Stanford is the only program in the nation on an active four-game
BCS bowl streak. No school has won more games this decade than the
Cardinal, who have beaten more FBS teams during the past four
seasons (45) than runners-up Alabama, Boise State, and Oregon (42).
The Farm Boys are in the midst of their most spectacular stretch
ever, one that has produced a handful of defining wins. Saturday's
38-14 triumph at Arizona State in the Pac-12 Championship Game
immediately joins this esteemed club of success.
At least one epic victory has highlighted each season of Stanford's
wildly successful decade. The Orange Bowl throttling of Virginia Tech did the honors in 2010, while the 65-21 pounding of Washington
(446 yards rushing) and 56-48 triple overtime war at USC vied for
the top spot in 2011. The push for the 2012 Rose Bowl reached its
peak at Autzen Stadium, where Stanford shocked the home team in
overtime and finally put its "Oregon problem" to rest. That set up
2013. For BCS glory to return this year, the Cardinal needed to
again deliver a defining moment. Shaw's troops came through when
they absolutely had to at Sun Devil Stadium.
The tables had turned. Oregon was no longer Stanford's tormentor
this year. The road had taken the Ducks' place. The Cardinal's
offensive struggles away from Stanford Stadium had been
staggering. Shaw's club had one last chance to purge them in
the Desert, and they did so in astounding fashion. As a result, the
100th Rose Bowl is next. But the details of Saturday's breakthrough
- Some theorized that Stanford might have amassed the greatest
offensive line recruiting haul ever back in 2012. That much is still
to be determined, but two of that group's stalwarts played a pivotal
role in reversing the Cardinal's road fortunes with Sun Devil
Stadium roaring on an early 2nd-and-17. Sophomores Andrus Peat and
Kyle Murphy both pounded the left side to clear a massive opening
for Tyler Gaffney on the game's third play from scrimmage. No. 25
shot out of cannon to the edge and down the sideline, delivering a
69-yard touchdown strike that silenced the home crowd. The play was
significant on a number of levels: Aside from settling Kevin Hogan
down, it set the tone of the game by reminding the Sun Devils that
they could not physically match Stanford up front.
- The Cardinal's muscle advantage in the trenches allowed them to
run effectively behind the right side of the offensive line, too.
One Gaffney first down run featured pristine execution from Kevin Danser and Cam Fleming at the point of attack. Fullback Ryan Hewitt
blasted his assignment on the second level, while receiver Jordan Pratt also pounded away downfield. Stanford won the physical battle
at every single position, and they did so decisively. This was most
evident on fourth and goal in the second quarter, when Shaw elected
to pound the ball across the goal line behind the right side of his
offensive line. David Yankey delivered a monstrous pull from the
left side to help out, but it was fullback Lee Ward's bulldozing
effort in front of Gaffney that truly demoralized the Sun Devils.
- With the running game delivering machine-like productivity,
Arizona State -- an extremely aggressive team to begin with -- was
forced to take even bigger risks on the defensive end. The Sun
Devils brought intense pressure to the box, relying heavily on
cornerback blitzes in their desperate attempt to counteract
Stanford's ground-and-pound assault. Hogan, though, was in firm
command. In the Cardinal's earlier struggles on the road, it seemed
that he was frequently receiving the call from the sideline with too
little time remaining on the play clock. Many plays appeared rushed,
and the Stanford offense never seemed to be in complete control of
the situation. Timing was not an issue anymore on Saturday. Hogan
commanded the pre-snap flow. He identified ASU's menacing blitzes
and directed adjustments to account for them. Shaw said that Hogan
actually changed the play twice before a snap at the line of
scrimmage for the first time in his career: once when the Sun Devils
showed their initial look, and once after they shifted in reaction
to his first audible.
- The success of Hogan's offensive direction was apparent in his
sparkling numbers Saturday (12-18, 277 yards). In my pregame
analysis, I wrote that ASU's aggressiveness made for a
'boom-or-bust' type of defense. Hogan made it the latter by
repeatedly roasting the home team whenever they crashed the box.
Successful strikes to Pratt, Devon Cajuste, Ty Montgomery, and
Michael Rector earned Hogan an eye-popping 15.4 yards per attempt.
Pratt told me he was "licking his chops" during the game, and it's
easy to see why: Stanford's quarterback was using the foundation of
an excellent running game to deliver a spectacular throwing effort
downfield. He only completed 12 passes, but he made all of those
throws count in a huge way.
- With three catches and 56 yards to go along with his crisp run
blocking, Pratt played the best game of his college career. It
wasn't long ago that this receiver was a throwing partner with Cy
Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw in the Los Angeles Dodgers
organization. On Saturday, he was an integral part of the aerial
threat that allowed the Cardinal's offense to enter juggernaut mode
again. The Farm Boys have been looking for an intermediate receiving
threat on top of the deep attack, and Pratt provided some of both.
- After Stanford scored touchdowns on its first four possessions of
the game, the Sun Devils responded with adjustments that yielded a
pair of sacks. Todd Graham essentially told his defensive front to
go after Hogan with reckless abandon, figuring such a rush wouldn't
give the Cardinal's receivers the opportunity to get open with their
usual downfield routes. Will Sutton actually beat Yankey for a sack
on a critical rush, and Stanford's lead began to shrink. That's when
Mike Bloomgren and Mike Sanford made their most noticeable
counter-adjustment of the night. The brain trust's turn to the
shorter passing game was the perfect medicine to combat ASU's
pressure. Rector's 34-yard catch-and-run on second-and-20 in the
third quarter delivered a prime example of this.
- Stanford's offensive game was excellent with the exception of its
clock management at the end of the first half. Saturday marked the
second straight game in which the Cardinal was forced to resort to a
Hail Mary entering the locker room just moments after a makeable
field goal try seemed very possible. With the ball near midfield,
Shaw let several seconds go to waste before calling timeout. Points
may come at a premium in the Rose Bowl against Michigan State, so
Stanford might be wise to rethink their end-of-half approach and
value every scoring opportunity they have against the Spartans.
- Don't forget that Arizona State entered Saturday's contest
averaging over 49 points per game at home. The Cardinal's defense
delivered yet another effort for the ages, holding the Sun Devils to
just 14. In fact, ASU did not manage a single sustained scoring
drive: Both of their touchdowns came on explosive D.J. Foster plays
(which happened to be the two longest gains Stanford had surrendered
all year). Derek Mason's unit firmly tightened the screws in the
second half. Henry Anderson, Josh Mauro, and Trent Murphy dominated
from their defensive line positions, while Shayne Skov and A.J.
Tarpley (who suffered a concussion after colliding with Ed Reynolds
but should be fine for the Rose Bowl) seemed to constantly be in
five places at once. Of course, the goal line stand at the end of
the third quarter has instantly become part of Stanford lore. Skov
anticipated the snap count before flying over the line of scrimmage
to stuff ASU's quarterback sneak attempt before Zach Hoffpauir blew
up the Sun Devils' fourth down run.
- Skov has developed a reputation of successfully anticipating snap
counts. He discussed the skill this weekend: "You just kind of get
it over a period of time. You get a feel for certain situations: How
much time left on the play clock, the quarterback's physical
presence and whether or not he is anticipating the snap, motions.
There are different things you take into account as a whole. It's an
educated guess... I can give you a nice estimation of what I assume
[the snap count] will be... On third and fourth down, there was no
risk, high reward. A penalty [would have been] a few inches. We
don't have anything to lose at that point. I read his lips as the
snap was coming... It's a hitting percentage thing."
- Skov, by the way, reached the 100 tackle mark for the first time
in his career. Tarpley is currently at 87 stops, meaning that the
century mark is an unlikely yet possible milestone for him to reach
at the Rose Bowl.
- Before the game, Trent Murphy told me that home was "a good place
to be." He grew up in nearby Mesa and said afterward that a few
dozen family and friends were in the stands. They enjoyed another
another dominant performance from No. 93. This one registered seven
tackles, one sack, and two tackles for loss. It pushed his season
line further into the realm of ridiculous: 14 sacks, 21.5 TFL, 137
TFL yards, seven passes defensed, one interception, and one
touchdown. Other Phoenix-area products also shined in front of
family and friends: Hoffpauir delivered the aforementioned fourth
down stop and a number of big hits, while safety Devon Carrington
made a good play to defend an ASU sideline pass.
- Ronnie Harris received his most significant career action at
cornerback, while Hoffpauir saw extensive time at nickel back. The
Stanford secondary is growing effectively deeper as this year
David Lombardi is the Stanford
Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com
and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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