Don’t call it an upset. Well, don’t call it a shocking upset. Northwestern (1-0) dominated No. 21 Stanford (0-1) in Evanston in the early afternoon timeslot, sending the Pac-12 contenders home with a 16-6 defeat. In a reverse of the expected outcome, it was Northwestern that took control in the trenches and used a physical style to its advantage instead of the program that has built a reputation for gaining a physical edge.
Stanford drove right down the field on the game’s opening possession but had to settle for a field goal. Field goals would be the only way Stanford could get on the board, adding a second midway through the fourth quarter off the leg of Conrad Ukropina. Northwestern’s offense had a much more productive afternoon. Quarterback Clayton Thorson had the biggest offensive highlight of the game with a 42-yard touchdown run right through the middle of the Stanford defense, giving the home team a 10-3 lead in the second quarter. Northwestern kicker Jack Mitchell had a busy game as well, kicking three field goals, including a 49-yard field goal after Stanford cut the game to a one-score game in the fourth quarter. No need to mock college kickers here.
Stanford quickly got away from establishing any semblance of dominance in the trenches as the battle-tested Northwestern defense (10 returning starters) took control of the game. After Stanford’s opening drive, the Wildcats forced two straight three-and-outs and another punt after that. Northwestern also won the turnover battle (1-0) and was slightly more disciplined than Stanford (four penalties to five for the Cardinal). Stanford head coach David Shaw stuck to a conservative game plan for much of the afternoon, which is pretty typical for the Cardinal, but trying to open things up a bit may have been a wise move for Stanford because Northwestern was covering everything coming right at them quite well.
Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan completed 20 of 34 passes for 155 yards and one interception. That pick came in the final minutes of the game when Kyle Queiro jumped in front of a pass to the end zone as Stanford was threatening to cut the 16-6 lead down to a single score.
Northwestern will look to go 2-0 next week when the Wildcats stay home to host Eastern Illinois. Northwestern will pay a visit to Duke for another academic bowl. Duke opened its season with a blowout victory at Tulane Thursday night.
Stanford will return home next weekend to welcome UCF of the American Athletic Conference in Week 2. The Knights are also coming off an upset loss to open the season after being edged at home by FIU Thursday night. The two programs will be meeting for the first time, and neither was expected to be staring down an 0-2 record to start the season.