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Stanford's offense comes alive in overtime victory

The Sports Xchange
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After Stanford failed to score an offensive touchdown in its 17-13 loss to Washington, there were doubts about the passing ability of quarterback Josh Nunes, initiating unfair but inevitable comparisons to Andrew Luck.

But the Cardinal's 54-48 overtime victory over Arizona on Oct. 6 at Stanford Stadium may have changed a lot of opinions.

Not only did the Cardinal win an offensive shootout, something that seemed impossible given the offensive deficiencies it showed in previous games, but Nunes proved he can lead a fourth-quarter comeback, which also seemed unlikely a week earlier.

No. 18 Stanford overcame a 14-point deficit with 9:03 left in the fourth quarter. It scored the tying touchdown with 45 seconds to go on Nunes' three-yard touchdown run, one play after he completed a 17-yard pass to Zach Ertz on a fourth-and nine play from the 20.

"I definitely have a lot of confidence now," Nunes said. "I definitely used last week (against Washington) as a stepping stone forward and learned a lot things to work on."

The Cardinal made the comeback count when Chase Thomas intercepted a tipped Matt Scott pass to end Arizona's overtime possession.

Stepfan Taylor then ended the game on a 21-yard touchdown run on the Cardinal's second play of its first overtime possession.

The comeback victory may have saved the Cardinal's season. Instead of riding a two-game losing streak heading into the Oct. 13 road game against Notre Dame, the Cardinal is 4-1 overall and presumably will retain its national ranking. Plus Stanford moved to 2-1 in the Pac-12, keeping alive its Rose Bowl hopes.

The victory over Arizona proved Stanford could win a high-scoring game coming from behind when forced to throw, which was in doubt after the first four games.

The Cardinal had been relying on its defense early in the season, but Arizona torched the Cardinal for 617 yards of offense.

Arizona quarterback Matt Scott set single-game school records for passing attempts (69) and completions (45) while piling up 491 passing yards with three touchdowns and the one interception.

But Nunes and the Cardinal offense overcame all that, turning what could have been a disastrous result into an uplifting victory.

NOTES, QUOTES

WHAT'S AHEAD: Stanford faces No. 9 Notre Dame on the road on Oct. 13 in what may be the Cardinal's toughest game so far. The Irish defense is far better than the one Stanford faced against Arizona and ranks second in the nation in scoring defense, yielding just 7.8 points a game. Notre Dame is coming off a 41-3 victory over Miami to improve to 5-0. After that, Stanford faces Cal in Berkeley in the traditional Big Game, although its placement in the middle of the season (Oct. 20) instead near the end of the season is unusual.

--The 617 yards gained by the Stanford offense on Saturday was noteworthy because it was more than the Cardinal ever gained with Andrew Luck at quarterback. It is the eighth-highest single-game total in school history and the most since a 1999 game against San Jose State. It is a major accomplishment for a Cardinal offense that ranked 105th out of 120 FBS teams heading into the game.

--The Stanford-Arizona game featured 10 lead changes, including eight after halftime.

--Stanford played virtually the entire game without starting cornerback Terrence Brown, who was inadvertently kicked in the chin on Arizona's second offensive play of the game. Shaw said it's too early to determine his status for next week's game at Notre Dame.

--The 102 points scored on Saturday is the third highest total in a game involving Stanford.

--Arizona ran 103 offensive plays against Stanford, and the Wildcats are averaging 90.5 plays per game, which is second most in the country behind only Marshall.

KEEP AN EYE ON: QB Josh Nunes played his best game of the season against Arizona, nine days after playing his worst game of the season against Washington. He has played well at home but struggled in his only road game, so the Cardinal's next game at Notre Dame should tell us plenty about his progress. Notre Dame's defense is the best the Cardinal will have faced this season, so Nunes will be tested. Nunes did prove he can lead a fourth-quarter comeback, something that was in doubt until he directed drives of 60 and 79 yards in the final nine minutes of the fourth quarter.

LOOKING GOOD: Stanford's offense was outstanding against Arizona. Not only did it rack up 617 yards, but it was able to produce when it mattered most by rallying from a 14-point deficit with 9:03 left in the fourth quarter. It showed Stanford can win a game when it is behind and forced to throw, although the Arizona defense is not particularly strong, especially with all the injuries it has had to endure.

STILL NEEDS WORK: Stanford's defense had been outstanding until the Oct. 6 game against Arizona, which ripped the Cardinal for 617 yards and 48 points, mostly through the air. It showed the Cardinal's vulnerability against a spread-offense passing game that spreads out the Cardinal defense. It was the first spread offense Stanford has faced this season, but it won't be the last. Arizona QB Matt Scott attempted 69 passes and completed 45 of them for 491 yards, the first time a team has thrown for more than 400 yards against Stanford since Oklahoma did so in the 2009 Sun Bowl.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's not what we learned. It's maybe other people learned that he's a tough kid. He bounces back. He doesn't listen to the noise (criticism) and he's steady." -- Stanford coach David Shaw, on what he learned about his quarterback, Josh Nunes, in the victory over Arizona on Oct. 6.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER NOTES:

--TE Levin Toilolo had a career-high 141 receiving yards against Arizona. TEs Zach Ertz and Toilolo combined for 11 catches, 205 receiving yards and two touchdown catches. For the season, they rank first and second on the team in receiving yardage, with Ertz having 316 receiving yards and Toilolo 278.

--RB Stepfan Taylor had 142 rushing yards, which was his 16th career 100-yard game, tying him with Darrin Nelson for second place on the school's all-time list.

--QB Josh Nunes passed for 360 yards, a career high. His previous career high was 275 against Duke. He completed 21 of 34 passes and improved his season completion percentage to 54.1 percent.

--OLB Chase Thomas had a tackle for loss against Arizona, giving him six for the season. He also had Stanford's only takeaway, an interception of a Matt Scott pass in overtime.

ROSTER REPORT

--TB Anthony Wilkerson sat out the Arizona game with a lower leg injury. He is questionable for the Oct. 13 game against Notre Dame.

--FB Geoff Meinken sat out his fifth straight game with a knee injury, and it's unclear when or if he will return.

--CB Terrence Brown left the game early in the first quarter after getting inadvertently kicked in the chin. His status for the game against Notre Dame is uncertain.

--LB A.J. Tarpley replaced James Vaughters in the starting lineup at inside linebacker against Arizona, although the second-team defense got a lot of playing time against the Wildcats, who ran 103 offensive plays.

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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