Clardy's Corner: Winning like a good team

Since 1998, the hallowed ground of the Rose Bowl has been a place where Murphy's Law ran amok on Stanford Football. Anything that had been going wrong for UCLA coming into a meeting with Stanford would somehow start going right as soon as the Cardinal buses pulled into Pasadena.

Inexperienced players thrust into the starting lineup would play like NFL draft prospects against Stanford. Injured players would somehow resurrect themselves just in time for the Cardinal and respond with career-defining games.

Whenever UCLA's receivers looked like they would have problems catching beach balls, the Stanford defense would show up and suddenly be lining up against Jerry Rice, Fred Biletnikoff and Marvin Harrison.

If the Bruin defense looked particularly vulnerable, they'd somehow transform into the 1972 Dolphins when the Cardinal took the field. Every time UCLA would have zero running game to speak of, Stanford would come to town, and tiny Tyler Ebell would respond by carrying the rock 39 times for 160 yards. That particular result still makes me angry eight years later…

(Even after the inevitability of last week's outcome had been established, I'm not going to lie to you: when I saw Richard Brehaut enter the game for UCLA, visions of John Barnes briefly danced in my head…)

All Clark Kent needed was a phone booth. All UCLA needed was for Stanford to show up at the Rose Bowl. It became a disturbing trend you could almost set your watch by.

Last Saturday, the clock struck twelve.

35-0. First win in Pasadena since 1996. First road shutout since 1974. First shutout over UCLA since 1941. That looks pretty good, doesn't it?

The only thing that was even better was how Stanford actually looked while busting the Bruins. The Cardinal won that game playing in their image: brutally physical. And UCLA lost that game playing in their image: soft. ESPN cameras caught Bruin defenders completely gassed and vomiting from exhaustion…and it was still the first quarter. Once I saw UCLA DT David Carter showing us his pregame meal, I knew we had ‘em right where we wanted ‘em.

Before the first quarter had even ended, Stanford had taken control of the game. And for UCLA, the angle only got steeper from there. As the second half unfolded, and as Stanford kept squeezing the life out of the Bruins, it became clear that UCLA wanted no part of the Cardinal.

And while watching all of this in the wee hours of the Pittsburgh night, some time in the fourth quarter, it hit me: this is how good teams win.

Good teams win with solid tackling. Aside from a couple of missed opportunities, Stanford's defense put on its best tackling display that I've seen in quite a while, maybe since that 2001 team.

Good teams win by adjusting and sticking with what works. Andrew Luck did not have his sharpest day as a passer. He threw three straight incompletions on Stanford's first drive, and he never got into a serious passing rhythm at any point in the game. But instead of helping beat UCLA with his arm, he got the job done with his legs. Even though I was holding my breath every time Number 12 took off running, the chains moved every time he did, and the Bruins were helpless to stop him.

Good teams win by gaining momentum. Stanford pounded UCLA almost from the start. After Stanford control was established, they kept pounding. And even late in the fourth quarter, Stanford. Just. Kept. Pounding. Bill Walsh told his teams that if they put enough pressure on their opponent, they would usually crack late in the third quarter. Last week, the Cardinal erased all doubt by putting two touchdowns on the board in nine seconds. Late in the third quarter. They didn't call the man "Genius" for nothing, folks.

Good teams win on the road. Self-explanatory.

And many times, good teams win because they just plain take the game away from their opponents. When Michael Thomas ripped the ball away from UCLA QB Kevin Prince and took it back for six, it was the perfect metaphor for the game. Stanford seized that game, and the Bruins seemed helpless (and, at times, unwilling) to do anything about it.

In all, it was an impressive-looking win for the Cardinal on national TV (even if it was practically Sunday morning on the East Coast). Now, did Stanford look perfectly? No. They can play better. And quite frankly, they're going to need to play better. But unlike some Cardinalmaniacs, whenever Stanford beats a BCS opponent on the road and 35-0 is the final score, I'm not going to quibble too much. That's like being given $1,000 and complaining that it's all in twenties instead of hundreds.

So while I'm not ready to proclaim that the Cardinal are at the top of their game, I am ready to say this: if they play at or above the level we saw them play last week, Stanford is going to be hard to beat this year.

If you watch enough football, you can tell who the good teams really are. Stanford played like a good team against UCLA. More importantly, they won like a good team.

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RANDOM PAC-9 THOUGHTS

One thing that I don't think enough people talk about when they discuss the Stanford offense: tempo. This offense seems to have developed an innate feel for when to call the quick snap and completely catch the defense off guard. Remember last year's USC game when the Trojans got caught with their pants down? Along with Andrew Luck, the offensive line, and a healthy Chris Owusu, add the quick snap to Stanford's list of devastating weapons…

How much more comfortable does Richard Sherman look at corner this year?

If you can't say something nice, well, say nothing. That said, I thought Brock Huard did a nice job in that three-man booth for ESPN last week. As for the other two members of that broadcasting team, well…see the first sentence of this paragraph…

I'm not going to lie to you, I hope Wake Forest brings its band to The Farm so you can hear, in my opinion, the best college fight song in the country. However, I will note that I wasn't too fond of it by the fourth quarter last year in Winston-Salem…

Did you see Oregon RB LaMichael James's 72-yard touchdown run against Tennessee? Do yourself a favor and YouTube it. You'll be glad you did…

Is it me, or is Oregon's Jeff Maehl the most underrated receiver in the league?

Dennis Erickson's Sun Devils have committed 24 penalties in two games. Shocker…

52 points against UC-Davis. 52 points against Colorado. I think they may be facing an ambush situation at Nevada on Friday, but it's not time to start thinking about where cal fits in the Pac-9 this year, is it?

It's been about 12 years since I've said this, but the week's most intriguing game in the Pac-10 is happening in Tucson. We're going to learn a lot about Arizona on Saturday. And Iowa, too…

Washington hosts No. 8 Nebraska. Jake Locker, if you want to legitimately get in the Heisman conversation, now is the time…

And so, Reggie Bush gives up his Heisman, closing another sordid chapter of U$C's football legacy. I just wish the Heisman Trophy Trust had shown the guts to demand it back, instead of waiting and hoping for Bush to make his move…

Not a Pac-9 thought, but… Denard Robinson. Holy smokes. Is it too early for Michigan to start putting together a Heisman campaign for that guy?

Not a Pac-9 thought, but… talk about two body bag games to open the season: at Alabama, then at Wisconsin. Wow. Hope the checks are clearing, San Jose State

Not a Pac-9 thought, but… Okay, so is every band in college football doing the "Seven Nation Army" chant by The White Stripes? I watched a lot of college football over the weekend (even saw a game live and in person!), and I swear I heard it in every game. Including ours. And by the way, nobody does that chant better than Penn State. Nobody even comes close…

Not a Pac-9 thought, but… speaking of Penn State, the sky is the limit for true freshman QB Rob Bolden. Especially once he figures out two things: how to make better decisions when facing blitzes, and how to get to the weight room…

Not a Pac-9 thought, but… common sense says "touchdown." The rule book says "incomplete pass." I say Calvin Johnson and the Detroit Lions got robbed…

Thumbs up: West Virginia. They spent three quarters stumbling around like Torgo from "Manos: The Hands of Fate" (shout-out to the MST3K fans out there). But down 21-6 in the fourth quarter, they drove 96 yards for one touchdown, then 98 yards for the tying score. Mountaineers won it in overtime. King John Elway would have been very impressed…

Thumbs down: Ohio State special teams. And UCLA's conditioning…

The finger: Really, Virginia Tech? Really?

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CLARDY'S CORNER INBOX

Sorry, but I don't use Twitter. I do Facebook, but these Corners don't. So that means you're going to have to contact me the old-fashioned way...by e-mail! Always feel free to drop me a line at my Scout.com inbox (username: troyc) or e-mail me at troyc@thebootleg.com. The best e-mails will be answered in next week's Clardy's Corner Inbox!


Troy Clardy hosts the Stanford Daily Update, airing every weekday at 7:00pm on Cardinal Sports Network flagship radio station XTRA Sports 860 in San Francisco, and available in podcast form at gostanford.com. If you're in Pittsburgh, you can also hear him weekends on 93.7 The Fan.

Clardy's Corner appears Wednesdays during the college football regular season on TheBootleg.com. You can also check him out online at TroyClardy.com, or e-mail him at troyc@thebootleg.com.


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