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Rule of Tree Rewind: Stanford's "Disappointing D" and Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers

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I'm generally a nervous wreck when I watch my favorite teams play important games. (I say important games because I wised up and made a conscious decision a few years ago to not let a Redskins loss in a season going nowhere, as most of them have been since 1991, ruin the rest of a perfectly good Sunday.) When I start to stress, I think of a book I read in Robert Sapolsky's Human Behavioral Biology course at Stanford -- Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers. I'm convinced it's because they don't watch sports (more specifically, Rex Grossman) or drive cars.

The first half of Stanford's 44-14 win at Washington State was probably ulcer-inducing for some of you. Hank wasn't afraid to admit he was nervous, while Twitter and Facebook were teeming with Cardinal fans wondering when the nightmare would end. My girlfriend said she didn't have a good feeling. I kinda shrugged.

"Why aren't you worried?" she asked, with a tone that implied I should have been. 

Because Andrew Luck threw his first interception of the season that was entirely his fault. Because replay overturned a clear fumble that would have given the Cardinal excellent field position. Because Stepfan Taylor's lost fumble gave Washington State a short field. Because the Cougars' kicker didn't miss a field goal, no matter that he didn't attempt one. Because Stanford settled for three points after driving to the WSU 5. And because, despite all of that, the Cardinal still led 10-7.

The main reason I wasn't worried, though? As poorly as the Stanford offense played in the first half, Jeff Tuel and the Cougars looked even worse.  Washington State didn't stand a chance against Stanford's under appreciated defense, which registered six sacks and four other tackles for loss. Just look at Wazzu's first half possessions:

  • 5 plays for 8 yards, Punt
  • 6 plays for 24 yards, Punt
  • 8 plays for 24 yards, Punt
  • 3 plays for 5 yards, Punt
  • 6 plays for 40 yards, Touchdown
  • 2 plays for 3 yards, End of Half
Tuel, who was making his first start since returning from injury, may have been rusty. Still, the Stanford defense deserves a lot of credit for doing what they've been doing all season -- getting pressure on the quarterback and keeping opponents out of the end zone. That's the name of the game, isn't it?

Despite giving up a late touchdown drive that eked the Cougars above 250 yards of total offense (hey, preposterous prediction), the Cardinal defense held its foe to fewer than 20 points for a 12th straight game. Before that streak began with a 41-0 shutout of Washington last year, the Cardinal had held opponents to fewer than 20 points a total of 13 times over the previous 67 games dating back to the end of the 2004 season.

On Saturday morning, I went and watched one of my girlfriend's nieces play field hockey. I asked her other niece, who was sidelined with a broken ankle, what position she played when healthy. "Defense," she said.

"Do you like playing defense, or do you wish you could score goals?" I asked.

She said she liked playing defense. "Why?" 

"Because I like to disappoint them," she said.

Profound for a 9-year-old, I thought. After years of simply disappointing, the Stanford defense is disappointing them, and they're doing it on a consistent basis. The D will get its first true test of the season on Saturday against Washington. The Huskies and quarterback Keith Price have put up some scary good offensive numbers this season, scoring more than 30 points in every game. I may be nervous come halftime if Stanford only leads by three, or (yelp!) trails, but if the offense picks up where it left off against the Cougars, there should be nothing to worry about. 

Were you nervous at halftime of Saturday's game? Are you nervous about the Huskies?