By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
The last time Stanford's football team put together back-to-back eight-win seasons, the coaches were Dennis Green and Bill Walsh and quarterback-turned-free safety John Lynch was one of the main components.
Andrew Luck has tried to imitate a free safety at times this season to mixed reviews, but as the Cardinal quarterback he's every bit as important as Lynch was in the Blockbuster Bowl season of 1992.
Lynch was on hand as part of the latest group of inductees into the Stanford Hall of Fame on Saturday and he had to be thinking Luck may one day join him there.
With the spotlight of a national television audience and the prospects of facing the Pac-10's top defense, Luck imposed his will on the game and produced one of his finest efforts in Stanford's signature 42-17 victory over visiting Arizona.
The combination of the game's importance in terms of the Pac-10 standings, the possibility of a major bowl game and the nation-wide exposure brought the best out of the 7th-ranked Cardinal (5-1, 8-1) as it looks to secure a special place in school history.
The Cardinal is the proud owner of its highest AP ranking since the 1970 Rose Bowl team was ranked sixth heading into its Nov. 14 game at Air Force.
Stanford also moved into sixth place in the latest Bowl Championship Series standings, which were released on Sunday.
Stanford will look to continue its success next Saturday with a 4:30 p.m. at Arizona State.
The overall record matches the 1970 Rose Bowl team for Stanford's best nine-game start since 1951, and matches its victory total of last season. The conference record puts the Cardinal squarely in second place, a game behind top-ranked Oregon, which handed Stanford's its lone loss to date.
"I told the team that I thought it was our best game," Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said. "Offensively, defensively, special teams; I thought they played very smart, disciplined football."
Stanford scored on its opening drive, needing less than three minutes to march 69 yards in six plays. Luck connected with Owusu on a 45-yard scoring pass. The Cardinal never trailed in the contest.
"He played a tremendous game," Harbaugh said of Luck. "Some of the throws he made were in some really tight areas. Those are big-league type of throws when you're putting a ball on the line 35, 40 yards down the field staring into a rush."
Owusu and Luck connected nine times for 165 yards. The best catch didn't result in a touchdown, but it did give the game announcers something to marvel and gush over as the play of the game.
Early in the fourth quarter, Owusu made a diving catch so spectacular that Arizona challenged the call. Fortunately for the replay official, he got to watch it several times before confirming the catch.
"That might be the best catch I've ever seen from the sidelines," Harbaugh said of the 33-yard reception that Luck placed perfectly.
Luck threw for 293 yards on 23-of-32 passing and two touchdowns. He added a five-yard scoring strike to Tyler Gaffney to give the Cardinal a 28-3 advantage.
"We understand this has the opportunity to be a very special season for Stanford," Luck said. "I know there is many different situations about bowl games and what not. But we know that doesn't matter unless we win."
Sophomore running back Stepfan Taylor, who led Stanford with 82 yards on 19 carries, tied a school record with four rushing touchdowns, and has 11 on the season. He rushed for two touchdowns last season.
Arizona entered the game ranked sixth in the nation in rushing defense, allowing an average of 88.4 yards per game on the ground. The Wildcats had given up four rushing touchdowns all year.
With Taylor and freshman Anthony Wilkerson (81 yards on 10 carries) each running for more than 80 yards, Stanford amassed 228 total rushing yards.
Arizona was also ranked seventh in the nation in scoring defense, giving up 14.4 points per game. That is, until Stanford netted 42.
Stanford also allowed no sacks to a team that led the Pac-10 with 27 coming into the game.
"This was about trusting each other," Stanford safety Delano Howell said. "When we trust each other, we're able to focus on our own job and play together as a team."