The fact that Stanford is still very much in the hunt for the Pac-12 title that eluded Luck is a testament to a) The ground game, which has continued to grind out a living into the teeth of defenses with little reason to fear being beaten deep, and b) The defense, which has lived in opposing backfields: After racking up a school-record ten sacks against Washington State, the Cardinal rank No. 1 nationally in tackles for loss and No. 2 against the run, behind only Alabama. (Including negative sack yards, Washington State finished with minus-13 yards rushing for the game, one week after Cal limped out with a grand total of three yards. Back in September, USC managed just 26 yards on 27 carries en route to one of the biggest upsets of the season.) In the Cardinal's two losses, a 17-13 stumble at Washington and a controversial, 20-13 loss at Notre Dame in overtime, the defense scored the team's only touchdowns in both games.
Had the offense been able to crack the end zone even once in those games, Stanford might be among the dwindling cadre of undefeated teams hitting the November stretch with the BCS Championship Game in sight.