Stanford's Heisman-winning quarterback put the exclamation point on the Cardinal's season and his collegiate career with a Rose Bowl-record 99-yard pump-and-go touchdown to speedy wideout Chris Owusu. Texas' defense bit on the pump, and Owusu was gone down the right seam on the first of two such touchdown streaks, leading Stanford to a 24-2 Rose Bowl victory.
"Stanford won one game when they started recruiting me, but I believed," an emotional Owusu said postgame. "It's several head coaches and five years later, but to leave with a 99-yard touchdown catch in the Rose Bowl, it's just -- I don't have the words. I'll never forget this."
Owusu and Luck went to the well again on their next possession, this time for a 64-yard pump-and-go, again into the teeth of a Longhorn blitz. Stanford led 14-2 after three, and Texas wouldn't be blitzing any longer.
"Not to state the obvious, but that was the difference today, those two plays," Coach David Shaw said. "Both defenses played really well, but we got them twice and they weren't able to crack any big ones on us. If Texas had those back, it could have been a different game."
Indeed, before Owusu's two catches for 163 yards, Texas led 2-0 at halftime, as both teams lived up to the adage that defense does win championships.
Subbing in for Big 10 champion and BCS Title Game participant Iowa, the Longhorns brought their defense from the Midwest plains. Texas' defending 11 stymied the Cardinal into three first-half turnovers, Luck's safety, and a scoreless first half.
However, the Stanford defense matched the Longhorns stop for stop and then some, forcing five punts on the half and 11 on the game. Linebackers Chase Thomas and Shayne Skov recovered a fumble apiece, as the Cardinal front seven and the bright lights of the Pasadena stage proved too much for the Longhorns.
Texas gunslinger Garrett Gilbert looked every bit as uncomfortable as two years ago, when he was a freshman squeezed into action against Alabama in the national title game. Gilbert finished with 6-of-17 accuracy and two interceptions, but the blame didn't lie entirely at his feet. Senior tailback Fozzy Whittaker could add only 43 rushing yards on 14 carries and Gilbert's receivers dropped several catchable balls, as Mack Brown ended the 2011 campaign on a bittersweet note.
The Longhorns improved drastically from their most disappointing 5-7 trudge through 2010 and won the Big 12, but the 22-point Rose Bowl loss will leave a sour taste.
"Did we want to play better today?" Mack Brown asked. "Of course, but Stanford's going to finish the No. 2 or No. 3 in the country for a reason. No one thought we'd win our conference, but we shocked Oklahoma, won ten games and reached the Rose Bowl. I'll take that any year."
For Stanford, meanwhile, the season ends an unmitigated success by any measure, with the Cardinal racking up a top-five national ranking, its first conference championship since 1999, and its first Rose Bowl victory since 1972.
"I'm glad I came back for this," Andrew Luck said. "I think I proved myself as a football player with the spotlight on me this year, and I think that'll prepare me well for the NFL. Plus, to come back with your classmates, win a Rose Bowl and get a Stanford degree, you can't beat that."
The final horn was bittersweet too for Stanford, for with the resounding victory came the end of an era for Stanford. Eight All Pac-10 performers likely played their last games in a Stanford uniform: Luck, Owusu, Thomas, linemen Jonathan Martin, David DeCastro and Matt Masifilo, and defensive backs Michael Thomas and Delano Howell.
David Shaw, the Pac-10 Coach of the Year, is going to need to pull out the proverbial rabbit if the Cardinal are to keep playing at a top-ten level next year, as those eight were as responsible as any for Stanford's 25-2 record over the last two seasons. Incoming Stanford classes will struggle mightily to match that mark, but Stanford underclassmen say that's not entirely a bad thing.
"They've raised the bar," freshman Wayne Lyons said of the seniors. "We're going to close on some great recruits this year because of them, and now we know and the new guys are going to know what's expected of us.
"These seniors won 25 games the last two years? I want to win 26, and that's the mentality all of us young guys have."
Tyler Gaffney's seven-yard scamper with five minutes to go accounted for Stanford's final touchdown. Stanford's Jordan Williamson added a 37-yard third-quarter field goal in front of a paying crowd of 93,387, the most to watch a Stanford game since the 2000 Rose Bowl.
Disclaimer: The Bootleg's crystal ball cannot be held responsible for any wagers placed. Also, EA Sports doesn't know about injuries and depth chart changes and such. Take the stories in the spirit in which they're intended.
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