Wake Forest-Stanford Preview
Stanford and Wake Forest each opened their respective conference schedule with a win, but the Cardinal were significantly more impressive in a dominating road victory.
They'll return home Saturday night in hopes of avenging last year's loss to the Demon Deacons, who will give freshman quarterback Tanner Price his first collegiate start.
The No. 19 Cardinal (2-0) earned a spot in the Top 25 after opening with a 52-17 victory over Sacramento State, and they jumped six spots this week thanks to a 35-0 win over UCLA at the Rose Bowl last Saturday.
Stanford's defense alone would have outscored the Bruins. Safety Michael Thomas returned a fumble 21 yards for a touchdown as the Cardinal forced four turnovers and blanked an opponent on the road for the first time since 1974.
"A win here at the Rose Bowl, this is where we want to get back to," said Thomas, the Pac-10 defensive player of the week. "Getting the first win here, just get that taste in your mouth, see the atmosphere and you're like, 'Man, I've got to get back here,' so it was great."
Fast starts have been rare for Stanford, which is looking to be 3-0 for the first time since 2001 and only the fourth time since 1972.
Steady play from quarterback Andrew Luck has certainly helped. The redshirt sophomore, touted as a top NFL prospect, has thrown for 467 yards and six touchdowns without an interception this year.
"A lot of people feel Andrew Luck is the best quarterback in the country right now," Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said.
Luck was 23 of 34 for 276 yards, two touchdowns and one interception at Wake Forest on Sept. 12, 2009, but Stanford didn't score in the second half, blowing a 14-point lead in a 24-17 defeat.
The Deacons (2-0) won that meeting - the teams' first - when quarterback Riley Skinner scored a touchdown with two seconds left, but Wake Forest had to replace its all-time passing leader this year.
Ted Stachitas began the season as the starter, but the sophomore bruised his non-throwing hand during a 54-48 home win over Duke last Saturday.
Grobe said Price will have the job this weekend after coming off the bench to throw for 190 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. The freshman also ran for 56 yards and a touchdown as Wake Forest won its ACC opener.
"Obviously, he's a young guy and we're not trying to put too much pressure on him," Grobe said, "but I think he's deserved that opportunity.
"I think we had two kids do some really good things (against Duke), but Tanner with his performance in the second half deserves the opportunity," the coach added.
The Deacons have rolled up 644 rushing yards while scoring at least 50 points in consecutive games for the first time in school history, but their defense is a major concern. Wake Forest forced four turnovers against Duke, but also gave up three touchdown plays of at least 50 yards.
"Our defensive kids understand that we can't rely on 54 points every week to win football games," Grobe said.
Stanford ranks seventh nationally in total defense, allowing an average of 200.0 yards in its first two games. The Cardinal neutralized UCLA's passing game, which went 11 for 21 for 81 yards and two interceptions.
"(The defense) took it one play at a time," Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh said. "We got some big sacks when they were threatening our side of the field. We certainly packed the defense this week."
Wake Forest has won two of its last four road games against ranked opponents, beating Georgia Tech in 2006 and Florida State in 2008. This will be the program's first game in California.