Saturday, September 13, 2014

Mission Accomplished

The end of a 35-0 rout proved to be among the most riveting moments of Stanford’s victory over Army on Saturday at Stanford Stadium.

The Black Knights were perched on the Stanford 2-yard line and facing fourth down while the starters on the Stanford sideline crowded as close as possible to the imaginary bench-area boundary. As the Army option play unfolded, Stanford’s Peter Kalambayi blew up the play and Dallas Lloyd made the tackle.

“We were going crazy,” said linebacker Blake Martinez, watching from the sideline. “We were giving as much as we could to the second string guys just for them to be able to make that stop, and they did.”

With the shutout preserved, Stanford did what it sought to do in the wake of its 13-10 loss to USC the previous week: Improve its red-zone efficiency and continue to manhandle opposing offenses.

The former came to fruition -- three trips inside the Army 20 resulted in three touchdowns, plus touchdowns from 23 and 32 yards out. And the defense … well, it would be almost impossible to ask for more: Three games, 10 points allowed, two shutouts.

It marked the first time Stanford has earned two shutouts in its first three games since 1949 and extended its home winning streak over nonconference opponents to 12.

“They're playing unselfish defense, they're playing Stanford defense,” Shaw said. “They're playing tough, physical, know where your help is. It starts up front, top down. Those guys are playing to a tee.”

Martinez at inside linebacker had 11 tackles and A.J. Tarpley had a late interception – Stanford’s first interception of the season – to set up a Hogan to Montgomery 32-yard pass that closed the scoring.

The Stanford defense limited the Army triple-option, which had so flummoxed the Cardinal a year earlier at West Point, to 207 offensive yards, with more than half coming in the fourth quarter.

The stout defensive effort and Devon Cajuste’s three touchdown catches gave Stanford the momentum needed for the victory.

Cajuste came into the game with only one catch, but returned to his game-breaking prowess of last year with touchdown receptions of 23, 2, and 15 yards. He finished with five catches for 52 yards.

“Devon Cajuste is just a tough guy to guard,” Shaw said. “He's just under 6-foot-4 and 227 pounds and he can run and jump.”

Stanford labored offensively for much of the first half, but ultimately settled into gear, scoring on all three second-half possessions (the Cardinal ran out the clock on the fourth). Ty Montgomery scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns – one rushing, one receiving -- to blow open the game.

Montgomery had eight catches for 86 yards, and scored on a four-yard run out of the Wildcat, followed by his touchdown reception with 3:05 left.

Stanford now heads into a bye week and then the meat of its schedule, with consecutive road games against Washington and Notre Dame before returning home.

Afterward, each team paid their respects to the other. Stanford players stood behind their Army counterparts as the Army band played their alma mater. Both teams jogged to the opposite corner and Army players did the same, standing behind Stanford.

The military has always been close to the heart of David Shaw, Stanford’s Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. Shaw has 10 extended family members who have been in the military, including his father, Willie, an Air Force sergeant in Vietnam.

Kevin Hogan had another efficient day, completing 22 of 30 passes for 216 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. This season, Hogan has completed 74 percent of his passes, with seven touchdowns and one interception.

The running game erupted on a third-quarter drive that drove up the team’s totals. Barry Sanders led the team with a collegiate-best 92 yards on nine carries, including a 44-yarder down the right sideline. As a team, Stanford gained 199 on 32 carries as part of a 415-yard offensive outing.

“We have explosive capabilities at the running back position,” Shaw said. “They just need a crease.”

As the running game continues to develop, Shaw made it a priority in the second half to get the ground game out of its funk.

“We were physical, and that got it back,” Shaw said. “And once we have that component back in our offense, then everything is back. Now the play action pass works and the drop back pass works.”

Stanford controlled Army from the outset. Rarely were Black Knight runners given space to run, and often the Cardinal linemen were regulars in the Army backfield. Army did gain 56 yards in the first half, but they were on 24 carries, for a 2.3-yard average.

Still, the Black Knights hovered. Stanford had bolted for a touchdown on its first possession, which ended when Hogan lofted a 23-yard pass to Cajuste on out pattern to the deep corner.

In between, however, the Cardinal struggled to maintain its momentum. Throughout the half, Stanford never converted a third down by run, and the Cardinal were forced to punt four times.

With 12:51 left in the second quarter, Stanford held only a 7-0 lead and Army was in Stanford territory with a chance to tie. That drive fizzled when Army tried an end around on third-and-8 that backfired, with James Vaughters dropping receiver Xavier Moss for a 12-yard loss.

Stanford’s break came with 1:12 left in the first half when cornerback Alex Carter swooped into the backfield to strip the ball from running back Larry Dixon and Stanford’s Kevin Anderson recovered on the Army 15.

On third-and-goal from the 2, with two backs lined up behind Hogan under center, the quarterback dropped back and tossed a short fade that Cajuste leaped for and brought down with 33 seconds left for a 14-0 lead.

Where does the Stanford offense stand?

“We're not where we want to be,” Hogan said. “It was a good day today executing, but we know we can get better. We stalled there in the first half. We have to find a way to continue those drives and put more points on the board. But that's something we can work on. “

Still, Stanford did what it came out to do – regain its red-zone confidence and continue to plunder opposing offenses.

No comments: