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The Sun Bowl – How #19 Stanford (8-4) Got There

The paths that Oklahoma and Stanford took to the Sun Bowl are starkly different. The Sooners are coming off a 2008 season where they won their third consecutive Big 12 championship and played in the BCS championship game for the third time in the last six seasons they were supposed to be contenders again. The Cardinal were coming off a 5-7 season in `08 and were picked to finish around 5th in the Pac 10 this season. For those reasons Stanford's eight win season and second place tie in the Pac 10 is a major success while Oklahoma's five loss season was a major disappointment.

Team Stats - Game Averages

Pts Yrds Pass Rush
Offense 36.2 441.4 217.1 224.3

Season Recap

Stanford's season started with a 39-13 thrashing of Washington State in Pullman where Toby Gerhart averaged 5.3 yards per carry and scored twice on his way to a 121 yard game. They were humbled the following week though with a 24-17 loss at Wake Forest. It was a three game home stand against San Jose State, Washington (then ranked #24) and UCLA that put Stanford on the 2009 college football map. The Cardinal went 3-0 over that stretch, winning their games by an average of 33-16. However, road troubles were looming.

Following their 24-16 home win over UCLA the Cardinal hit the road in back-to-back weeks at Oregon State and Arizona. The result was an 0-2 record over that span with the Stanford defense giving up nearly 41 points per game. It was this two game stretch that would prove to be costly in Stanford's quest for a Pac 10 championship and now with their record standing at 4-3 and the season on the line the Cardinal put together their best three game stretch of the season. With wins over Arizona State, Oregon (ranked #7 at the time) and USC (ranked #11 at the time) Stanford climbed the polls and Toby Gerhart made his mark as a Heisman candidate by helping the Cardinal offense score over 46 points per game. Against USC Gerhart ran for 178 yards and three touchdowns with an average of 6.1 yards per carry.


Stanford's season was marked by some significant streaks. After going 1-1 in their first two games of the season they ran off three wins in a row. Following those three wins were two consecutive losses and then another three game winning streak. Finally, they finished out the season going 1-1 over their final two games. The Cardinal were 6-1 at home where their defense held opponents to an average of 25 points per game. Away from home Stanford was 2-3 with the defense giving up an average of 30 points per game.

Cardinal Football Schedule

@ Washington St. Sat 09/05 W 39 - 13
@ Wake Forest Sat 09/12 L 17 - 24
San Jose St. Sat 09/19 W 42 - 17
Washington Sat 09/26 W 34 - 14
UCLA Sat 10/03 W 24 - 16
@ Oregon St. Sat 10/10 L 28 - 38
@ Arizona Sat 10/17 L 38 - 43
Arizona St. Sat 10/24 W 33 - 14
Oregon Sat 11/07 W 51 - 42
@ USC Sat 11/14 W 55 - 21
California Sat 11/21 L 28 - 34
Notre Dame Sat 11/28 W 45 - 38
Oklahoma Thu 12/31 1:15 PM CST


Why They Won

Stanford finished second in the Pac 10 in scoring offense with 36.2 points per game. Despite having the Heisman runner-up they were still second in rushing in the conference behind Oregon but a 5.4 yards per carry average and 224 rushing yards per game are impressive.

Rushing Receiving
G Rush Yds Y/G Avg TD Rec Yds Y/G Avg TD
2009 - Toby Gerhart 12 311 1736 144.7 5.6 26 10 149 12.4 14.9 0


In their passing attack the Cardinal are efficient (only 4 picks this season) and intentional. They would prefer to run the ball and use the passing game to set that up. Andrew Luck completed 56.2% of his passes this season but will be sidelined for the Sun Bowl with an injury.

Why They Lost

On defense the Cardinal were near the bottom of the pack in their conference. Surrendering 26.2 points per game ranks them 8th in the Pac 10. Against the pass they've given up 252 yards per game and 20 touchdowns. Against the run Stanford's opponents are going for 144.5 yards per game and have scored 18 touchdowns on the ground. Both were good for 8th in the Pac 10 as well.


In Stanford's four losses the Cardinal defense gave up an average of 488 yards per game and an average of 35 points per game both well above their season averages. How did Wake Forest, Oregon State, Arizona and California do it? Both Wake and Cal were balanced in their attacks with the Demon Deacons going for 251/207 and the Bears 242/235 rushing/passing yards. Oregon State was fairly balanced but had a lean towards passing with 173/290 rushing/passing yards. It was Arizona that looked to skies and bombarded Stanford with 415 passing yards to just 138 rushing.

When opponents are able to balance an attack against Stanford they've been successful as the Cardinal defense has struggled to focus on stopping both the pass and the run. If a team can get the Stanford defense back on their heels and guessing then they can manipulate a rushing attack with the play-action pass and find success. Stanford's offense scored 17, 28, 38 and 28 points respectively in their four losses. With possibly the Wake Forest loss being the exception (17 points) the Cardinal offense scored enough points in their losses that a good (not great but good) defensive performance would have won the game for them.