We outlined the top plays that punched Stanford's Rose Bowl berth in 2013 in Part One and Part Two of our series. Here's Part Three, which shines light on some of the unheralded plays that were also critical to the Cardinal's success.
Murphy Tip, Tarpley Pick (vs. Washington)
This play was easily lost in the tense finish and resulting "fake" injury brouhaha of Stanford's 34-31 win over Washington. Its importance to Stanford's season, though, is undeniable. The Cardinal were leading the Huskies 34-24, but Keith Price was marching his team downfield with about 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. In hindsight, based on the fury of Washington's comeback down the stretch, it's clear that a touchdown on that particular possession would have spelled huge trouble for the home team.
Trent Murphy had put in extra work during pregame warm-ups to make sure that wouldn't happen. Before putting on his pads that Saturday, he practiced batting down passes at the line of scrimmage.
"That's how I get those interceptions," he told me.
Just about three hours later, Murphy's outstretched hand redirected Price's pass into the air. A.J. Tarpley snagged the ball to stop Washington's drive and buy Stanford the breathing room necessary for victory.
Ed Reynolds Break-Up (at Oregon State)
Three weeks later, Stanford's defense made another stand near the goal line, but this time the hold came in an even dicier situation. The Cardinal had done much to cough up what once looked like a sure win: a Tyler Gaffney fumble, a failed third-and-short conversion, and a big Beaver punt return all came within the final four minutes and strapped the Cardinal into a chair peppered with pins and needles.
Trailing 20-12, Sean Mannion drove Oregon State inside the Stanford 10-yard line with under a minute to play. Reser Stadium was pulsating with energy. The wheels appeared to be falling off Stanford's wagon. But, true to form, the defense held firm. Mannion threw four consecutive incompletions into superglue end zone coverage, the last of which was broken up by Ed Reynolds and A.J. Tarpley with one second remaining. Corvallis fell silent. The stormtrooper white had sealed a massive road victory.
Devon Cajuste TD (vs. Notre Dame)
Stanford had been sputtering in the red zone, and many linked those struggles to the lack of an effective tight end. Devon Cajuste had provided a big target at the wide receiver position for much of the season, but he'd been largely absent from the passing attack since injuring his knee against UCLA in mid-October.
That's why Kevin Hogan's 20-yard touchdown pass to Cajuste against Notre Dame was so significant: It demonstrated much-needed effective offensive creativity in the red zone while also symbolizing No. 89's return to full health. The Cardinal needed both of those things badly, and they got them when Cajuste faked blocking for Ty Montgomery on a tunnel screen to the right side. After Hogan's pump fake, he burst behind the Irish secondary and tracked down a floater for the game's opening score. The Farm Boys' offense was officially on the mend, both physically and in terms of red zone performance.
Ben Gardner Blocked Quick Kick (vs. Arizona State)
Stanford's stalwart defensive end saw his college career end early at Oregon State, but his courageous contributions, many of which came in the face of severe pain after he injured his arm against Washington, were a significant part of the Cardinal's 2013 success. Several unheralded Gardner plays made a big impact this season, but perhaps the one that best represents his contribution came during Stanford's September blowout of Arizona State.
No. 49 blocked a quick kick for the third time in his career. It was no coincidence: A student of the game, he had meticulously studied opposing formations and quick kick blocking schemes throughout his career. That intelligence, an integral component of another lethal Stanford defense, paid dividends again in 2013. It's only fitting that a moment emblematic of it be recognized among these unheralded plays.
Michael Rector Hauls in a Bomb (vs. Oregon)
Stanford snapped the ball 79 times in their win over Oregon. They ran the ball on 66 of those plays. Considering the Farm Boys' punishing strengths, though, that wasn't an extreme disparity. It was actually a sign of beautifully designed balance. But in order for that strategy to be successful, the Cardinal had to make their 13 passes count.
That's where Michael Rector came in.
The redshirt freshman deep threat, who spent much of the season averaging over 40 yards per reception, made the Ducks pay for stacking the box against Gaffney early. He hauled in Hogan's beautiful 47-yard bomb along the right sideline during the first quarter, breaking an early stalemate and setting up Gaffney's opening touchdown. The Cardinal would not look back on that Thursday night. The big story afterward was their bruising rushing performance, but the truth is that their epic ground-and-pound benefited immensely from the threat produced by that one explosive play.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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