If there were concerns about the Stanford offense prior to Saturday night's 55-17 woodshedding of Washington State, they washed away before the first quarter ended. You'll have to forgive me for referencing a former Stanford coach (who was referencing a classic film), but those who were concerned quickly realized that the Stanford offense was, indeed, fully operational.
Stanford's opening drive ended with a field goal, and the Cougars matched that with a field goal of their own, but the rout was on after that. Stanford's second possession was all Kevin Hogan, as the quarterback rushed for ten yards for a first down, hit Ty Mongtomery for eleven yards and another first, but then found himself in a tough 3rd and 9 at his own 43. Even though the Cougar defense had Hogan and the Cardinal exactly where they wanted them, the offensive line -- with help from Tyler Gaffney on a blitz pick up -- gave Hogan a world of time. He dropped back into the pocket, checked his watch, finished up his physics problem set, then finally fired a strike to Devon Cajuste at the 30 yard line as he slanted across the field. Cajuste did the rest, sprinting untouched the rest of the way for a 57-yard touchdown and a 10-3 Cardinal lead.
After a three-and-out for the Cardinal defense and a weak punt from Washington State, Hogan got busy two yards into Cougar territory and didn't waste any time. He scrambled eleven yards for a first down to the 33, then looked to close the deal. With the Cougars blitzing on first down (picked up beautifully by Gaffney and Ryan Hewitt), Hogan had worlds of time again, and he found Cajuste again. This time Cajuste was five yards behind the defense, and Hogan delivered the ball into his lap for his second touchdown of the night and a commanding 17-3 advantage.
The Cardinal's next possession chewed up 7:57 on the game clock and covered 74 yards in seventeen plays, but it ended 15 yards from the goal line as Hogan threw a careless interception in the end zone. That interception won't be remembered, but the play before it certainly will. Hogan found Barry J. Sanders out of the backfield and flipped him a short pass; Sanders then showed that he got more than just his name from his famous father. He quickly darted into the second level of the defense, then faked a would-be tackler to the ground before scampering for another eight yards. The play was only good for sixteen yards, but it was absolutely electric.
The two teams traded five consecutive uneventful possessions, but things changed when the Cougars faced 2nd and 7 from their own ten yard line. With Trent Murphy steaming towards him, Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday made the understandable mistake of lofting a pass a bit higher than he should've. The ball was out of his receiver's reach, but it floated in the air long enough for Jordan Richards to track it down, make the interception at the 30, and sprint down the sideline untouched for the touchdown. The play was notable for two reasons: first, it marked the 28th consecutive game the Stanford defense has forced a turnover; and second, Halliday was absolutely pummelled on the play by Murphy, the first of several brutal hits WSU quarterbacks would take as the ballooning lead began to allow the front seven to become more and more aggressive. Halliday came out for the next drive, but he only lasted one play before hobbling off the field to be replaced by freshman Austin Apodaca. Apodaca was drilled by Kevin Anderson on his second play, and suddenly it looked like the Cougars might run out of quarterbacks.
Stanford took over on their own 46 after the Washington State punt, and Hogan wasted no time in stepping on the Cougars' throats. He hit Montgomery for nine yards, then ran a simple play action on 2nd and 1. The fake to Anthony Wilkerson was rather pedestrian, but it didn't matter. The offensive line again gave Hogan lots of time, and he was able to wait for Michael (Rinconada!) Rector to run past his defender. He was five yards behind the defense as he gathered in Hogan's pass and crushed any lingering hopes the Cougars might have harbored. As he crossed the goal line the score jumped to 31-3, and it didn't look like things could get any worse for the Cougs.
But things did.
Austin Apodaca came back out onto the field at quarterback, and he brought a bag of chum with him. The Cardinal front smelled that blood in the water, and the result was predictable. Defensive end Ben Gardner sacked Apodaca on first down, but he did manage a completion two plays later for Washington State's first third down conversion of the game with seven minutes to play in the third quarter. But those good feelings didn't last.
Washington State's passing game is all about quick drops and quick passes, and Apodaca took the next snap and looked immediately to his left. Defensive end Trent Murphy was just coming around the left end, but he stopped when he realized the play was coming towards him. When Apodaca tried to pass over Murphy's head, Murphy simply grabbed the ball out of the air and rumbled thirty yards for the second pick six of his career, the first coming almost exactly a year ago in the very same stadium. Stanford had scored five unanswered touchdowns -- two by the defense -- and now led 38-3.
Jordan Williamson added a field goal a few minutes later to push the lead to 41-3, Remound Wright raced 53 yards for a touchdown on the next possession to make it 48-3, and I actually began to feel some concern for Cougar Nation. Thankfully, Apodaca and company managed a touchdown against Stanford's second- and third-string defense to make it 48-10, and a few Cougar fans came back in off the ledge.
Predictably, though, Stanford answered, this time with two running backs from the bottom of the depth chart. Sanders was back, and rushed for four yards and then eight, then backup quarterback Evan Crower found Kelsey Young for a 36-yard reception before handing the ball to Sanders for a 22-yard dash that turned into the freshman's first collegiate touchdown. (It should be noted that not only was Sanders thrilled with this, his teammates were as well; they mobbed him when he returned to the sideline.)
The scoreboard read 55-10. A last-minute touchdown by Washington State made the final score 55-17, but it hardly mattered. Stanford played a full sixty minutes for the first time this season, and the results were impressive. Considering the opposition (the Cougars are much better than either Colorado or Duke in 2011 and '12) this was perhaps the most dominant effort by the Cardinal during David Shaw's tenure. The only game that really compares was the 65-21 win over Washington in 2011, but that game was more about the offensive line steam rolling an overmatched defensive front. Against the Cougars, the entire offense was firing on all cylinders, with long drives and quick strikes, deep passes and long runs. There was a clear sense that not only could Hogan and company score whenver they wanted, they could also score however they wanted.
And that bodes well for what lies ahead.
[Photo Credit: Otto Greule, Jr./Getty Images]