November 2, 1996: Stanford 21, UCLA 20
It's hard to tell what was in shorter supply as the Cardinal entered November with five losses over its first seven games: Its ability to put points on the scoreboard, or anticipation from its ever-shrinking fanbase.
The Pac-10's top total offense of a year earlier had just twice scored over 20 points. As losses mounted, so did empty seats. Stanford ventured to the Rose Bowl a week removed from drawing well fewer than 40,000 against No. 4 Arizona State. Chad Hutchinson's last-minute touchdown drive turned all that bad mojo on its ear.
Redemption was indeed the theme as the Cardinal ruined the Bruins' homecoming night. A redshirt freshman who looked had looked lost on occasion, Hutchinson was sacked 11 times at Oregon State two weeks earlier. And senior Brian Manning had regressed from a reliable young deep threat to an upperclassman prone to bouts of the drops. But, on this day, Hutchinson's last-minute 10-play, 75-yard march ended when he found Manning for a 10-yard score.
With 5:36 to play, Bjorn Merten's field goal had UCLA leading 20-14. Stanford took over on its own 19, and then completions to Troy Walters and Andre Kirwan had the Cardinal at midfield. Mike Mitchell then deftly turned what looked like an eight-yard loss on 3rd-and-2 into a four-yard gain, shaking the grasp of a Bruin defender on a swing pass. That moved Stanford to the 35 of UCLA.
The momentum kept on coming: Fourteen yards to Walters, then another 11 to Manning. Then, it was from a first and goal on the ten, when Manning beat the one-on-one coverage of Anthony Cobbs. Hutchinson lofted a perfect pass in the corner of the end zone. Holder Josh Madsen handled a low snap on the extra point, and the Cardinal nailed the first peg on what became a five-game winning streak that ended with a Sun Bowl victory.
"We can't look back and change any of [the past]," head coach Tyrone Willingham said after the UCLA win. ''This is a good start for hopefully a positive finish."
November 7, 1992: Stanford 23, USC 9
A world of possibilities opened up, once word came from Tuscon that the Arizona Wildcats had upset the mighty Washington Huskies. With Don James' crew suffering a conference loss for the first time in two years, both Arizona and USC fancied believable Rose Bowl dreams.
In the meantime, all Bill Walsh had was a game plan. But in focusing the passing game on his running backs while letting his defense harass Rob Johnson and his vaunted receiving corps, his Stanford team was able to achieve something that hadn't occurred in 22 years.
Despite only one offensive touchdown, the Cardinal bullied the favored Trojans to capture their first home victory over USC since the halcyon days of 1970. The last crowd of over 70,000 (72, 571 to be exact) to watch a USC at Stanford game saw running back J.J. Lasley catch nine passes for 125 yards. Capping a drive that featured a timely no-huddle offense, he turned a first-quarter screen pass from Steve Stenstrom into a 38-yard touchdown. The Card led 10-0.
Walsh, who had spent much of the fall fretting over a slumping offense, called it "the best game of the year offensively, defensively, and in special teams." The game was an ode to resourcefulness. Chris Dalman moved from center to left tackle. Stenstrom, held out most of the week from practice because of a strained wrist, mostly rolled out and utilized play-fakes.
And while USC featured Curtis Conway and Johnnie Morton, Cardinal defenders allowed just 16 first downs and picked off four passes. None was more important than John Lynch's interception, which he returned 27 yards into the end zone in the final minutes. Talk about a long time coming.
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