"Sorry about that fumble, coach," was Kevin Hogan's even-keeled
Not too high, not too low: Stanford's new signal caller maintains an
obsessive focus on improvement, even in the intermediate aftermath
of what might have been the biggest win in the history of the
Cardinal program. His overtime fumble, which he blamed on "getting a
little lax when I shouldn't have," almost cost Jordan Williamson his
subsequent game-sealing field goal attempt.
But left guard Khalil Wilkes recovered the loose ball after Hogan
himself knocked it around in the violent scrum, and the mistake was
rendered moot. Still, Shaw said that ball security is at the top of
his team's improvement list heading into this Saturday's regular
season finale at UCLA, particularly because the Cardinal have kicked
it around a dangerous amount the past two weeks. The team's plus-11
turnover differential, a conference-best just 10 days ago, has been
whittled down to plus-6.
Remarkably, Stanford has continued winning against elite teams in
spite of these alarming turnover statistics. An epic Cardinal
defensive effort held strong in the face of potentially devastating
Kelsey Young and Stepfan Taylor cough-ups, setting the stage for
Hogan the perfectionist to give the team another push toward the roses.
Now, a win this Saturday moves Stanford to its first Pac-12 title game.
There's no question No. 8's eyes are glued to the prize. He was his
usual, reserved, focused self at Tuesday's media meeting and in a
Twitter exchange with former Stanford wide receiver Chris Owusu, who
encouraged Hogan to break his stern expression and crack a smile in
"Maybe in three games," Hogan replied. "All business until then,
Party in the Backfield Ties Record
The colorful personalities in Stanford's front seven have played
around their constructed theme of the "Party in the Backfield" since
the beginning of the season, motivating themselves around their
common desire to corral opposing quarterbacks and bust up running
plays behind the line of scrimmage. That devotion has shown up on
the stat sheet in a historic way: after the official scorer
retroactively credited Trent Murphy and Henry Anderson with two more
sacks against Oregon, Stanford's defense tied the school's sack
record of 46, set by the 1999 Rose Bowl team.
The mind-blowing part of this effort is the fact that the Farm Boys
still potentially have three games to break this record and
establish a near-untouchable new mark. The Cardinal's next
opponent, UCLA, ranks 110th out of 120 FBS teams in pass protection,
surrendering 3.4 sacks per game. With the Bruins possibly on the
schedule for Stanford's next two games, a 60-sack party is not out of the realm of possibility. After all, the Cardinal are
only 14 takedowns away.
Stanford now trails conference partner Arizona State by
one sack on the season for the NCAA lead. The Cardinal
maintain their lead in tackles for loss with 101, while the
Pitchforks aren't far behind at 98.
At Tuesday's media meeting, Shaw again praised his defensive line's
blue-collar work against Oregon. Stanford held the Ducks to their
lowest home output (14) since 2006, when Arizona limited the Quack
Attack to 10 points at Autzen Stadium. Current Ducks head coach Chip Kelly was still the offensive coordinator at New Hampshire then.
Shaw said that a number of front seven stalwarts -- particularly
Chase Thomas, Ben Gardner, Terrence Stephens, and David Parry --
sacrificed statistical glory to play within Stanford's ultimately
successful defensive scheme. Call it "team defense."
He also credited defensive coordinator Derek Mason, who crafted a
vital substitution pattern to keep his unit fresh against Oregon and
has fine-tuned the Cardinal's defensive scheme beyond the fine work
of his predecessors Vic Fangio and Jason Tarver.
"He's the first to raise his voice when [players are] doing
something wrong," Shaw said. "He's also the first to raise his voice
when they're doing something right."
Another Record in Danger
While Stanford's defense chases its sacks record, Stepfan Taylor
will likely make school history on the offensive end against UCLA.
Following his 169-yard performance at Oregon, Taylor now sits at
3,992 career rushing yards. That's only 41 shy of Darrin Nelson's
all-time Stanford record of 4,033. The Bruins are giving up 147
rushing yards per game.
Taylor is also 108 yards shy of his own season record, set
last year, of 1,330 yards. He's already surpassed his attempts mark,
with 258 carries this year after receiving 242
hand-offs in 2011. With up to three games remaining, expect
Taylor's final rushing numbers to soar higher.
"Everything about him says success," Shaw praised. "...[H]e is
without a doubt the best pass protector in our conference."
A New Leading Tackler
With his nationally-recognized 10-tackle performance against
Oregon, Shayne Skov has overtaken Chase Thomas for the Stanford team
lead with 58 stops. Matters have been trending in the right
direction in No. 11's long recovery to pre-injury condition. Shaw,
in fact, said that Skov played his first pre-injury caliber game
against Oregon, but that the linebacker's explosiveness is still
Skov displayed excellent attacking range in space, often surprising
the Ducks' speedsters, who obviously came into the game used to
evading slower linebackers. Still, Skov rated his game performance
only as "okay." Harsh judgment: he must be using his three-sack,
four-TFL, 12-stop 2011 Orange Bowl performance as the standard for
Skov praised UCLA, whom Stanford likely must beat twice in a row to
win its first conference championship since 2001. "They're greatly
improved. Physical," he said. "[Doak Walker finalist Jonathan]
Franklin is a great running back. [Joe] Fauria is a great tight end.
[Quarterback] Brett Hundley is an incredibly talented freshman."
The Bruins, who share Stanford's 9-2 record, operate a balanced
offense that is in the upper echelon of the Pac-12 in both rushing
yardage and passing efficiency. UCLA's weakness is pass protection,
while the defense finds itself in the middle of conference rankings:
talented, opportunistic (15 interceptions), but occasionally porous.
Some Final Oregon Thoughts
Upon a third review of Stanford-Oregon film, it's clear that the
Farm Boys controlled the tempo of the game. The Ducks flashed their
typical flurry of control at the end of the second quarter and the
start of the third -- when they scored all 14 of their points -- but
the Cardinal weathered the storm and regained control down the
stretch. The backbreaking moment, the one that most visiting teams
suffer at Autzen Stadium, never came -- though Stanford appeared
doomed a number of times. The most notable nail-biting moment came in the third
quarter, when Kelsey Young fumbled in Oregon territory immediately after a Duck touchdown.
Chip Kelly's squad, which had just gained its first lead on the previous offensive snap, was in position to tack on.
At that point, the wheels appeared to be coming off. But,
remarkably, the Stanford defense held. Alejandro Maldonado's 42-yard
field goal missed, and Shaw's club was in control for the rest of
Pep Hamilton's offense, which was stymied by turnovers and its own
conservative playcalling for 10 straight possessions, finally
displayed downfield aggressiveness when it absolutely had to in the
fourth quarter. Hogan attacked vertically to Ertz, who caught the
tying touchdown in a fashion that was emblematic of the whole game:
he out-wrestled a much smaller Oregon defensive back for the
football. Stanford's muscle had prevailed over the Ducks' quickness,
despite a few bobbles along the way.
Stanford's New Home: The Rose Bowl?
Stanford may finish its season at the Rose Bowl, but there may
be much more southern California sunshine on the horizon for the
team. The Cardinal can theoretically play their final three games at
Pasadena's iconic stadium, starting with this Saturday's regular
season finale against UCLA.
While a Stanford win would send the following Friday's Pac-12 title
game back to Palo Alto against the very same Bruins, a Cardinal loss
opens up a new realm of possibilities. If Oregon State defeats
Oregon in the Civil War game that should be finished by the time
Stanford kicks off, a UCLA win will require the Farm Boys to return
to the Rose Bowl next Friday for the title game. A win in that one
would, of course, translate to New Years Day in -- again -- the Rose
Of course, all is rendered moot if Oregon wins the Civil War (noon
kickoff). In that case, Stanford will be forced to beat UCLA to
stave off Pac-12 North elimination.
In sum, a Cardinal win automatically
means a Pac-12 title game back on the Farm and a second Final Walk
for the club's seniors. But if the Ducks slip for the second week in
a row, this weekend's Stanford-UCLA game will simply be a battle for
home field advantage in the Pac-12 title game to be played six days
"All we're going to concentrate on and talk about is this game, this
week," Shaw said. "I love the way my staff is built right now. We
have some NFL guys who know how to prepare to play a team twice in
Shaw said Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson was "looking forward" to
his game-winning field goal attempt, despite his struggles since
last season's Fiesta Bowl nightmare.
"He was eager," the coach said. "He wanted another shot [after
missing his first kick in the fourth quarter]. I don't think we can
even measure [how important that last kick was]."
Interestingly, Williamson said he had an unusual number of people
telling him the Oregon game was going to come down to him in the
preceding week. He started to tear up when he received the game
ball and the Stanford locker room chanted his name following the
Williamson, who still wears Fiesta Bowl gear everywhere he goes
because it reminds him of the tough times he's been through, found
his supportive father immediately after the game.
"I saw my dad after the game and gave him a hug," Williamson said.
"That was a huge moment for me."
One Weekend, Three Nation-Leading Streaks End; All Involving
After Stanford women's basketball ended Baylor's 42-game win
streak on Friday night, Shaw told his team the score during its
pregame movie night at the hotel on the eve of its showdown with
Oregon. The room erupted in cheers.
Less than 24 hours later, the Cardinal ended the Ducks' 13-game run,
which was the longest football streak in the nation. Remember,
the Quack Attack beat Stanford 53-30 the previous year to end the
Cardinal's 17-game nation-best win streak, so Saturday's win exacted a good
bit of revenge.
One day later, the Stanford men's basketball team put its
nation-leading eight game win streak on the line. This time, the
Farm Boys came out on the losing end. Their run was snapped in a
70-62 home loss to Belmont.
Whenever one school is involved in the breaking of three
nation-ending streaks in one weekend (on the good end or on the bad
end), one thing is clear: the Athletic Department is doing something
David Lombardi covers Stanford
sports for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. He can also be heard
on San Francisco's 95.7 The Game. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @davidmlombardi.
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