Sports


Thomas helps Stanford football reach No. 19 in AP Top 25 poll

Cardinal pummels host Bruins in Pac-10 football opener

A long offensive drive followed by a short defensive burst led to an impressive victory for the Stanford football team in the Pac-10 opener.

The 19th-ranked Cardinal wiped out years of frustration in its rivalry with UCLA, beating the host Bruins, 35-0, Saturday at the Rose Bowl.

Stanford moved up six spots to No. 19 in the latest AP poll after shutting out UCLA.

"Every play was important to them," Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said. "Our guys played good football. They were locked in and there weren't a lot of mistakes."

Stanford (2-0, 1-0 in the Pac-10) ended a six-game losing streak to UCLA at the Rose Bowl, winning at Pasadena for the first time since 1996. Stanford was shut out twice during that losing streak. The Cardinal also lost to Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl following its conference championship season in 1999.

"It means a lot," Cardinal safety Michael Thomas said. "No doubt about it, we've been hearing it. Last time we won here was 1996. Shoot, let's get it done. A win here at the Rose Bowl, this is where we want to get back to. Getting the first win here, just get that taste in your mouth, see the atmosphere and you're like, 'Man, I've got to get back here,' so it was great."

Stanford hosts Wake Forest (2-0) for an 8:15 p.m. kickoff next Saturday in a nonconference affair.

Stanford enjoyed its first shutout away from home since beating Michigan State in the 1996 Sun Bowl, its first true road shutout since winning in Eugene in 1974, its first road shutout over UCLA since 1941 and its biggest margin of victory over the Bruins since 1929.

"We were exorcising our demons," Harbaugh said.

Andrew Luck threw two touchdown passes and Thomas led the defensive effort with a 21-yard fumble return for another score.

The Cardinal forced UCLA into four turnovers, leading to 10 points. UCLA was shut out for the first time at home since a loss to Cal in 1999.

After two games Stanford ranks seventh nationally in total defense, eighth in pass defense and 15th in turnover margin.

Bruins' quarterback Kevin Prince botched a handoff late in the third quarter, then had the ball stripped by Thomas, who ran 21 yards for a touchdown and a 28-0 lead.

"Right after the offense scored a touchdown, the defense got together and talked about making the big plays," said Thomas, a former high school option quarterback. "I saw the quarterback and wanted to secure the tackle. He was coming at me with the ball in one hand so I went for the strip and it stayed in my hands so I just kept running."

Thomas credited teammate Delano Howell, the starting strong safety, for teaching how to strip the football.

"He is the best of anybody at it," Thomas said. "He taught me his craft, I used it, and it worked. That play is like something that you visualize when you dream the night before the game. When an opportunity like that happens, you've got to take advantage."

Harbaugh was certainly impressed with the defensive effort.

"We just talked a lot about packing the defense for a road game," Harbaugh said. "It's something we needed to play better on the road and we certainly packed the defense this week."

Thomas' score came moments after fullback Owen Marecic scored on a 1-yard run on fourth-and-goal. Luck threw a conversion pass to Doug Baldwin. It culminated an 18-play drive covering 68 yards and using 9:25 of the game clock.

"It was a great drive," Harbaugh said. "It's not easy to do that. Andrew kept the drive alive with his legs. He has super instincts."

Luck threw a 3-yard TD pass to tight end Coby Fleener, who was wide open in the right corner of the end zone with 8:38 to play. Luck's first TD pass of the night was a 16-yarder to Ryan Whalen midway through the first quarter.

Stanford gained 362 yards, including 211 on the ground.

Stanford's Nate Whitaker kicked field goals of 23 and 21 yards to give the Cardinal a 13-0 halftime lead.

In the first half, Randall Carroll fumbled when he was hit by Michael Thomas, with Chase Thomas recovering at the UCLA 46. That set up Whitaker's 21-yard field goal midway through the second quarter.

UCLA moved to the Stanford 28 on the next drive before Matt Masifilo recorded a sack and Richard Sherman intercepted a pass.

Luck, who was 11 of 24 for 151 yards, made way for backup quarterback Alex Loukas after Thomas Keiser intercepted Brehaut with about 5 minutes left. Luck also ran seven times for 63 yards.

— Palo Alto Online Sports

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