2012 Stanford's Top Ten Moments

In a season defined by countless contributions, picking the top 10 moments is a challenging task. With both Toby Gerhart and Andrew Luck gone in 2012, the spotlight on Stanford football has moved from an individual focus to a more team-oriented one, and that much is certainly evident in a look back at the season's most glorious moments.

Behind Stanford's spectacular 11-2 Rose Bowl run were five unheralded plays that The Bootleg highlighted Friday. Now, attention is reserved for the highlight reel, the iconic moments of the Cardinal's 2012 campaign. If the accompanying podcast does not automatically play above, be sure to check it out!

10. Hope Restored: Hogan's First Series (at Colorado)
Look back to early November, and don't let the 6-2 record fool you: Stanford's inept offensive play was putting Andrew Luck into 2012 Heisman Trophy consideration. The Cardinal were severely underperforming: dreadful Washington State had just outgained them 385-256, while zero-touchdown efforts in Seattle and South Bend had extinguished national title hopes far too soon.

Stanford was not able to utilize a treasure chest of offensive talent. Ryan Hewitt, the Swiss Army knife of 34 catches the year prior, had just three on the season. Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo, the best tight end duo in the nation, combined for only one catch against the Cougars. Josh Nunes was not playing at the level Stanford needed, forcing David Shaw to finally break away from his preseason script with the Oregon juggernauts looming.

The Colorado cakewalk provided one final tune-up chance, and Shaw pulled the Kevin Hogan trigger after two more ineffective Nunes-led offensive series opened the game. No. 8 had struggled mightily during the Cardinal's preseason scrimmage, his last extended public appearance. But as Stanford fans held their breath, the dark clouds of offensive gloom parted: four straight touchdown drives ushered in a new era under center to go along with a handful of hope entering November murderer's row -- a stretch that turned out quite well.

9. Immaculate Reversal: Zach Ertz's Game-Tying TD (at Oregon)
After scoring early in the game, Stanford hammered away at Oregon's defense to no avail for 10 straight possessions at Autzen Stadium: punt, turnover on downs, punt, interception, halftime, punt, fumble, punt, fumble, missed goal. As each opportunity flamed out, the Cardinal's chances of a stunning victory also dimmed.

But the Farm Boys' heroic defensive effort gave its offense 11th life. Hogan responded with an 11-play, 78-yard drive, capped by a 10-yard touchdown strike to Ertz with under two minutes to play. One problem: officials had ruled the tight end's shoulder out of bounds on the fade route, prompting a review it seemed Stanford had little chance of winning based on the need for "indisputable visual evidence." But the call was indeed overturned, tying the game at 14 apiece and positioning the Cardinal defense -- and Jordan Williamson -- for the final kill.

No. 8: Nunes' "Shocking" Run (vs. USC)
The stomach-punch to USC that set Stanford up for the kill is documented on this list, but a "shocking" Nunes run, by Shaw's own admission, made it possible. With the score tied at 14 with 11:35 to play, Stanford's drive had seemingly stalled at midfield. On third and 10, Nunes took the shotgun snap and faced immediate pressure from Trojan defensive end Morgan Breslin, who had stormed by Cam Fleming with a spin move.

The broken pocket forced No. 6 to flush to the right, where he saw only six yards of daylight until three speedy USC defenders converged on him. The first down marker, still four yards away, seemed out of reach -- especially with quick cornerback Nickell Robey ready to pounce. But then Nunes took a move out of Stepfan Taylor's book, radically shifting direction with a "karaoke" juke that evaded all three Trojans and pushed him across the first down marker. Where the heck did that come from? The Stanford Stadium crowd gasped before it roared. Two plays later, No. 5 happened.

7. Stepfan Taylor's 59-Yard Run (vs. USC)
Earlier in the same game, Stanford was in trouble. The Cardinal had already wasted a game-opening Ty Montgomery 62-yard kickoff return and surrendered a quick USC touchdown. The Farm Boys' offense looked utterly incapable entering its third series, trailing the Trojans 7-0.

That's when Taylor came to the rescue against a 10-man USC box. Every Stanford player in the Diesel formation executed a jarring block to perfection. Kevin Danser and Cam Fleming mauled the Trojans at the point of attack, boring a hole that Levine Toilolo sealed on the right side. Taylor shot through with one man to beat. He made hard-charging safety Demetrius Walker looked like a fool with a picturesque start-and-stop sidestep. From there, it was 59 yards to paydirt.
In one flash, Stanford had announced its intention to stick around in 2012.

6. Four Verticals: Kevin Hogan to Drew Terrell (vs. UCLA)
If there was one area in which Hogan had struggled as Stanford's quarterback, it was in the deep passing game. With his team trailing 24-17 in the Pac-12 Championship Game, facing third and 15 from the UCLA 26-yard line, No. 8 would have to correct this flaw to put the Cardinal back on track for the Rose Bowl.

Pep Hamilton's play call was necessarily aggressive: four verticals, sending all receivers on a beeline to the end zone. The key was the All-American Ertz, who coaxed the extra safety in the Bruins' deep zone coverage toward the middle of the field. That left Drew Terrell with an open end zone corner window once he blasted past the first layer of defense. Hogan made the correct read, lofting a spiral that seemed to hang in the air for an eternity. Just before the defense caught up, the ball fell into Terrell's breadbasket. The redshirt freshman had teamed with the senior to solve his weakness, tie the game, and position Stanford for Pasadena.

5. Tebow Time? (vs. USC)
Nunes' aforementioned third down run actually bailed him out after his previous pass, a terribly low throw that missed a wide-open Ertz 15 yards downfield. After buying three more opportunities with his feet, No. 6 was ready to capitalize from the USC 37-yard line.

Ertz split out as a receiver against much smaller Trojan defensive back Torin Harris and ran a post pattern that utilized his large frame to create an open passing lane. Nunes, who had struggled mightily all game long (try a 5-for-16, two-interception first half), stepped up in the fourth-quarter crunch. His wobbly spiral reached Ertz, who turned upfield, absorbed contact, and dove into the end zone to give Stanford its first lead over USC, one that would hold as the 21-14 final. Stanford Stadium fans truly roared for the first time in the post-Luck era at a most unexpected time.

4. Matt Barkley Turned into a Ragdoll (vs. USC)
The tone was set early, when David Parry latched on Matt Barkley's ankles, holding USC's golden boy in place for Trent Murphy's bone-crushing hit that jarred the ball loose. Each subsequent hit put another dent in the Trojans' once-pristine national title plans, all the way until the floodgates up front burst open in the fourth quarter.

Stanford's pass rush poured through, engulfing Barkley in a violent sea of red down the stretch. After Ertz's aforementioned touchdown gave the Cardinal the lead, a clock-bleeding drive of "Character and Cruelty" pushed USC into one final desperate series from their own 11-yard line. Murphy administered another dose of hurt following a holding penalty, a body-slam of a sack taken out of the NFL Blitz video game repertoire. Then, Chase Thomas nailed Barkley from the outside, pushing the formerly glamorous Trojans' season into a grisly demise known as fourth and 40 desperation.

USC ended up surrendering only 17 sacks on the season. Four of those, and countless other bruising hits, came courtesy the Stanford defense on the night business remained unfinished.

3. Turning Point: Hogan to Taylor (vs. Oregon State)
Kevin Hogan made his first career start in a Rose Bowl elimination game. He didn't disappoint early, guiding Stanford to a quick 14-0 lead over Oregon State. But the Beavers roared back with 23 unanswered, pushing the Cardinal into a tight spot as the third quarter wound down and shadows overtook the Staford Stadium field.

The Beavers' rush corralled Hogan on second and six. But as No. 8 was being dragged to the ground, he fought tooth and nail to stay afloat. The extra second above the turf bought him enough time to acrobatically flip the ball to Taylor, who turned the rest of the play into a highlight reel of his own. The stadium's roar grew with each successive juke and cutback, culminating with a touchdown that turned Stanford's fortunes around. Two months earlier at Washington, the Farm Boys were burned by a long touchdown as time expired in the third quarter. This time, they were on the positive end, with momentum in hand entering the season's pivotal fourth quarter.

2. Redemption: Williamson Silences Autzen (at Oregon)
The heavy thud of Jordan Williamson's overtime boot sapped all of Autzen Stadium's deafening noise during the climax of the Cardinal's shocker, the moment reality seamlessly merged with the dream world in the Pacific Northwest.

As the football hurtled end-over-end through the damp, chilly Oregon nighttime sky, it seemed as if someone had hit the television mute button -- but in real life. The ball knifed through the goalposts. Stanford road stormtrooper white spilled from the sidelines. It flooded the heart of green and yellow territory. There was delirium, and there was absolute silence -- simultaneously. Stanford 17, Oregon 14. In a Shakespearean moment, Williamson had redeemed himself from 37 yards out.

1. Championship Under Control: Ed Reynolds' Final Pick Six (vs. UCLA)
The grind didn't end with glory in Eugene. In fact, UCLA would give Stanford its best Oregon impersonation in the Pac-12 championship game. After blazing out to a 14-7 lead, the Bruins were poised to break the game open from inside Stanford territory. But the Cardinal's four-man rush forced quarterback Brett Hundley into a hurried decision he would regret.

The ball was intended for tight end Joe Fauria on a vertical route, but safety Ed Reynolds preyed on the pass. He seized the football, momentum, and Stanford's Rose Bowl hopes along the sideline, taking all three on a wild 80-yard ride to the opposite end zone.

Reynolds' interception return encapsulated the brilliant facets of the Farm Boys' Pasadena passage. It started with the team's dominant front seven, came at an unexpected time, and finished with an electrifying run that punctuated Reynolds' record-setting season.

Reynolds was erroneously ruled down shy of the goal line, so he was technically robbed of Deltha O'Neal's NCAA single-season pick-six record (four). But the Cardinal's tying score on the next play was merely a formality; Reynolds' electrifying runback will forever be remembered in Stanford lore as the touchdown that propelled the 2012 team to the Rose Bowl.

David Lombardi covers Stanford sports for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. He can also be heard on San Francisco's 95.7 The Game. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @davidmlombardi.

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