Even without Luck, Stanford a top-10 team again
David Shaw and his Stanford players spent the past nine months
telling anybody who would listen that the program had enough talent
and depth without Andrew Luck to be a national power for years to
Now they have everybody’s attention.
While it’s only the third game of the season, Stanford’s 21-14
victory over Southern California on Saturday night showed life
without Luck might not be so bad after all. The Cardinal (3-0, 1-0
Pac-12) jumped from No. 21 to ninth in The Associated Press college
football poll Sunday.
The same formula that made Stanford an improbable football power
has stayed true: a stout running game, strong run defense and
timely plays from the tight ends.
”I have been saying it for years, even before I became head
coach: This game isn’t about who you play, it is about how you
play,” said Shaw, in his second year at the helm since Jim
Harbaugh left for the San Francisco 49ers. ”For what we are trying
to accomplish here, we can’t be surprised by wins.”
Maybe nobody should anymore.
The Cardinal outgained the Trojans 417 to 280 in total yards and
held USC to only 26 yards rushing. Stanford’s relentless rush
sacked Matt Barkley four times and had the quarterback constantly
on the run or losing his poise in the pocket.
”We’ve got a talented bunch,” linebacker Shayne Skov said.
”When we play together like that, it’s so special.”
In a series between California’s two private Pac-12 schools that
dates to 1905, Stanford had never won four in a row against USC
until now. Barkley, the Heisman Trophy favorite and projected No. 1
overall pick entering the year, has beaten every team in the
conference but Stanford.
The only chance Barkley has now against Stanford is a rematch in
the Pac-12 championship game Nov. 30, which is suddenly looking
like a possibility if Oregon stumbles, given the Cardinal’s rapid
improvement since a season-opening 20-17 victory over San Jose
”It’s a big win,” said new Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes,
who threw for 215 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
He also ran for a pair of game-changing first downs in the
fourth quarter before throwing the go-ahead 37-yard touchdown to
tight end Zach Ertz.
”They’re a really great program,” Nunes said. ”They have a
lot of talented players. It makes it even sweeter.”
Sustaining success this season seemed uncertain.
Stanford didn’t just lose Luck, the No. 1 overall pick by the
Indianapolis Colts who rewrote the school record books in only
three seasons. Three others – right guard David DeCastro, top tight
end Coby Fleener and left tackle Jonathan Martin – were drafted in
the first 42 picks. Starting safeties Delano Howell and Michael
Thomas, wide receivers Griff Whalen and Chris Owusu and cornerback
Johnson Bademosi are also on NFL 53-man rosters or practice
But as even Luck would often say, Stanford is a running
Stepfan Taylor is perhaps the most unheralded back-to-back
1,000-yard rusher in the country and will likely become the
school’s career rushing leader by season’s end. He spent the past
two years in Luck’s shadow and Heisman Trophy runner-up Toby
Gerhart’s the season before. Now the senior might have launched his
own Heisman campaign against the Trojans, running for 153 yards,
catching five passes for 60 yards and scoring two touchdowns.
”Coach basically told us to trust this game,” Taylor said.
”That’s what we did: trust this game. We were going to go down the
stretch, going to get tired. We were just going to keep chugging at
If this was supposed to be a transition year, Stanford is
already ahead of schedule.
In February, Stanford’s recruiting class was ranked in the top
10 by several services – believed to be a first for the program –
and almost unanimously earned top billing for its offensive line
haul. Stanford also signed Barry J. Sanders, son of the Hall of
Fame running back, who shunned his father’s alma mater at Oklahoma
State to make his own mark on the Silicon Valley campus. He is
likely redshirting this season.
The Cardinal have a bye next week before playing at Washington
in the first of a difficult road schedule that also includes games
at No. 3 Oregon and No. 11 Notre Dame. With Stanford regaining the
rhythm that propelled the program to back-to-back BCS bowls, don’t
expect it to sneak up on anybody.
”We have talked about not being a flash in the pan,” Shaw
said. ”We don’t want to be that team known for one victory. We
want to be known for victory after victory. We want to be
consistent, stacking wins on top of wins.”
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: