SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Here's three keys for Stanford heading into the Fiesta Bowl.
BALL SECURITY: Duh, right? It’s always a priority. But given the opponent and considering the acts of thievery the Cowboys have displayed on defense, it has to be priority No. 1 for Stanford and bears repeating again and again. Ball security, ball security, ball security. Running back Stepfan Taylor has just two fumbles this year and five of Andrew Luck’s nine interceptions have been – well – let’s just say fluky. The Cardinal’s methodical style of play typically doesn’t lend itself to turnovers and mistakes, but that doesn’t mean they can relax around a Cowboys’ squad that has 42 takeaways this season.
ORDER UP THE USUAL: By this point in the year, the Cardinal are who they are. They give up plays in the secondary, but rarely points. They stuff the run and create tremendous pressure. No use trying to install new coverages or suddenly trying to be a lockdown press team. Stanford is already conceding the fact that it is going to give up yards in the passing game. What happens after the initial catch, however, is key. If the Cardinal can wrap up and limit the yards after catch and after contact, they’ll be fine. They run an NFL style 3-4 defense up front that is designed to confuse the defense, yet the calls are simple enough that Stanford can disguise its pressure without confusing themselves. It’s worked 11 out of 12 times this year. No need to change now.
TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS: There were some questions about how Luck would respond last year in the Orange Bowl after finishing second in the Heisman voting. How’d that work out, Virginia Tech? If anyone is expecting a letdown after another runner-up finish, they’ll be sorely mistaken. The Cardinal have ridden Luck’s confidence all season and Stanford has been very matter-of-fact and businesslike all week. Some players have even talked about being a little chippy that all of the talk is how Oklahoma State got hosed out of the national championship game, but the Cardinal weren’t even in the conversation (their words, not mine). Still, they appear to have a focused swagger that was lacking in the final weeks of the season. There is no reason to believe they won’t back it up on the field.