Editor's Note: The following commentary offers the author's personal views of the on-field performances of some of Stanford University's exceptional student-athletes. In no way should constructively-intended criticism be deemed as a lack of respect or admiration for our players' obvious desire, dedication, sacrifice and commitment. The views expressed below do not reflect necessarily those of Bootleg management, Major Upset Productions, the Scout Network, Fox Sports, News Corp, Lane Kiffen or Coach Harbaugh.
On the way home from Stanford's electrifying final-play 37-35 win over USC, I heard one radio commentator make a comment about how some day a win over a lesser team would not warrant rushing the field. While the safety issues involved in rushing the field can be saved for another debate, I would argue that any last-second field goal to win a game over an arch rival is as good a reason as any for the fans to rush the field.
Sure, this may not have been the near-invincible Trojans of old, but this is still USC. I count my father as one of the many old-timers who still consider USC a bigger rival than Cal. So despite being a 10-point favorite on Saturday night and despite nearly giving the game away with turnovers, the fact that Stanford pulled out the game and won in highly dramatic fashion is plenty of reason to celebrate.
And now to the "Report Card-inal":
RUNNING GAME: B+
Overall it was a fairly productive performance from running game. Stepfan Taylor (#33) had another nice day. He rushed the ball 23 times for 104 yards and a touchdown. He had a very nice 31-yard scamper early in the game. And of course Taylor had a huge run of redemption to help set up the game-winning field goal. Quarterback Andrew Luck (#12) was again a key cog in the run game with six carries for 40 yards. His 19-yard carry on the spread option to the outside was a great call and run.
Freshman Anthony Wilkerson (#32) is starting to look better as he gets more comfortable. He had a couple of nice runs, one of them for a touchdown, untouched. He also looked great on his 25-yard catch and run on the screen pass. Usua Amanam (#15) seemed to hit the hole a little faster and harder on his opportunities, one of which went for a nice 11-yard gain.
On the negative side,
Overall it was a fine performance. There are a few issues to address, namely ball security, but if Stanford has this type of running day every game, the Cardinal offense will be just fine.
PASSING GAME: A
When the game is over and you are talking it out with your friends, when you can name every incompletion that your starting quarterback has thrown in that game, that usually is a sign of a strong performance. Andrew Luck was on fire Saturday night. 20-24 (yes, just four incompletions, including a simple drop on his accurate first throw) for 285 yards and three touchdowns and no interceptions. That qualifies as a very good night. Luck's decision-making, which has become one of his multiple hallmarks, was exquisite, his throws were accurate, and his arm looked alive.
Last week the post-game
conversation centered around Stanford receivers needing to battle harder for the
ball. Doug Baldwin (#89) got the message and responded with an outstanding
Overall, USC really could not slow down Luck and the passing game at all. That was one of the many reasons that Stanford had such confidence being down one point with a minute to go and with two time-outs remaining. Luck and the Cardinal passing game were perfect in moving the ball downfield and getting Stanford into position for the win.
RUN DEFENSE: A
Again we will go with the line "this is not the Trojans of old." But it is still USC and the fact that the Cardinal held USC to 108 gross yards rushing is very impressive. Considering that one of those carries was a 27-yard scramble by the quarterback and four other carries for 22 yards came from a freshman running back in the "Wildcat" formation that appeared to be a bit of a surprise, and the Stanford run defense effort is that much more impressive. Sensational sophomore Shayne Skov (#11) was dominant and appeared to be all over the field again. As Coach Jim Harbaugh says, Delano Howell (#26) never misses a tackle. And against the run, Howell came up to help from his safety position in a big way. The Card defensive line did a great job of occupying the Trojan blockers, allowing the linebackers and safeties to roam free and make the tackles.
PASS DEFENSE: C-
Before getting to the criticism
and yes there is plenty to criticize, let's first remember that USC has several
national-class play- makers and future professionals on offense. I am sure that
there are some in
That said, the Stanford pass
defense did not play well. They gave up 390 yards passing. After setting up many
third and long situations (and sometimes fourth and long), USC continued to
convert. The Cardinal continues to struggle on the outside. The single play that
There were other issues as well.
USC dialed in a quick passing game, similar to that shown by
Overall Stanford did make a few big stops, and just enough of them to overcome the turnovers by the offense. It was not always pretty, but it did lead to a victory.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
Nate Whitaker (#39) missed that extra point just so he could add some drama to the final minute of the game, right? Other than that miss, the special teams played well as a whole. Whitaker's kickoffs were not always as deep as in the past but the team held Woods to 28.7 yards per return, which isn't bad against a dangerous return man. Once again, Stanford only punted once, but it was a booming 54-yard shot by redshirt sophomore Daniel Zychlinski (#36). Punt returns for the most part were not a factor in the game.
In a fast-paced game filled with offense and touchdowns, the grade goes to the man who calmly kicks a game-winning field goal at the buzzer.
Simple, it is not how you win, it's that you do get a "W". USC has issues. They may be relatively down. But they are still USC. They still have play-makers. And USC had every reason to be motivated after last year's embarrassing smack-down at the Coliseum. Stanford may not have played its best game, but the Cardinal did what was needed to pull out a win in dramatic fashion. Maybe that is our new "deal". If so, we'll take it.
The Stanford crowd also deserves and "A" grade for their efforts. By my count the crowd noise was directly responsible for one procedure penalty and a time-out. Yes, I said it, "Stanford crowd noise" was responsible. The Cardinal faithful showed up and actively participated in the game. That type of energy and enthusiasm certainly can be rewarded with a trip to the field after a game-winning field goal and against sinister Southern Cal.
Bootleg Players of the Game:
OFFENSE: Andrew Luck & Doug
DEFENSE: Shayne Skov & Delano Howell
SPECIAL TEAMS: Nate Whitaker
Dave Fowkes is a longtime Stanford Cardinal fan, who is finally seeing his loyalty pay some serious dividends. Born at Stanford hospital and raised on the Peninsula, he has been a football season ticket holder since 1981. In that span he has only missed three home games, but of course never a Big Game. Dave currently works in media both on the air and behind the scenes in advertising sales. He has covered sports on and off since 1992. Currently he works as a traffic, news and sports man on several Bay Area radio stations under a few different on-air aliases. Dave blends the passion of being a fan with the perspective of being a reporter in his stories. For more Stanford football coverage by Dave Fowkes, you can read the "Stanford Football Examiner" at www.stanfordfootballreport.com
Do you have a "premium" subscription to The Bootleg? If not, then you are seriously missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest, broadest, and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!