Thearon W. Henderson
The Stanford Cardinal began to show signs of the team that went to the Fiesta Bowl in their beatdown of Duke, but they still have a lot more to do before they're ready to upset USC.
If Week 1 projected the entire season, the Stanford Cardinal looked like dead fish. Beating San Jose State by three at home reeked too much of the old Buddy Teevens teams that played down to the level of their opponents. Even if Stanford is having trouble adjusting to life without their best players, you would think they'd play a little bit better to start off their season.
They needed a bounceback performance in Week 2. Thankfully for them, the Duke Blue Devils are a bad, bad football team.
The Cardinal did their best to make plays. Stanford drove a combined 51 yards to score their first two touchdowns of the second half (one drive was due to a surprise onside kick that flopped, the other was due to an interception inside their own ten). They got a long pick-six and a punt return to tack on another 14. That's 28 points off of mostly Duke errors, although you have to credit the Cardinal for being in the right spots at the right time.
The rest of the stats were of a mixed variety. Stanford averaged 3.5 yards per carry on the ground and Stepfan Taylor produced a sub-100 yard rushing game. Against Duke. The days of the Cardinal O-line pushing defenses around seem to have reached intermission. That is a big issue for the identity of their team.
Thankfully, this game Stanford did manage to punish teams for playing hard to the run. While Josh Nunes was hardly wheeling and dealing (barely completing over half his passes), he found Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz a few times for huge gains. Both proved why the Cardinal can be tough to beat if the mismatches between tight end and defender are exploited properly.
Defensively, Duke couldn't run the football at all, but quarterback Sean Renfree did manage to move the football a lot (although he couldn't punch it in). It's basically a "choose your stat and run with it" performance by the Cardinal, who did some things well and some things not-so-well in a 37 point blowout.
Still, it's nice to see Stanford right things a little bit. USC was looking like an impossible task, but they seem to have reestablished elements of the Cardinal team that gave the Trojans so much difficulty. With Ryan Hewitt coming back this week and Shayne Skov working his way back into things, Stanford should begin showing some signs of the team that won ten games in short order.
The question is whether it'll come in time to beat the Trojans again. The early signs aren't encouraging, but it isn't like USC is coming in with major swagger either. We'll have to see.
SB Nation snippet
The defense was awesome. Jarek Lancaster had a team-high 10 tackles. Last week's hero, Usua Amanam, had seven tackles and a pass breakup. Shayne Skov looked good in his first action since last September. We mentioned Reynolds. As a unit, the Cardinal D limited Duke to 27 yards rushing on 23 carries and intercepted three passes. Tackling, for the most part, was solid.
Ed Reynolds had two interceptions, including one that he returned for a touchdown. Reynolds now has as many interceptions through two games (3) as the Cardinal had as a team through eight games last season. After missing all of last season with an injury, Reynolds is living up to David Shaw's billing as the best safety in the spring