I thought about starting this column with, “Sorry for doubting you,” but that wouldn’t be 100 percent accurate.
Yes, I should have known better than to predict just a seven-point win this weekend at Washington State, so I’m sorry, but “doubt” isn’t the right word to describe my feelings about Stanford football right now.
The only way I know to describe what it’s like to follow this Stanford season is that it’s a lot like watching in 2011. This team is dominant in just about every way, and it’s hard to imagine anyone but the Oregon Ducks beating the Cardinal. However, I’m still nervous every time a new game approaches.
Why? It’s because, as this game with Washington State demonstrated, Stanford is really, really good. In fact, these last two performances have been so dominant that I truly believe Stanford is good enough to win the national championship. Yet in this current system of college football, one loss — whether a fair defeat at the hands of Oregon or a fluky loss in a Seattle monsoon — could derail everything.
So while I walk into every stadium now with the full expectation that the Cardinal should win and win easily, it’s still as scary as sitting through the finale of “Breaking Bad” Sunday night.
Now, for the first time, it’s starting to get even more intense than in 2011, when we talked about believing in a national championship run. That’s how good Stanford looked.
It wasn’t just that the Cardinal dominated a Washington State team that, in retrospect, was probably a bit overrated due to its victory over a definitely overrated USC squad. It was how Stanford did it.
The one game plan that had stopped Stanford best in the past was to slow down the Cardinal rushing attack and take your chances against the pass. Teams that cheated their safeties toward the line of scrimmage had a chance to win the game, especially if the conditions weren’t prime for passing.
On the other side of the ball, while Stanford’s front seven had proven to be dominant at getting penetration, quarterbacks who got rid of the ball quickly to athletic receivers on the outside had a chance to move the ball and put up points.
But Saturday night at CenturyLink Field, Stanford showed once and for all that those strategies will not work in 2013; in fact, they’ll result in embarrassing blowouts.
Every time Wazzu brought its safeties close to the line of scrimmage, quarterback Kevin Hogan had an answer. Receivers Ty Montgomery, Michael Rector and Devon Cajuste have wildly exceeded expectations. Even when double or triple teamed, all three have burned by safeties that have crept up to help out in the running game. Saturday night, those three combined for 12 catches, 262 yards and three touchdowns. Wazzu tried to follow Washington’s script from 2012 and found itself behind 48-3.
And when the Cougars had the ball, it was even worse. All of those bubble screens no longer work thanks to the physicality of cornerbacks Wayne Lyons and Alex Carter combined with the speed of linebackers A.J. Tarpley and the now-healthy Shayne Skov.
Saturday night was not the first time Stanford showed the ability to execute on these key points. However, it was the first time that Stanford executed both of them perfectly for an entire game, on the road against a solid opponent, no less.
If the Cardinal plays anywhere close to that level, Stanford can beat anyone besides the Ducks. And if Stanford plays exactly that well, not even Oregon — or Alabama — can stop this remarkable freight train.
So let’s try to enjoy the ride.
Sam Fisher is still drying off his keyboard from Saturday’s Seattle showers. Welcome him back to the Golden State at safisher ‘at’ stanford.edu and follow him on Twitter @SamFisher908.