The improvement Stanford showed in its second game of the season bodes well for the Cardinal in its big game against USC on Saturday.
The Cardinal will still be an underdog in its home game against the second-ranked Trojans, but at least Stanford resembled a ranked team in its 50-13 rout of Duke over the weekend at Stanford. That was not the case in the Cardinal’s opener, a surprisingly close 20-17 victory over San Jose State, a team Stanford was expected to handle easily.
Stanford coach David Shaw said he felt “a lot better” about how his team played in its second game.
“It’s not just the score; it’s the way we played,” he said. “We won big on the scoreboard, but we can play so much better. The game we played tonight still wouldn’t beat USC.”
Duke certainly is not in USC’s class. The Blue Devils were picked to finish last in their division of the Atlantic Coast Conference, although they did handle preseason Sun Belt favorite Florida International 46-26 in their opener.
The Cardinal is not where it wants to be with its running game, which is supposed to be the team’s strength and its offensive identity. Stanford had just 92 yards rushing, including 69 by Stepfan Taylor, against a Duke team that yielded 4.9 yards per rush last season, among the worst in the country.
However, the Cardinal defense, strengthened by the return of linebacker Shayne Skov, was outstanding, and quarterback Josh Nunes was able to produce some big plays in the passing game, something he did not do in the Cardinal’s opener.
Nunes was 16-for-30 against Duke, which was a lower completion percentage than he had against San Jose State in his first career start as Andrew Luck’s successor. But he passed for 275 yards this time, more than twice the 125 yards he had in the opener. He was able to stretch the field against Duke, something he did not do against San Jose State.
The Cardinal also got big plays from its defense and special teams as the Cardinal scored touchdowns on Ed Reynolds’ 71-yard interception return and on Drew Terrell’s 76-yard punt return. The latter came just a little more than a minute into the game and put the Cardinal ahead to stay.