Part of being a top ten team means getting every other teams best possible shot. Duke did not intend to roll over in the game. They intended to win, as crazy as that would seem to any Cardinal fan.
The game started as expected, Stanford took a long drive down the field for 85 yards and a score. The Cardinal converted plays into four first downs, including a 43 yard pass from quarterback Andrew Luck to wide out Chris Owusu. After that performance, it was completely unexpected that the team would be unable to score another touchdown until there were only 39 seconds left in the half.
The Blue Devil’s and their bag of tricks
Coach David Cutcliffe did everything possible to give his team a chance. He dialed up the pressure from the second drive on, trying to get Luck out of his comfort zone. And for the most part, it worked. Luck missed throws because the defenders were able to get to him. With linemen in his face, he cannot set his feet properly for accuracy. As a result, he ended up throwing an interception off a tipped pass. The offensive line still struggled more than it should have. The growing pains of getting five guys all working together will continue. They will improve as they start to see stunts and scheme wrinkles in a live game situation but it means that Luck may end up on his back. Luckily, they have a quarterback who is more than tough enough to take the hit and still make the throw.
Stanford was 4-9 on third down, a percentage which should have been much higher considering their opponent. The Blue Devils also out possessed the Stanford offense, holding the ball for 34:24. This stat may be a little misleading because the Cardinal managed to score and score quickly on some big plays, limiting their time of possession. But in the first half, this stat was a reality. The offense struggled to convert on third down and could not get a good rhythm going. The interception return for a touchdown knocked the wind out of the team. The Blue Devils followed up their touchdown with an onside kick, which they recovered with good field position. Starting with the ball in Stanford territory, they had a decent chance to take the lead.
Duke knew they were not supposed to win. But since they were still in the game and a had a great opportunity to take the lead, they really started to believe it was possible.
The Cardinal’s Poise
Coming out on that next drive, the Stanford defense stepped it up. With the ball on their own 40, the defense came up with two sacks for a net loss of fifteen yards, both coming from linebacker Chase Thomas. This was one of the turning points of the game because Stanford could have easily have come out flat after the turnover. Instead, they forced the three and out.
Luck also showed his ability to bounce back after a bad play. The sacks gave the Cardinal good field position. Luck then threw four consecutive passes on four consecutive plays to the move the ball 59 yards and score within 38 seconds. Luck did not sulk after his mistake. Instead, he focused on what he needed to do the next time the ball was in his hand.
What to take from the Victory
It was that defensive series and the following dominating drive that decided the game and got this team rolling. Luck is central to the offense and its success will largely depend on how well he plays. That being said, the offense can go through fluctuations in how effective it is because it is based around one person. Luckily for the Cardinal offense, Luck showed consistency and resilience.
And even if Luck does make a mistake, Stanford still has other ways to win. The front seven of the Stanford defense put together another dominant performance. Collectively, they had consistent pressure on Duke quarterback Sean Renfree, especially when it mattered most. They also kept the Blue Devils one dimensional, limiting them to 19 yards rushing for the game. In addition, Stanford’s own rushing attack had over 200 yards and 6.8 yards per carry.
In the end, Stanford put up about 500 yards of offense and won by 30 points. They showed some of the same problems as last week, notably pass protection and pass coverage when the pressure does not get there. But most of all, the Cardinal showed that they are going to be tough to beat and that they can handle everything a team throws at them, whether it be exotic blitzes, onside kicks, or every special teams’ fake imaginable.
Fans should be excited. This team has a chance to be even better than last year, thanks in large part due to a maturing defense and the hot hand of quarterback Andrew Luck.