Meet your 2012 Stanford Cardinal football team: Offensive juggernaut, defensive lightweight.
At least for a day.
A week after the Cardinal went without an offensive touchdown and stayed close with Washington solely because of a stout defensive effort, Saturday's 54-48 overtime win against Arizona was a markedly different showing.
Both teams piled up 617 yards of offense. Both quarterbacks played like All-Americans and Stanford came up with two timely stops late to improve to 4-1.
"It's huge," senior linebacker Chase Thomas said. "To show that we can face adversity, overcome it and have that 16-round knockout fight really shows that this team's a high-character team that never gives up and never-quit mentality."
After Stanford cut the deficit to 48-41 with 6:34 left in the game, it was up to the defense to come up with a stop if the Cardinal wanted to hold on to any hope for a victory.
Easier said than done. Arizona had scored touchdowns on five of its previous six drives and got points on eight of the last nine.
Sure enough, a rush for no gain was followed by two incompletions from quarterback Matt Scott and the Wildcats were forced to punt.
"We believe we have one of the best defenses in the nation, so we knew they'd eventually come up with a big stop," tight end Zach Ertz said.
Quarterback Josh Nunes led the Cardinal on a 14-play, 79-yard touchdown drive, capped by Nunes' third rushing touchdown, to tie the game with 41 seconds to go.
In overtime, the defense again stood tall.
Defensive end Henry Anderson tipped a Scott pass at the line and All-American linebacker Chase Thomas plucked it out of the air to keep Arizona off the scoreboard on the first possession of overtime.
Two plays later, running back Stepfan Taylor galloped up the middle for a 21-yard touchdown and was quickly mobbed by teammates in the endzone.
"This is the kind of game that we needed. We needed to fight. We needed to battle," coach David Shaw said. "We needed to be into it in the fourth quarter. We needed to be down. We needed to fight back. Just to test our character. We believe that we have that kind of character to be able to fight back even when we're down, but it's great when you get tested and respond to that challenge."
For Nunes, who took a lot of outside criticism after the Cardinal went without an offensive touchdown against Washington last week, Saturday's performance couldn't have gone much better. He completed 21 of 34 passes for 360 yards with two passing touchdown and three rushing touchdowns and led a pair of impressive scoring drives in the fourth quarter.
But Shaw still isn't expecting Nunes' doubters to quite just yet.
"Probably not. And once again, I don't care. He doesn't care. We're a team," Shaw said. "We're tight in our locker room. We support him through everything, and he understands that. We hold him accountable for what his job is. But at the same time, we know he's
more than capable. And I think he showed that."
Tight end Levine Toilolo made five catches for a career-high 141 yards. He came up with a key 19-yard catch on 4th and 2 on the Cardinal's second to last drive of regulation, which set up the second of Nunes' three touchdown runs.
When Nunes hit Zach Ertz for a 17-yard pickup on fourth and 9 on Stanford's final drive of regulation, the play call used is known as "Special." Ertz said he expected the ball once he heard the play call and Nunes said it had been successful throughout the week of practice.
Freshman defensive end Aziz Shittu made his collegiate debut. It was
determined the team needed as much depth as it could muster against Arizona's fast-paced offense, thus the burning of his redshirt.
Instead of subbing in invididuals from play to play, Stanford rotated its entire second-team defense for series at a time. On three occasions the entire starting defense was on the sideline together.
The 617 yards was the tenth most a Stanford defense has ever allowed.
With Stepfan Taylor in the locker room tending to a finger injury,
redshirt freshman Kelsey Young took a jet sweep and scored on a 55-yard run. The coaching staff mentioned through the spring it would find ways to get the speedster involved.
Running back Stepfan Taylor finished with 142 yards on 31 carries. It was his 16th career 100-yard game, which ties him with Darrin Nelson for second-most all time in Stanford history.
Arizona quarterback Matt Scott's 491 passing yards was the third highest total ever against a Stanford defense. Despite Scott's gaudy numbers, defensive hero Chase Thomas said the Cardinal defense never panicked, "We didn't start blaming each other, we didn't start pointing fingers or anything like that," Thomas said. "We knew what we had to fix. When it counted, our defense went out there and got the ball back for our offense."
Josh Nunes: "I definitely have confidence now. The guys up front did what they needed to do as well as the guys downfield. I definitely used last week as a stepping-stone forward and learned a lot to work on. "
David Shaw: "This is the kind of game that we needed. We needed to fight. We needed to battle. We needed to be into it in the fourth quarter. We needed to be down. We needed to fight back. Just to test our character. We believe that we have that kind of character to be able to fight back even when we're down, but it's great when you get tested and respond to that challenge."