By Kyle McLorg
There was no shortage of explosive plays in Stanford’s battle with the Arizona Wildcats. Although the defense was stout in the Cardinal’s loss to the Huskies last week, Stanford struggled to get anything going offensively, only managing 235 yards and failing to get into the end zone. This week was an entirely different story. In defeating Arizona 54-48 in overtime, Stanford (4-1, 2-1) delivered an unbelievable change of pace, as well as a fantastic finish.
Bearing down and wearing down
With the exception of a first quarter in which the Cardinal held the Wildcats (3-3, 0-3) to only 24 yards on 11 plays, Stanford’s defense was incapable of stopping the Wildcats for most of the game.
The numbers for Arizona’s offense were, without a doubt, prolific. They ran a total of 103 plays, gaining 617 yards and converting 38 first downs. Quarterback Matt Scott was fantastic, going 45-for-69 for 491 yards and three touchdowns to only one interception. Running back Ka’Deem Carey continued to prove that he is one of the premier rushers in the Pac-12, gathering 29 carries for 136 yards and three touchdowns on the vaunted Stanford run defense.
A major factor in Scott’s big passing day was an injury to Cardinal cornerback Terrence Brown. He was taken off the field on Stanford’s first defensive snap, forcing freshman Alex Carter to step in and replace him. Carter spent most of his day covering wide receiver Austin Hill, who took advantage and hauled in 11 catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns.
Still, Stanford got the stops when it mattered. They forced two crucial 3-and-outs that lead to scores in the fourth quarter and came up with a huge interception from Chase Thomas in overtime.
Stanford wasn’t orchestrating a no-huddle offense Saturday, but they still managed to match scores with Arizona. Nunes was 21-for-34 for 360 yards and two touchdowns passing to go with seven rushes for 36 yards, three of which were touchdowns. His last was a big one, tying the game with 45 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Surprise, surprise: Nunes’s favorite targets were tight ends Zach Ertz (six catches, 64 yards, one touchdown) and Levine Toilolo (five catches, 141 yards, one touchdown).
It’s no wonder that Stanford is known for both their “jumbo packages” and defense – it is a team chock full of NFL-sized players with NFL talent. Just a few observations from being up close and personal:
— Levine Toilolo is some kind of NFL prospect. He’s enormous: 6’8” with a 36-inch vertical leap and speed to match. Coach Shaw attributed Toilolo’s success today to some work that he’s been doing with Nunes. “The last two weeks – before the Washington game and after [that] game … he and Josh worked a lot on connecting on those big passes.”
— Soon Stepfan Taylor is going to be an NFL team’s feature back. At one point in time Taylor (who had 31 carries for 148 yards and 2 touchdowns) went to the locker room with what he described as a “finger injury,” but he came back out and finished strong with the 21-yard game-winning touchdown in overtime.
— Ty Montgomery had another rough game. After fumbling the ball late in the game, he went down in the fourth quarter with a knee injury. I spotted him walking back to the locker room with a visible limp.
— In his postgame press conference, coach Shaw cited big game experience as a reason for why Stanford was able to pull out of a two touchdown hole. “We’re not a great football team right now,” Shaw said. “We’re getting better. We played extremely well today. One thing that we have is we have a lot of guys that have won a lot of football games. You can’t discount experience in winning games.”