- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 16, 2012

Stanford’s latest masterpiece against Southern California was many things.

A tribute to a well-constructed program. A reminder the Cardinal can wear out teams as well as anyone. Even a mild eye-opener, considering Stanford’s opening-week scare against San Jose State.

An utter shock, it was not.

Stanford followed its standard blueprint in shutting down the then-No. 2 Trojans 21-14. Tempting though it might be to pin all of the Cardinal’s rise on the arm of gifted quarterback Andrew Luck, they first emerged as an intriguing entity in 2009 because of a dominant running game and stellar line play.

Sure enough, Stanford rolled up 202 rushing yards Saturday as part of a balanced offense and yielded just 26 rushing yards to the Trojans, the preseason No. 1.

There were two obvious ways to knock off Southern Cal, fresh off a two-year bowl ban. One was to match the Trojans’ dazzling array of skill position stars, something only one team on their schedule (Oregon) appeared capable of accomplishing.

The other was to grind down a thin team still restocking its ranks after NCAA sanctions. Stanford, however Luck-less it is now, was the prime candidate to follow that plan.

It wasn’t a perfect performance. The Cardinal do not possess the same overwhelming offense of the past couple of years, three missed field goal attempts Saturday were an eyesore and quarterback Josh Nunes’ two interceptions are reason for modest concern for coach David Shaw’s program.

But with four straight victories over Southern Cal and a 3-0 mark, Stanford ventures deeper into its season as a legitimate top-20 team (if not better). After rolling up 31 victories the past three years, maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise, either.

Weekend risers

Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish manhandled Michigan State, limiting the Spartans to 50 rushing yards and 237 total yards in a 20-3 victory on the road. Michigan State’s points came on a 50-yard field goal, and it never visited the red zone. It was a stellar outing for the Irish, who are 3-0 for the first time in a decade.

David Ash. The Texas quarterback turned in another fine performance, completing 19 of 23 for 326 yards and four touchdowns in the Longhorns’ 66-31 rout of Mississippi. In three games, the sophomore has seven touchdown passes and, perhaps more importantly, no interceptions. He had eight picks in 99 attempts last season.

Fresno State. The Bulldogs scored 55 points and amassed 516 yards in the first half. It was at home against woebegone Colorado, but those are stunning numbers for a school coming off a 4-9 season. Fresno cruised to a 69-14 victory.

Weekend decliners

Arkansas. A week after an overtime loss to UL Monroe, Arkansas welcomed No. 1 Alabama to Fayetteville and was throttled 52-0. Quarterback Tyler Wilson missed the game with a head injury, then sounded off. “Do I feel that we, at times, gave up out there? Absolutely,” Wilson told reporters. ”As a leader, it sucks to see people not do their jobs and to see things go wrong.”

Remember, the Razorbacks were ranked 10th in the preseason under stopgap coach John L. Smith. It would appear anyone else in the running for the season’s biggest train wreck already is playing for second. Arkansas has that honor all but locked up.

Joker Phillips. Know what doesn’t help your job security if you’re Kentucky’s embattled coach? Losing to Western Kentucky. Phillips’ Wildcats fell in overtime as the Hilltoppers executed a tailback pass on a two-point conversion to secure a 32-31 victory. “The WKU red is the new blue in Kentucky,” Hilltoppers coach Willie Taggart crowed to reporters. Kentucky fell to 1-2 and next faces Florida and South Carolina.

* The commonwealth of Virginia. Virginia Tech turned in a clunker, stumbling to an uninspired 35-17 loss at Pittsburgh. Not to be outdone, Virginia surrendered 461 rushing yards in a 56-20 loss at Georgia Tech.

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