The #19 Stanford Cardinal (9-3 / 7-2 PAC-12) outfought #9 Notre Dame (9-3) 38-20 on The Farm Saturday night, winning the PAC-12 North in the process with some help from the Washington Huskies. The Cardinal also needed a Washington victory over Washington State in The Apple Cup to secure their fourth division title in the past six years, and they got just that as UDub routed WSU 41-14 in Seattle.
Amazingly, the Cardinal have two Top-10 wins in the past three weeks, and after starting 1-2, have won eight out of their past nine games. Furthermore, this was Stanford’s third straight win versus Notre Dame, and their seventh in the past nine meetings.
Heisman frontrunner Bryce Love (20 rushes / 125 yards / 6.3 YPC) delivered another legendary performance in front of the Cardinal faithful, limping on and off the field for four quarters of old-school smash-mouth football. Though he was only a shell of himself playing with the high ankle sprain he suffered back in the Oregon game, his both selfless and fearless approach clearly inspired his teammates on both sides of the ball, as well as his head coach.
“You run out of words for what Bryce Love is,” Coach Shaw stated in his post-game press conference. “One-hundred-thirty yards on a sprained ankle, and he’s been hurt for over a month. His pain tolerance is unbelievable. One-hundred-thirty yards on twenty carries, all with a smile on his face.”
In regard to the Heisman hype, Stanford’s all-time winningest head coach and a former football standout on The Farm himself (From 1991-1994 David Shaw played football for both Bill Walsh and Dennis Green, and also played basketball and ran track at Stanford, graduating with a B.A. in sociology.), put Bryce Love’s circumstance in very simple terms. “It’s not about winning awards. It’s not about being an All-American. It’s not because the game was on national television. He just loves to play, and he loves his teammates.”
Cardinal quarterback K.J. Costello (14 for 22 passing / 176 yards / 4 TDs / 87.3 QBR) waited for the biggest stage to play his best game of the year, leading Stanford to twenty-one fourth quarter points and a runaway victory. The sophomore standout QB was able to soften up the gritty Notre Dame defensive front in the second half by airing it out over the top to his massive wide receiver and tight-end corps (Parkinson - 6’7” / Schultz - 6’7” / Smith - 6’6” / Stewart - 6’5” / Arcega-Whiteside - 6’4” / Irwin - 6’3”).
Equally, that receiving unit was able to make some clutch plays down the stretch to help their young quarterback, none more so that Kaden Smith’s 19-yard touchdown on a critical third down in the fourth quarter. That score gave Stanford a lead they would not relinquish.
The Cardinal defense was amazing yet again, not allowing the Irish to score in the final quarter, and finishing the season a perfect 6-0 at Stanford Stadium this year. All-American candidates nose tackle Harrison Phillips (7 tackles / 3 TFL / 2 sacks / 1 QBH) and safety Justin Reid (9 tackles / 2 PD / 1 sack / 1 TFL) were rock solid for ‘The Card’ as they have been throughout the ’17 campaign, and by rock I mean diamond.
On that level, senior outside linebacker Bobby Okereke (10 tackles / 1 TFL / 1 QBH) has come on strong late in the season, and is a force to be reckoned with on the edge. He consistently produces congestion in the backfield with a dangerous combination of elite speed and quick pass-rush maneuvers. His fellow OLBs Peter Kalambayi (8 tackles / 1 sack/ 1 TFL / 1 PD) and Mike Tyler (5 tackles / 2 sacks / 2 TFL / 1 PD) also had nice games for the Stanford D, as did cornerback Quenton Meeks (6 tackles / 3 PD / 1 TFL).
As each win becomes Stanford history from this point on for Coach Shaw, it is worth noting that in his seven seasons on The Farm, he is 13-0 at home vs. non-conference opponents. Separately, this was Stanford’s sixth straight Top-10 win at home under Shaw.
The #14 Cardinal have earned the right to play #11 USC in Santa Clara on Friday night for the PAC-12 Conference Championship, with the winner of that game likely traveling to the Fiesta Bowl to play Ohio State. Though nothing is set to date, early evaluations have the loser of this title game meeting Michigan in the Holiday Bowl. However it plays out, I see the championship being a close football game, and the last possession may very well win it.
Either way, Roll Red.