After Stanford was upset by Northwestern in a shocking loss to open the season, many people were concerned about how the rest of the year would play out for the Cardinal.
Yes, this writer was included in that pool of critics. David Shaw’s coaching came under fire, as did the play of Kevin Hogan and his offensive line. The running game was nonexistent, and the young defense had a few moments of weakness. It seems like that week of doubt was all Stanford needed to help kick them into gear.
Now, after a dominant victory over the Oregon State Beavers, it appears as though Stanford is the team to beat in the division, and potentially the conference. The best thing about Stanford's game plan against the Beavers was their display of offensive versatility, which has come around in the three weeks after the Northwestern game.
Kevin Hogan came into the OSU game with a sprained ankle, which was an obvious concern. Therefore, David Shaw decided to place the offense on the shoulders of RB Christian McCaffrey, and he delivered in spades. He looked like a top-tier runner after racking up 206 yards on 30 carries, while adding another 38 yards as a receiver. On top of McCaffrey's superb performance, the complementary backs also ran well. Barry Sanders and Remound Wright ran for two touchdowns each, highlighted by Sanders' 65-yard TD run.
While the run game has been excellent, perhaps the most encouraging element of the offense the last two weeks has been Austin Hooper's involvement in the game plan. The powerful tight end has 6 catches for 129 yards and two touchdowns in the last two weeks.
The fact that Stanford has shown they can win without relying strictly on an air-it-out approach should have shut up any remaining Cardinal nay-sayers. That loss to Northwestern hurt. The coaching staff felt it, the players felt it, the fans felt it. It’s obvious that this team refuses to suffer through that kind of feeling again this year, as they are playing each week with an encouraging resilience fostered by that tough loss.
When you get punched in the mouth, you're defined by how you respond. Stanford is looking like the tough kid on the block. Sometimes losing is the best recipe for success.