Last year Ty Montgomery took the game's opening kickoff against Washington and raced 99 yards for a touchdown; it looked for a moment on Saturday afternoon as if he were going to do the same thing. He took the ball straight up the middle of the field and bulled his way through a few attempted arm tackles, but just when he separated from the pack and readied to drop into fourth gear, he was pulled down from behind at the Husky 35 after a 62-yard return.
Kevin Hogan and the Stanford offense was only able to manage a single first down, and the opening drive stalled at the 18, but Jordan Williamson came in to nail the 35-yard field goal and give the Cardinal an early 3-0 lead.
The rest of the first quarter was rather uneventful as the Stanford defense imposed its will from Washington's first possession. The Axe Men chopped down the Husky offense in three swings, forcing a three and out on the Huskies' first three possessions, allowing nary a first down (and only 19 yards) in the first quarter. (As an aside, those three stuffed drives allowed the Huskies to introduce their most powerful defensive weapon, punter Korey Durkee. His first punt was 44 yards -- and that was close to his worst effort of the day. He would punt seven times on the afternoon for 44, 59, 52, 57, 44, 41, and 65 yards, good enough for an unthinkable 51.7 average. Aside from the opening possession and two turnovers on downs, the average starting position for Stanford drives (a statistic the Cardinal normally dominates) was a few inches inside its own 20 yard line.)
Meanwhile, the Stanford offense wasn't exactly setting the world on fire. Its third possession started out with promise, with gains of 12, 16, 7, and 7 yards on the first four plays to move into Washington territory, but the drive ended with a punt from the 40 yard line.
The last possession of the quarter, however, proved fruitful. The Cardinal took over at the 23 and used a creative mixture of plays -- Hogan keeping on a read option for a short gain, Montgomery on a reverse for 15 yards, and an inside shovel pass to Barry J. Sanders for seven more -- to move the ball all the way to the Washington 17. I'm sure that at this point even the players in the huddle must feel extra tension when they step into the red zone, but it seems like the simplest solution is just to put the ball in the hands of your best player. Hogan took the snap, rolled out to his left (more on this later), flipped the ball to Montgomery in the flat, and Montgomery took it in for the touchdown and a 10-0 Stanford lead.
Describing it that way -- Montgomery took it in for the touchdown -- is kind of like saying "and then Gustave Eiffel built a tower." Montgomery's run was phenomenal. He made the reception at the 13, turned up field, and was met just inside the ten yard line -- with text book tackling form -- by defensive back Marcus Peters. He ran through the tackle.
Next up was safety Budda Baker at the six. Again, Baker used the proper form as he wrapped up Montgomery, and he even had him pinned against the sideline. All he needed to do was push him out of bounds, but he couldn't manage it. (Baker's number is obscured in the photo below, but it's him.)
Finally, safety Trevor Walker squared up Montgomery at the four, but once again Montgomery couldn't be stopped.
He bulled his way through Walker, carrying him into the end zone for one of the most full-grown-man touchdowns you'll ever see. That series of pictures probably tells a better story, but here's video of the play.
Following that Stanford touchdown, the Husky offense mounted its one sustained drive of the day. They took the ball at their own 25 and marched 50 yards (though 35 of those yards came courtesy of three Stanford penalties) to the Stanford 25. From there, young quarterback Cyler Miles, who generally had a day he'd probably like to forget, found Jaydon Mickens wide open on the right side for an easy touchdown. The extra point was botched (or possibly it was a failed fake), so the Huskies trailed by four, 10-6.
Hogan and the Cardinal looked to respond to that score with a strong drive of their own, highlighted by a nice 20-yard toss from Hogan to Devon Cajuste, who would finish with four catches for 59 yards on the day. But after Christian McCaffrey took a swing pass and made a defender miss to turn it into a nifty twelve-yard gain for a first down at the Husky 16, the drive stalled again. The play Hogan would like to have back came on second down. Montgomery lined up on the left and ran a quick slant to the post. All-America candidate Shaq Thompson was defending, but Montgomery was able to get inside of him as he crossed the ten yard line. If Hogan's pass had hit Montgomery in stride, it almost surely would've been Ty's second touchdown of the day, but the pass was behind him and fell incomplete. Two plays later Williamson was on the field for the 32-yard field goal, and the Cardinal lead was 13-6.
After the Stanford defense came up with another stop, the offense got the ball back with 3:25 to play in the first half. Pinned back at their own 8, thanks to a 57-yard punt by Durkee, the offense still came out firing and earned two first downs to push the ball out to the 34.
And then things got crazy.
On a seemingly inocuous play, Remound Wright ran the ball up the middle and was stuffed for a two yard loss. The play seemed to be over, as Wright was lying on the pile, but the officials hadn't yet whistled the play dead when Shaq Thompson came in, ripped the ball from Wright's arms, gobbled it off the turf, and ran 32 yards in the other direction for the score. The Cardinal had thoroughly dominated the first half, but somehow the score was tied at 13.
Stanford made a valiant attempt to get on the board once more before the half, but when Cajuste's 26-yard reception to the Washington 41 was erased by a chop block penalty on Remound Wright (sound familiar?), the drive dissolved, and the score remained even as the two teams headed to the locker rooms for halftime.
The third quarter is only worth discussing for Stanford's stifling defense and mistake-prone offense. Washington's first possession looked promising. They earned one first down, and after a false start on 3rd and 10 put them into an even deeper hole, Cyler Miles was able to find his top receiver, Kasen Williams, for a fourteen-yard gain to bring up 4th and 1. (Further evidence of the dominance of Stanford's defense: this was the only catch of the day for Williams.)
In the first visible sign that these truly are Chris Petersen's Huskies now, the offense didn't hesitate for a second when facing that 4th and 1. Without any delay, Miles rushed his group to the line of scrimmage without a huddle and began barking out signals. There had been no discussion of whether to punt or not; all eleven players knew they'd go for the first down. Unfortunately for Miles, the center exchange was awkward and by the time he had possession of the ball, James Vaughters had possession of him. Stanford ball.
But the Cardinal couldn't capitalize. A 15-yard pass to Francis Owusu moved the ball to the 31, but the drive stalled three plays later and David Shaw was forced to send Williamson out to attempt a 46-yard field goal. It was wide right from the moment it left Williamson's foot, and the opportunity was missed.
After a three-and-out (the fourth for the Cardinal defense), Hogan and company were back out on the field. They wouldn't be there for long. After opening with a well-designed play that got the ball to Montgomery on the right side of the field and allowed him to follow the blocking of Cajuste (let's see lots more of this, please), Hogan looked to Montgomery again, this time on the left. Montgomery was isolated in single coverage by Marcus Peters. It could be that Hogan feels like single coverage on Montgomery means that he's open, but he was never open on this play. Montgomery's route took him tight down the left sideline, and Peters had him completely blanketed. Hogan's only hope would've been to underthrow him and give Montgomery a chance to come back to the ball, but instead he threw it to the top of the route and Peters made the easy interception at the Washington 39.
It was a troubling turn of events, but the defense held strong, just like they always do, and forced a punt. The teams traded a couple more punts before the Cardinal took over at its own 30 with 2:14 to play in the third quarter. Facing 3rd and 2 from the 38, tight end Eric Cotton slipped unnoticed and uncovered into the right flat, and Hogan found him for a 28-yard gain on the final play of the quarter. The Cardinal opened the fourth quarter with another big bite, this time an eighteen-yard gain on another reverse to Montgomery. (The first was left to right, this one was right to left.) Two players later, the Curse of the Red Zone stung the Cardinal again. Hogan dropped back to pass on 3rd and 10 and looked to make something out of nothing when all his targets were covered. He scrambled up the middle, but the ball was stripped by That Man Shaq and recovered by Danny Shelton at the ten. Opportunity lost.
After all this Cardinal domination, the Huskies were still even with less than fifteen minutes to play, and this last turnover seemed to energize their offense. They quickly earned a first down to the Husky 24, but the drive appeared to die when receiver John Ross was forced out of bounds after a one-yard gain on 3rd and 14. It was Vaughters who did the forcing, but after pushing him into the chalk, he tackled him for good measure and drew the flag for an obvious personal foul. Three plays later the defense again looked to have stopped the Huskies when linebacker Peter Kalambayi sacked Miles for a five-yard loss on 3rd and 10, but the play was erased by a Zach Hoffpauir penalty (illegal use of hands), and the Huskies were alive. Again. (Yes, Kalambayi lost a sack, but don't feel too bad for him. He had three other sacks on the day and has emerged as Stanford's most fearsome pass rusher.)
Three plays later the Huskies faced another third down, but this time the Cardinal managed to avoid any mistakes and it looked like the offense would finally get the ball back without incident, but then came the play that would decide the game. At 4th and 9 from his own 47 -- and even though he had surely seen film of the other schools who had tried trickery like this and failed -- Petersen called for the fake punt. The short snap went to Shaq Thompson, but he was buried for no gain and the Cardinal took over in Husky territory.
The ensuing Stanford drive was fascinating in its simplicity, so we'll look at each play.
- 1st and 10: Hogan keeps on read-option, 3 yard gain.
- 2nd and 7: Hogan drops back, then scrambles for 11 yards.
- 1st and 10: Hogan drops back, then scrambles for 2 yards.
- 2nd and 8: Kelsey Young, one-yard loss. (15-yard facemask penalty)
- 1st and 10: Kelsey Young rushes up the middle, 12 yards.
- 1st and Goal (5): Hogan rolls out right, runs for a touchdown.
The touchdown play was beautiful, and something I have to believe we'll see more of in the red zone in the weeks to come. The Cardinal lined up in their usual jumbo package, with six offensive linemen and tight end Austin Hooper on the line, another lineman in the backfield, and two fullbacks in the I behind Hogan. Hogan took the snap, faked the handoff to Patrick Skov, who was dotting the I (or, I suppose, the i), then rolled out to his right. Hooper had been lined up on the ride side of the line and blocked to the inside to sell the run, then came off his block and sprinted to the right corner of the end zone. The scoreboard operator could've put six points on the board right then; only the stat keepers needed to pay attention from there to find out who would get the touchdown, Hogan or Hooper. With one defender between the two of them, Hogan could easily have floated the ball into Hooper's hands for the score, but he wisely chose to keep it himself. He dove for the pylon and gave his Cardinal a much-deserved 20-13 lead.
Just when everything looked peachy, Jordan Williamson inexplicably knocked the ensuing kickoff out of bounds, drawing a penalty that would've given the Huskies outstanding field position at the 35. But instead of accepting that gift, Coach Petersen got greedy and decided to take the other option the penalty carries -- a five-yard penalty and a re-kick. Washington return man John Ross has blazing speed -- he had actually returned Stanford's first kick off of the day for a touchdown, but the play was erased by a penalty -- and Petersen wanted to give him another chance. Down by seven points, he was essentially admitting that Ross had a better chance at a return touchdown than his offense had at going 65 yards against the Stanford defense. (He was probably right.)
Regardless, the gamble backfired. Williamson's next kick was deep, pushing Ross all the way back to the 3, and Stanford's coverage was excellent. McCaffrey and Kalambayi corralled Ross at the 16. Petersen's gamble had cost his team 19 yards of field position, and they wouldn't recover. They were forced to punt from their own 23, but when Durkee unleashed a monstrous 65-yard kick that went out of bounds at the Stanford 12, there was hope for the Huskies.
Remound Wright ran the ball three straight times for the Cardinal, accomplishing nothing more than burning three Washington timeouts, and the Stanford defense was back out on the field with 1:48 to play and the Huskies 52 yards from the goal line.
Almost immediately it was 4th and 10, but Miles somehow converted with a 10.01 yard completion to DiAndre Campbell to keep the drive alive. Miles scrambled for another first down on the next play, putting his team in definite striking range at the 28, but somehow I don't think any Stanford fans were worried too much. Two plays later, on 2nd and 10 with fifty seconds to play, Miles dropped back and looked to his left. A fearsome pass rush pushed him deeper to his left, and he was forced to unload his pass just as Kalambayi was closing in. Miles was definitely outside the pocket, but his pass failed to make it back to the line of scrimmage -- intentional grounding by definition. Kalambayi was credited with his third -- and most important -- sack of the day. Two plays later, the drive was done. Kevin Hogan took a knee, and the Cardinal celebrated their 20-13 victory.
There are definite concerns about the offense and the its continued struggles in the red zone, but there are lots of great things to take away from this win. First of all, there's the most obvious -- a win is a win. In the team's first road test, in one of the conference's most imposing stadiums, the Cardinal came away with a dominant, if not decisive, win. Second, even though there were missed opportunities in the red zone, the last trip inside the twenty looked like vintage Stanford football. Definitely something to build on.
But the true story of this game was the Stanford defense. Chris Petersen's offense is still a work in progress, but it was completely overmatched by the Cardinal defense, which is showing signs of being one of the best units in the nation. Following Saturday's performance, the Cardinal retains its #1 ranking in scoring (6.5 ppg), total defense (198.0 ypg), and passing defense (74.0 ypg). The players know what's going on, and they're proud:
Back in the bay with the win...respect this D— David Parry (@DavidParry58) September 28, 2014
The game next week at South Bend will provide a different test, but I can't wait to see how it turns out.
[Photo Credit: Steve Dykes/Getty Images]