them all. Oregon State, to its credit, lost on a last-second field goal at Utah in a game it led by 10 points with less than two minutes remaining.
The fact that the Beavers righted themselves after gut-busters against both Stanford and the Utes is a testament to Riley's coaching abilities. The former Alabama defensive back's charges indeed let one get away against the Cardinal.
The underrated Moevao, who won 11 of the 15 games he started in his career, led a 97-yard touchdown drive to cut Stanford's lead in half. He earlier converted on second-quarter touchdown connections to Sammy Stroughter and Shane Morales. After being held scoreless since the opening possession of the half, Morales and Moevao hooked up from three yards out. The two-pointer worked, and suddenly the Ron Franklin-led ESPN2 telecast had some drama to work with.
The Cardinal went three-and-out, giving Oregon State the ball 47 yards from another score at the 1:31 mark. They moved 31 yards in as many seconds. On third down from 16, receiver Darrell Catchings had first-down yardage on a crossing route.
But instead of going out of bounds at the 1, he lunged toward the pylon and into the sights of Taylor Skaufel. The freshman safety jarred the ball loose, sending it out of the end zone for a decisive touchback. The Cardinal scoffed at its good fortune. "I feel like it shouldn't have come to that," linebacker Clinton Snyder said. "We'll take the win, but we've got to get better."
Afterwards, Jim Harbaugh sounded wowed by his junior running back. "I've seen him in two games and they've both been darn good." The reaction was due to repeat itself.
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