This was supposed to be a showdown between Ants and Elephants, and the rousing dual came to full fruition. Stanford, which had been stopped by a smaller Washington defense on the road, learned from its mistakes and positioned itself to stomp the Wildcats. The key here was that the Cardinal did not take their size advantage for granted the way they did the week before; instead of obtusely and repeatedly pounding the ball up the middle behind obvious jumbo formations, Stanford unleashed creativity that kept Arizona off balance and wiped out any chance of a slowdown.
Ricky Seale and Remound Wright both touched the ball this time along with Kelsey Young, who took his fantastically designed end-around opportunity untouched 55 yards to the end zone. The rest of the time, Stepfan Taylor constantly plowed his way forward to extra yardage. It was clear from the onset that the smaller Wildcats were going to have massive trouble tackling Stanford at first contact, and the Cardinal certainly exacerbated this advantage.
In another commendable departure from his Washington gameplan, Pep Hamilton firmly established the run early on. Instead of jimmy-jacking around, Stanford handed the ball off on eight of its first 11 plays. This commitment soon set up disgustingly open playaction opportunities to massive tight ends downfield. The end result, 617 yards of total offense, spoke for itself - though it should be noted that ex-Stanford men Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman have a sense of humor. They one-upped the Cardinal by pushing their San Francisco 49ers to rack up 620 total yards the next day behind a similarly creative rushing attack.
Key No. 2: Embrace the Speed Challenge
Only the game's final two defensive possessions, both stops, save Stanford from a failing grade in this department. Is Terrence Brown really that important? Arizona spread the field and terrorized the Cardinal secondary after the team's leading cornerback left early on with a concussion. Given how freely Wildcat receivers were roaming in the secondary, though, it's hard to believe that one player - even an experienced one of Brown's caliber - would have been able to do much to slow down Matt Scott's high-powered attack.
The Arizona quarterback was fantastic, demoralizing the Cardinal with his accurate reads downfield and exploiting true freshman Alex Carter, among others, along the sideline. Stanford's early pressure was highlighted by a Jarek Lancaster sack, but the Wildcats withstood the physicality and then neutralized the Cardinal attack by releasing the ball quickly and running effectively (126 yards).
With Stanford's advantage at the line of scrimmage rendered moot, the Farm Boys were 617-yard toast in the open field. But late in the game, when a stop had to be made, they resealed the line of scrimmage. Ben Gardner and Henry Anderson both generated suitable push to knock down two Scott throws. The second of those was intercepted by Chase Thomas, setting up Taylor's winning score. With those deflections, the secondary was rendered moot.
Smaller nickel and dime packages can certainly supply Stanford with more speed for jet engine-speed match-ups with teams like Oregon, but turning to such formations simultaneously sacrifices the sheer mass advantage that the Cardinal front seven is best known for. For the Stanford defense to avoid a repeat letdown, it'll be up to defensive coordinator Derek Mason to dial up the perfect balance of speed and size. This time, though, the Cardinal's supreme physicality was enough to trump its defensive troubles in space.
Key No. 3: Force Field Goals: Win the Red Zone Battle
Stanford visited the red zone six times and scored six touchdowns. The Wildcats, meanwhile, had nine opportunities. They were forced to kick field goals twice and were completely denied points once. In a game that was deadlocked after 60 minutes, this proved to be a decisive edge for Stanford. Although Arizona improved in red zone efficiency, they were expected to struggle simply because a spread passing attack is better when its space isn't restricted by the back goal line. Naturally, the Wildcats' failures opened the door to Stanford's comeback and subsequent victory.
David Lombardi covers Stanford sports for The Bootleg and FOX Sports NEXT. He was the Cardinal football KZSU play-by-play voice for several years. He can also be heard on San Francisco's 95.7 The Game. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com. Follow him on Twitter: @davidmlombardi.
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