PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Considering the score and considering the field position, there really wasn’t much need for Stanford to go for it on fourth-and-2 at the Colorado 13. The Cardinal were up by 20 coming out of the locker room and were more than in control on their opening drive of the second half. A field goal would have made it a three-possession game against a team that was hardly moving the ball.
But in David Shaw’s eyes, a field goal wasn’t enough. It wasn’t going to make the point that the Stanford head coach wanted to make. It would have been a comma. He wanted an exclamation point.
“Attitude. Attitude. Our attitude is that if it’s close, with the line that we have, with the fullbacks we have, with the tight ends we have, with the backs that we have we should pick up anything that’s less than fourth-and-3,” Shaw said. “We should pick it up. We don’t bat an eyelash. We don’t think about it. We don’t even talk about it on the headset. We just get the next call ready. That’s the kind of mentality we need to have up front in order for us to play games the way we want to play them.”
The Cardinal exerted their will -- and their attitude -- on Colorado in a 48-7 win at Stanford Stadium. No. 7 Stanford (5-0, 3-0) has won nine straight games at home while extending the nation’s longest winning streak to 13.
For all the funky formations and misdirection motions on offense; for all the exotic looks and blitz packages on defense; at its core, Stanford is very simplistic in its approach to the game: smash-mouth. Hit first, ask questions during film.
“Everything starts with being physical,” said co-defensive coordinator Jason Tarver. “We start with three things; alignment, angle departure and vision progression. We get aligned right, we go in the angle we’re supposed to, we look where we’re supposed to look and we hit whatever is on those lines.”
It's an attitude thing.
From the opening kickoff, the Cardinal were in a hole but dug themselves out. Jeremy Stewart fumbled the kickoff and Colorado recovered at the Stanford 36. Suddenly the defense found itself on the field sooner than expected.
“When there is a sudden change, we don’t see it as a momentum swing, we see it as an opportunity,” said safety Michael Thomas, who nabbed Stanford’s first interception of the season later in the game. “Opportunity is knocking and it was time for us stand up.”
And they did, yielding to their own 12 before forcing Colorado into field goal formation. Linebacker Max Bergen came plowing through the line untouched, blocked the kick, picked up the one-hopper and returned it 75 yards for the game’s opening score. The Cardinal are yet to trail a game this season.
The Cardinal continued to mix up their looks on offense. They ran the no-huddle for the second-straight week, motioned tight ends in and out and piled on 553 yards of total offense -- their second highest total of the season (567 at Arizona).
“We want the [opposing] defense to move,” Shaw said. “We want them to move and communicate. We try to put them at a disadvantage to a certain degree … we’ve got personnel that we can do those things. We’ve got three tight ends that are NFL tight ends that are athletic and can run all kinds of routes and we can flex them out and then we can bring them back in and pound the rock. We’ve got a guy like Ryan Hewitt that was recruited as tight end but playing fullback. We can flex him out and play like a tight end. The guys we have allow us to do the thing we do.”
And they’ve got quarterback Andrew Luck -- who turned in another sensational performance on 26-of-33 passing for 370 yards and three touchdowns. The lone stain on his stat sheet was an interception off the hands of wide receiver Chris Owusu that fell right into the hands of Colorado defensive back Terrel Smith.
Luck was liberal with the football, connecting with 10 different receivers. Hewitt had touchdown catches of 1- and 10 yards and receiver Griff Whalen added four catches for 92 yards and a score.
“Luck’s the best quarterback, no doubt,” said Colorado head coach Jon Embree. “He’s got a good enough arm that he can throw the ball down the field without putting a lot of air on it. Not a lot of kids at college can do that like that. Like I said, he runs their offense to a tee.”
Stanford's running game started slowly, netting just 19 yards on eight carries in the first quarter. That was to be expected, Shaw said.
“We knew it was going to be tough sledding early on,” Shaw said. “We know a lot of games it’s going to be like that running the ball because we will put a lot of bodies in the box and we will cram it in there. We’re going to run the ball between the tackles a whole lot. And we do it early in games to establish who we are.”
It’s an attitude thing.
Eventually, those 1- and 2-yard runs gave way to bursts of 21 and 18 yards. Tyler Gaffney led all Stanford rushers with 61 yards on nine carries. He rushed for a score, as did Stepfan Taylor (13-58) and Stewart (4-12). The Cardinal finished with 161 rushing yards, averaging 4.6 per carry.
Colorado, meanwhile, struggled on the ground, as teams tend to do against Stanford. Through three quarters, it had just 38 yards on 19 carries. The Buffs (1-5, 0-2) totaled 264 yards. A huge chunk came on a 76-yard screen pass to Rodney Stewart. Safety Devon Carrington sniffed out the play and was in position, but failed to make the tackle.
“We need to make sure we put our face on guys and not lunge and dive,” Shaw said. “… there is no credit for almost making a play.”
It’s an attitude thing.
Still, Stanford’s players were dissatisfied with their effort.
“We need to pick it up on the physical end,” said Bergen.
“I think we need to improve. It wasn’t good enough,” Luck said.
“When we look at the film, we’ll see some plays we left out there,” said Thomas.
Shaw gave a devilish smile when informed none of his players were satisfied with the 41-point victory.
“They better have said that,” Shaw said. “It’s the truth. We can’t let the scoreboard dictate our feeling about how we played. If we can play better, we should know it and we should play better.”
It’s an attitude thing.