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Stanford's Restart: Back To No. 5

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Trent Murphy has played a huge role in rebounding from the Utah loss. His 9.5 sacks are third best in the nation with almost half his total coming in the last two wins. Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images.
Trent Murphy has played a huge role in rebounding from the Utah loss. His 9.5 sacks are third best in the nation with almost half his total coming in the last two wins. Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images.

Utah woke a sleeping giant.

The loss to an unranked team has incited the Stanford team that fans know and love. While losses are never good, this loss in particular already has equaled out. Stanford fell in the rankings, yet now sit pretty in the BCS standings at its AP poll preseason ranking of fifth.

The Cardinal players and coaches ignored the hype at the time and seemingly paid no attention to the ranking, but computers never forget. The BCS respect for Stanford combined with a two-week facelift against UCLA and Oregon State pushes Stanford back into national prominence.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Stanford deserves the No. 5 spot — but that’s all it deserves. Those two wins do not suddenly change the complexion of college football the way that two losses do. But this weekend’s game against Oregon does. Whether or not the Cardinal intended, the game is coming at the perfect time.

The defense has lead the turnaround. As a result, the Cardinal look comfortable in its own skin. They are running the ball well and flummoxing elite offenses. The Cardinal defense looked porous early, giving teams like Army room to rush and ASU room throw. But something changed after Utah. The defense finally has taken control of football games, though the depth on the defensive line will be tested with Ben Gardner and Henry Anderson injured. The linebackers remain intact with Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov, both of whom look impossible to fool.

Stanford refocused against UCLA and only allowed 192 yards on Brett Hundley’s 39 pass attempts, 100 yards less than he averaged coming into the game. UCLA turned to the run to re-open the passing game, but Stanford allowed only 2.7 yards per carry on the ground.

Last week, Oregon State’s Sean Mannion had 271 passing yards on 57 attempts. For Mannion, that is a supremely disappointing day. He averaged 442.1 yards per game before playing the Cardinal. Trent Murphy accounted for 2.5 sacks and now is third in the nation with 9.5. Prior to the game, the Beavers' abysmal rushing attack averaged 2.6 yards per carry. The Cardinal limited them to 0.7 yards per carry.

The Cardinal offense does its best to keep the ball from opponents. The defense is great, but its not perfect and David Shaw knows you cannot score if you do not have the ball. That is why I think it's best if Kevin Hogan’s passing numbers look modest. Analysts criticized him for his “poor play” against Oregon State as he threw for only 88 yards on 18 attempts. That’s fine, so long as Tyler Gaffney’s numbers are gaudy (145 rushing yards), though Ty Montgomery needs to get touches, as he still averages 18.3 yards per reception.

The back-to-basics rush offense gives Hogan plenty of third-and-short. It sets up the play action, which opens up downfield throws. It even allows Hogan to scramble and that is when he is at his best. He has been a smart and efficient rusher, particularly in the Oregon State game on a clutch drive at the end of the second quarter. He set up a Gaffney touchdown with seven seconds left in the half.

Stanford does not need a big passing attack. Last year, when it beat Oregon, Hogan only threw for 211 yards.

The common perception is that Oregon has its worst game against Stanford last season, and that should be taken into account this year. But Oregon State and UCLA could say the same this year. It cannot be coincidence that touted offenses leave a game against Stanford feeling deflated.

The residue of preparation is showing. The Cardinal have a little bit of magic up its shoulder pads and blood on its jerseys. The season has started again, and they could not ask for a better opportunity than the Ducks.