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Stanford does everything differently, comes back to beat Arizona

Was this the same Cardinal team as last week? It sure didn't look like it...

Jason O. Watson - Getty Images

You could not have scripted a game to be more different from the Washington game than today's Stanford-Arizona thriller.

Last week was all about defensive dominance and pathetic offense. Today was all about offensive dominance and pathetic defense. The story of last week's game was Josh Nunes not looking like a viable college quarterback. The story of today's game was Josh Nunes looking like a hero. Last week, there was one lead change. Today, there were 10. Last week, Stanford blew a late, double-digit lead. Today, Stanford came back from a late, double-digit deficit.

And yes, last week Stanford lost, and today the Cardinal won.

So how did Stanford do it? In short, by doing everything differently from last week.

For starters, Nunes looked like he had switched bodies with someone since the Washington game. Sure, there were a few missed throws early, but for much of today's game, Nunes was a pinpoint passer. Last week, Nunes threw for just 170 yards with an interception. Today, he torched Arizona for 360 yards and two touchdowns, all on three fewer pass attempts than he had last week.

What's more, Nunes was clutch. In the fourth quarter, Nunes was 3-for-5 on third-down conversions, and the two times he missed, he converted on fourth down. Just as surprising was Nunes's running. A week removed from gaining no rushing yards, Nunes netted 33 yards and scored three rushing touchdowns. For some perspective, John Elway had only five rushing touchdowns in his career, and Andrew Luck had just seven. In fact, Stepfan Taylor has only two games with three rushing touchdowns in his career, and none this season.

It wasn't just about Nunes, though. Levine Toilolo, who had just one catch against Washington, had five catches for 141 yards and a touchdown today. Jamal-Rashad Patterson had more receiving yards today than he'd had in the past two seasons combined.

But what was most impressive, apart from Nunes, was the running game. The squad that had no rushes longer than seven yards against Washington exploded for 257 yards on the ground. Five different Cardinal players carried the ball, and all of them had a carry longer than seven yards. The boring, predictable ground game from last week was replaced by a more diverse attack, which included a 55-yard end-around touchdown by Kelsey Young. Overall, Stanford averaged 6 yards per carry after being held to only 2.3 ypc last week.

Even the punting was drastically different, as Daniel Zychlinski averaged 15.4 more yards per punt this week than last week.

Of course, not all the differences were improvements for Stanford. The Cardinal defense, which was the best unit on the field for most of last week's game, was absolutely shredded by Matt Scott and the Arizona offense. The Wildcats racked up 617 total yards, the 10th-most ever allowed by Stanford. In particular, the Cardinal had no answer for Scott, who set school records with 45 completions on 69 attempts. Scott's 491 passing yards were the third-most ever allowed by the Cardinal.

Stanford, which gave up just 177 passing yards to Keith Price last week, had no answer for the Wildcats' passing game. Scott completed passes to nine different receivers, although three of them - Austin Hill, Dan Buckner, and Johnny Jackson - combined for 29 catches, 331 yards, and two touchdowns.

Unlike last week, though, the Stanford defense was best when the team needed it most. Instead of blowing a late lead by allowing a couple big plays late, the Cardinal defense forced a crucial three-and-out to give the offense a chance to tie things up late. Then, in overtime, Stanford finally forced that elusive turnover, as Harry Anderson deflected Scott's pass high into the air, where Chase Thomas snatched it away from two of his teammates to put the Stanford offense in prime position to win.

And when Stanford needed a game-winning play from its offense, today the Cardinal answered the bell. It took only two carries by Taylor to cover the 25 yards for the winning touchdown, and just like that, the game ended.

All told, the Cardinal matched the Wildcats exactly with 617 total yards, the eighth-highest total in school history. Nine days after the lowest-scoring Stanford game in almost five years, the Cardinal and Wildcats combined for 102 points, the third-highest point total in Stanford history.

But in the end, the only difference that really matters is that Stanford is back in the win column.