Stanford rolls up 68 points against Wake Forest
In yet another show of force, the No. 16 Stanford football team manhandled visiting Wake Forest on Saturday night. The Cardinal (3-0, 1-0 Pac-10) was an unstoppable force, completely overwhelming the Demon Deacons (2-1, 1-0 ACC) on every front. The game ended in a 68-24 victory for Stanford, the Cardinal’s highest point total in 42 years.
For the second straight week, the Card was able to significantly exceed expectations against a respected opponent from a BCS conference. Last week, Stanford traveled to UCLA and handed the Bruins a 35-0 loss, and while the Cardinal was an 18-point favorite against the Deacons, the way it methodically dominated the game suggests that its Pac-10 title prospects look very rosy.
“We were very motivated, especially after last year,” said redshirt sophomore quarterback Andrew Luck. “We knew Wake Forest was a great team that could put up a lot of points, and we knew we really had to light the scoreboard up if we wanted to beat them.”
While the Cardinal did blow out Wake Forest, it took a little while for the team to fully find its rhythm. Stanford’s defense forced the Deacon offense, led by freshman quarterback Tanner Price, into an early three-and-out, giving its offense a chance to gain an early edge.
Luck seized that chance, driving down the field and hitting junior receiver Chris Owusu in the end zone to give the Card an early 7-0 lead.
Owusu said he was feeling “close to 100 percent” recovered from the injury that kept him out of Stanford’s first two contests.
“Our training staff did a great job with me,” he said. “They never pressured me to come back early.”
However, the Demon Deacon offense took the ball on its next possession and appeared ready to match Luck and his unit point for point. Running a spread-option attack, Price used a number of successful fake handoffs to open up holes in the Stanford defense (which wasn’t helped by penalties and mistakes), and the drive culminated in a 22-yard reverse touchdown run by wideout Chris Givens to tie the score at seven apiece.
Unfortunately for Wake Forest, that score would mark the last time it was at all competitive in the game. On the ensuing kickoff, redshirt freshman running back Usua Amanam took the ball back 60 yards to the Wake 38-yard line. The return set up a lightning-quick scoring strike from Luck, who hit Owusu in the end zone on the second play from scrimmage. Stanford went up 14-7 and never looked back.
The next two drives, one for Wake and one for Stanford, firmly cemented the Cardinal’s superiority for the remainder of the game. After the Owusu touchdown catch, Price and his offense returned to the field but were quickly shut down by the Stanford defense. The Cardinal’s front seven swarmed the offensive line, putting pressure on Price and effectively neutralizing the Wake Forest running game. A crucial sack by redshirt sophomore linebacker Chase Thomas on third down forced the Deacons into a punt, giving Stanford the ball back near the end of the first quarter.
On the ensuing drive, Stanford’s offense showed that it was not entirely reliant on Luck and the passing game to move the ball against Wake Forest. Sophomore running back Tyler Gaffney was featured on the drive and went for some punishing runs against the Deacon defense, eventually punching the ball into the end zone for a touchdown (the first of two on the night for him).
The remainder of the game saw the Cardinal continue to pound the Deacons, both on the ground and through the air. Gaffney’s touchdown was the first of four straight touchdowns in the second quarter, only answered by a long Deacon field goal as time expired at the end of the half. The Cardinal entered the locker room with an insurmountable 41-10 lead, hastening the exodus of fans from Stanford Stadium.
After two more touchdowns in the first four minutes of the third quarter, Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh pulled his starters from the game on both sides of the ball—at that point, the Cardinal commanded a 55-10 lead over the Demon Deacons after scoring eight touchdowns (with one missed extra point). Wake Forest did manage two more touchdowns in the third quarter, but it was too little and too late. Stanford ended up scoring twice more in the fourth quarter, ending the game with 10 touchdowns to three and a field goal for the Deacons.
Throughout the game, Stanford’s offense answered all remaining doubts about its ability to put up points on its opponents. The rushing attack, which has been doubted because of its “running back by committee” approach, bulldozed over the Wake Forest defense, notching 303 yards on 38 carries. Notably, no player had more than eight carries, indicating that Harbaugh will continue using this approach for the foreseeable future, rather than selecting a single back to feature in the offense.
“The running backs had a heck of a game,” Harbaugh said. “We did a great job up front.”
Luck was also very impressive, reinforcing his Heisman candidacy and dispelling all doubts about his leadership abilities. Statistically, Luck went 17-23 for 207 yards passing and four touchdowns, and added 69 rushing yards (including a 52-yard scramble for a touchdown).
Afterward, Harbaugh had nothing but praise for his quarterback.
“Luck played a flawless game,” he said.
Similar to the running attack, Luck has not yet found a single “go-to” receiver: no receiver had more than three catches, and 11 players had at least one catch over the course of the game. Senior receiver Ryan Whalen, who has been Luck’s top receiver to date, was injured in the first quarter—however, early reports indicate that Whalen suffered a hyper-extended elbow, a relatively minor injury, and should return to the depth chart soon.
While the offense ran up the score, Stanford’s defense turned in another stellar performance. Before the starters were taken out, the defense only surrendered 10 points to a Deacon offense that entered the game ranked in the top five nationally in points scored and yards gained. Wake quarterback Tanner Price was effectively bottled up, limited to 8-18 passing for 76 yards. The running attack was also limited—though it gained 207 yards, it was on 53 carries, for a low 3.9 yards per carry. Price himself took 16 carries for just 65 yards and was the Deacons’ leading rusher.
“Our defense did a great job of holding their offense,” Luck said. “It was a good team effort, and the chips fell our way tonight.”
Beyond the stat sheet, both the front seven and the secondary played impressively throughout the night. Junior defensive back Michael Thomas emerged as a star for the second consecutive game, notching seven solo tackles through the game. Linemen and linebackers were also constantly in the backfield, pressuring Price into making poor decisions and throws, one of which led to an Austin Yancy interception. The defensive linemen—junior Max Masifilo, senior Sione Fua and senior Brian Bulcke—were especially effective, winning the battle on the line of scrimmage and exposing an overmatched Demon Deacon offensive line.
Sophomore linebacker Shayne Skov, who missed Stanford’s first two games due to an infection in his knee, returned to the field against the Demon Deacons. While he was a key to the defensive effort, he still appears to be somewhat limited and has not fully returned to his pre-injury form.
Stanford’s next game will be its last nonconference contest, on the road at Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are 1-2 in the first season for new head coach Brian Kelly, including a close 34-31 loss against Michigan State in overtime on Saturday. The game is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. PST, and will be televised on NBC.
—Lizzy Collins contributed to this report.