By George Chen
All week long, head coach David Shaw emphasized the importance of resiliency. Stanford football has not lost back-to-back games since 2009, and on Saturday, the Cardinal certainly were not going to let that five-year streak be snapped heading into their bye week.
Rebounding from a heartbreaking loss to USC, the No. 15 Cardinal (2-1, 0-1 Pac-12) got off to a slow start, but woke up in the second half to shut out Army (1-1) 35-0 in a fairly empty Stanford Stadium. Senior wide receiver Devon Cajuste had a career day for the Cardinal, using his size advantage to outmuscle Army’s defensive backs and catch Stanford’s first three touchdowns of the game. Cajuste’s counterpart, senior wideout Ty Montgomery, tacked on the final two touchdowns for the Cardinal in the fourth quarter.
Stanford marched down the field for a 9-play, 75-yard opening drive, capped by a 23-yard TD grab by Cajuste. However, symptoms of a hangover from last weekend’s loss started to creep in as the game progressed, as the Cardinal punted four straight times following their opening score. A rare event for the explosive star, Montgomery also fumbled the ball on a punt return that was recovered by Army early in the second quarter. Stanford so far this season has had issues taking care of the ball — the Cardinal have already fumbled five times and turned the ball over seven times in three games this year, certainly a noticeable departure from last season, when Stanford fumbled the ball just nine times and coughed up the ball 19 times in 14 games.
“Offensively, we started fast,” Shaw said. “Scripted plays of the first drive was executed perfectly. We thought it was just a great drive. We had a lull in the middle there. Some things that weren’t quite clean. A lot of things we addressed and cleaned up again.”
In a storyline that Cardinal fans are all too familiar with, Stanford’s sluggish offense in the first half was bailed out by the great play of its defensive counterpart. The Cardinal defense held Army’s triple-option attack to just 2.3 yards per carry through the first two quarters, and would go on to finish the game with 10 tackles for a loss. Saturday’s masterful defensive performance marked the 26th consecutive game that Stanford has held its opponent to fewer than 30 points.
“Lance Anderson did a phenomenal job on the defensive side,” Shaw said. “That is a tough thing in one week, which is really three days of practice. In three days of practice to get ready for this triple option, I thought it was phenomenal. I think defense is exactly where we want them to be, playing extremely well. It’s really three weeks in a row, outstanding performances by those guys.”
Three outstanding defensive performances in a row is right — Stanford has recorded two shutouts in its first three games of 2014, and has allowed only 1.1 points per quarter.
In one of the biggest plays of the game that injected some much-needed energy into the Cardinal squad, senior outside linebacker James Vaughters forced a fumble late in the second quarter that was recovered by his classmate Kevin Anderson deep in Army territory. Four plays later, senior quarterback Kevin Hogan threw a back-shoulder fade to Cajuste in the right corner of the end zone to put Stanford up 14-0 heading into halftime. In spite of the offense’s sloppiness in the early going, Hogan and company cleaned up last weekend’s red-zone woes by converting all three of its red-zone chances today for touchdowns.
The Cardinal found a way to open up their offense in the second half, especially in the running game. Stanford had not seen much success running the ball between tackles in the first half — or so far this season, for that matter — but a good mix of power, counter and straight dives allowed Stanford to drive down the field while also controlling the clock. Senior running back Kelsey Young carried the ball seven times for 46 yards, but it was junior Barry J. Sanders who had the best game statistically, finishing the day with 92 rushing yards on nine carries. Late in the third quarter, Sanders busted a 44-yard run down the sideline and would have taken it to the house had Army cornerback Chris Carnegie not taken a great angle to knock Sanders out of bounds.
“I was running,” Sanders said. “That was the only thing. I ran as hard as I could, and I heard [Carnegie] had a good angle, so I’m going to stick with that story.”
In the fourth quarter, Stanford put the ball into the hands of its best playmaker to seal the game. Montgomery, who had a relatively quiet first three quarters, took a direct snap out of the Wildcat for a four-yard touchdown, and a drive later, Hogan threw a perfect ball to Montgomery for a 32-yard pitch-and-catch that gave the Cardinal a 35-0 lead. Montgomery has now recorded a rushing and receiving touchdown in one game three times in his career.
Stanford will enjoy a bye next weekend before facing Washington in Seattle on Sept. 27.
Contact George Chen at gchen15 ‘at’ stanford.edu.