Stanford punishes UCLA 35-0 in Pac-10 opener

Sunday, September 12, 2010


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Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney pushes away UCLA's Andrew Abbott in the first half.


(09-12) 04:00 PDT Pasadena --

Taking coach Jim Harbaugh's lunch-pail approach to the extreme, Stanford donned its hard hats and pounded UCLA on both sides of the ball Saturday night.

The Cardinal rolled to their first victory at the Rose Bowl since 1996, breaking a six-game losing streak to the Bruins in Pasadena with a convincing 35-0 victory.

It wasn't surprising that the favored Cardinal (2-0) won their Pac-10 opener. What was surprising was how they did it: with a crunching defense and strong ground game.

Andrew Luck threw for two touchdowns, but he was like a pitcher who muddled through without his best stuff. He completed 11 of 24 passes for 151 yards, far below expectations. But he ran for a career-best 63 yards as Stanford piled up 211 yards rushing.

"I definitely didn't play my best game by any means," Luck said. "UCLA has a good defense. I was a little overjuiced."

It was the Cardinal's first shutout since a 58-0 battering of Washington State in 2008 and their first shutout of UCLA since 1941. The 35-point margin was the largest over the Bruins in 69 years.

"I think our defense surprised a lot of people," safety Michael Thomas said.

Stanford scored two touchdowns in a nine-second interval late in the third quarter to take a 28-0 lead. Owen Marecic finished a nine-minute, 68-yard drive with a 1-yard plunge. On UCLA's first snap after the ensuing kickoff, Thomas stripped the ball from quarterback Kevin Prince and ran 21 yards for a touchdown.

It was the second strip job of the game by Thomas, and Harbaugh called it "the pickpocket touchdown."

Thomas said he took advantage both times of UCLA players carrying the ball loosely. "Honestly, I was just trying to make the tackle," on Prince, said Thomas, who was awarded the game ball. The touchdown happened so quickly "it was like a video game," he said.

On the third-quarter scoring drive, Luck completed just one pass for 9 yards. The rest of the yards came on the ground as the Stanford offensive line bulldozed the Bruins' front seven.

Luck appeared especially off in the first half, completing just 8 of 18 passes for 117 yards. He misfired on his first three attempts, and his longest completion of the first half, a 34-yard pickup, needed a fine catch by Doug Baldwin despite pass interference by cornerback Aaron Hester.

The Stanford defense dominated throughout. There were numerous big plays by new coordinator Vic Fangio's aggressive gang, including sacks by Thomas Keiser, Matt Masifilo and Sione Fua. Keiser had an interception on a tipped pass by UCLA backup quarterback Richard Brehaut in the fourth quarter.

Thomas ended a Bruins possession in the second quarter by dropping tailback Derrick Coleman for a loss on a third-down swing pass.

Thomas also stripped wideout Randall Carroll of the ball in the second quarter, and linebacker Chase Thomas (no relation) recovered at the UCLA 46. The Luck-to-Baldwin play set up Andrew Whitaker's second short field goal of the half.

The only touchdown of the first half was a 16-yard strike from Luck to Ryan Whalen, who was loosely covered in the corner of the end zone. The play wrapped up a 61-yard drive that featured Luck's scrambles of 16 and 11 yards.

While Luck was off his usual precise form, Prince couldn't get anything going for the Bruins. "Tonight was an offensive disaster, and there was no other way to describe it," coach Rick Neuheisel said.

One Prince pass was especially horrid. Under pressure from linebacker Chike Amjoyi on a third-and-20 play, Prince lobbed a what-the-heck toss toward the end zone, and Richard Sherman easily intercepted it at the 2. Sherman nearly gave up the ball himself when he lateraled to Austin Yancy as he was being tackled.

Prince was vigorously scolded by Neuheisel as he left the field. But Neuheisel stuck with Prince until Brehaut came in late in the third quarter.

The big hits kept coming for the Stanford defense, which had been so porous last year. Late in the first half, safety Delaney Howell crashed into tight end Cory Harkey to break up what looked like a sure catch and a sizable gain.

Briefly: Inside linebacker Shayne Skov and wide receiver Chris Owusu were out for the second straight game with undisclosed injuries, although Owusu dressed. ... Running back Jeremy Stewart, who injured his ankle against Sacramento State, also missed the game.

E-mail Tom FitzGerald at tfitzgerald@sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page B - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle


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