By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Offensive guard David DeCastro succinctly summed up Stanford's last football trip to North Carolina in two words: "It sucked."
Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck, of whom former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh once said had a photographic memory, has managed to block his memory of that loss to Wake Forest two years ago.
"I don't remember too much from that game," Luck said. "I tried to put it all out of my memory, except that we lost and it's like a five-hour plane ride back that's awful."
No one has to remind Luck that it was also his first loss as a Division I quarterback. Forget that he threw for 276 yards, completing 23 of 34 passes, and two touchdowns, it was just plain ugly.
"I just don't have good memories," DeCastro said. "Hopefully we can clear that up. It just sucked overall. It sucked, to sum up the East Coast trip."
There's still a handful of players left who shared Stanford's 10th cross-country trip since 1971, including then starters Luck, DeCastro, Jonathan Martin, Chris Owusu, Matt Masifilo and Delano Howell.
The sixth-ranked Cardinal (1-0) returns to the East Coast this week with its nonconference game at Duke (0-1) on Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. (PT) and the game will be televised nationally on ESPNU.
Historically, Stanford does not fare well when traveling to the Eastern time zone. The Cardinal is 2-8 in its previous 10 trips. One of those wins was at Duke in 1972.
Luck has fared much better since that Wake Forest loss. Stanford is 19-4 with him as a starter since then, including the past 10 games in succession.
Cardinal coach David Shaw, then an assistant, still has three pages of notes he took regarding the loss to the Demon Deacons.
"The thing is for us is the elements were different," Shaw said. "I think the most important point is we are deeper now than we were then. We didn't have the same juice in the second half as we had in the first half. So I think we're better equipped to play a game like this."
Stanford used a total of 33 players against Wake Forest, which won in the final two seconds. The Cardinal used 63 players in last week's 57-3 season-opening victory over San Jose State.
Shaw, who has overseen recruiting in the Mid-Atlantic region, from Maryland to southern Virginia, since he has been at Stanford, said going to the East Coast even once every two years can make all the difference in recruiting.
"We're one of the few, true national recruiters," Shaw said. "For us to play an East Coast game is really big because we get to send some coaches out on the road and recruit the night before. We're actually going to send some guys out early because there is some Thursday night high school action. And to be visible. This game is going to be on ESPNU, but also be visible to where guys within driving distance can come and watch us play, which is exciting."
Since the Cardinal has players from across the nation, an east coast trip can also be a rewarding experience for many.
"I don't know how many states we have players from, but I know it's a lot," Luck said. "We got guys from Georgia, up to New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania. I know a lot of guys have family on the East Coast, so it's great that they can come and see them in person."
Stanford's running game last weekend produced 141 yards on 40 carries, two for nine yards by Luck. The four-man rotation seemed more like Stepfan Taylor (18 carries, 61 yards) with a supporting cast of Tyler Gaffney (5-23), Jeremy Stewart (3-17) and Anthony Wilkerson (8-14).
"We've got to play our style of football which is the physical side of football," Shaw said. "But we have to have the execution and some of our execution wasn't up to our usual standards. So that's where we'll go back to work."
If he gets a repeat performance from his defense, Shaw will be very happy. One of the nation's top rush defenses a year ago, the Cardinal limited the Spartans to 27 total yards on the ground.
"We were happy with our play but at the same time still not satisfied," Stanford senior linebacker Chase Thomas said. "We gave up too many passing yards and we didn't get to the quarterback enough."
Thomas, who hails from Georgia, will have plenty of family and friends at the game.
"It's still just another matchup," he said.
NOTES: Luck's two passing touchdowns gives him 47 all-time, fourth in Stanford history. He needs five touchdowns to match Jim Plunkett for third place. Luck's .664 career completion percentage (442-686) and 158.04 career passing rating tops the list, as does his 816 career rushing yards . . . Redshirt freshman punter Ben Rhyne (Charlotte) is Stanford's only player from North Carolina . . . According to the UNLV S.I.D. department, Stanford's offensive line of juniors Sam Schwartzstein, David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin, and redshirt freshmen David Yankey and Cameron Fleming is the third-youngest in the country.