Fiesta Recap: Oklahoma State 41, SU 38 (OT)

Losing the Fiesta Bowl was heartbreaking in just about every way imaginable. From the missed field goals to the drama and subsequent heartbreak in overtime, it's a loss that's going to stick in the hearts of Stanford fans. Stanford had the opportunity to win the game and never trailed until the game went final, but couldn't seal the deal or leave Arizona with a victory to cap the Andrew Luck era.

Read on for The Bootleg's biggest story lines from University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., including a brief assessment of the next steps for the Stanford football program (a subject I'm sure we'll come back to many times during the off-season).

Jordan Williamson: Though it's impossible to pin any loss on a single player, and fans and teammates alike have done a good job of not taking out their frustrations on him, the next several weeks and months will be trying for Jordan Williamson. The redshirt freshman kicker missed three field goals over the course of the game: a 41-yarder in the first quarter, a 35-yarder in the fourth quarter and a 43-yarder in overtime. The middle one, which came as time expired in regulation and would have won the whole enchilada, will attract the most scrutiny. Williamson easily had the distance on the kick, but pushed the pigskin left of the uprights, crushing the Stanford faithful in the stands. In a short postgame press conference, head coach David Shaw was quick to defend his kicker.
"We didn't finish, and that's not just the kick at the end," he said. "We didn't finish the game the way we're capable of."

Play of the game: The obvious answer would be that 35-yard kick, but I'm going to point to a couple of plays Oklahoma State's defense made in overtime. After that missed kick, Stanford still had a 50 percent chance of winning the game, ignoring considerations of momentum. Stanford could lean on its previous overtime experience, outlasting USC in three overtimes back in October. However, Oklahoma State's defense made sure that there was no similar magic from quarterback Andrew Luck in the Fiesta Bowl. On second down, the Cowboys buried Stepfan Taylor in the backfield for a three-yard loss, giving the Card third-and-13 at the OSU 28-yard line. Luck could only manage a short completion to Ty Montgomery, whom Oklahoma State took down at the 25-yard line for a measly three yards. Those two plays set up Williamson's missed overtime kick and allowed the Oklahoma State offense to go out and win the game.

Defense solid but not spectacular: From looking at the stat sheet—specifically the offensive statistics of each team—you'd probably be shocked that Oklahoma State won the game. The Cowboys gained 13 rushing yards on 15 attempts, and the good guys out-gained Oklahoma State 590-412. Time of possession was tilted similarly heavily in Stanford's favor, with the Card holding the ball for 41:47 in regulation. However, while the defense was able to effectively shut down the run, its inability to stop Oklahoma State from making big plays proved to be fatal. Star Cowboys receiver Justin Blackmon had two huge home-run plays in the first half and barely slowed down, ending the game with eight receptions for 186 yards and three touchdowns. Stanford succeeded in taking the run away from Oklahoma State; the problem was that the Cowboys were just fine with torching the Cardinal secondary through the air instead.

Wide receivers step up: Stanford largely succeeded in its offensive strategy of establishing the running game and moving up the field using rushes and short- to medium-distance passes. Of course, there were a few difficulties here and there, but once it got over its early problems, the offense ran fairly smoothly, only ending four possessions without either a score or a missed field goal attempt.
Unlike in Stanford's previous games, though, Luck did not constantly look to his three tight ends—Coby Fleener, Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz—for gains through the air. Stanford's two starting wide receivers, Griff Whalen and true freshman Ty Montgomery, stepped up instead and made some huge plays. Each wideout had seven catches, with Montgomery going for 120 yards and a touchdown and Whalen going for 85 yards. Montgomery especially had a couple of memorable plays. His first came in the first quarter, when he caught a 53-yard bomb from Luck for Stanford's first touchdown of the game. The second moment was in the second quarter, when Montgomery fielded a kickoff deep inside Stanford's end zone. He began to run it back, but was knocked down by fellow return man Jeremy Stewart, a fifth-year senior, before he could get out of the end zone. It was definitely one of the more bizarre plays I've seen this season, but it prevented Montgomery from making a significant mistake.

Luck has great final game: Andrew Luck had a great game in his final outing in a Stanford uniform. The quarterback completed 27 passes on 31 attempts for 347 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. On Stanford's last two drives, Luck seemed to hit every receiver in the perfect spot to drive the Cardinal down the field, first for a touchdown and the second time into field goal range. It was about as perfect a performance as you could ask for, but Luck was still hard on himself after the game.
"I'm sure I will watch the film and see where I can get better or see what I did well," he said after the game. "But at the end of the day, we lost. I'm as much to blame as the next guy."
As usual, Shaw had high praise for his quarterback. "I will completely go over the top and say that he's a Hall of Fame college football player," Shaw said of Luck. "They come around every 20 years or so. He hates to hear that, but it is the doggone truth."

Next steps for the program: With Stanford likely to lose a number of its best players to the NFL, be they seniors or underclassmen declaring for the NFL by the January 15 deadline, next year will likely be a rebuilding year for the program. Luck's name is undoubtedly the biggest one, but other key playmakers that could depart include David DeCastro, Jonathan Martin and Chase Thomas. [Ed: Both DeCastro and Martin have since announced their intentions to enter the NFL Draft.] Several other important players are out of eligibility, including Delano Howell, Michael Thomas, Johnson Bademosi and Griff Whalen. Though Brett Nottingham is thought to be in the driver's seat to take over from Luck, Shaw has indicated that there will be an open competition in spring practice, where there will no doubt be several other position battles to keep a close eye on. This year's Fiesta Bowl wasn't the best way to send out the Luck era, but Stanford's coaches and players will undoubtedly turn their eyes quickly to next season.


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