Muchnick's Take: Stanford Closes with Win

The Bootleg's youngest contributor chimes in after the Foster Farms Bowl. Here is Justin Muchnick's piece.

As a relatively young Stanford football fan, I have been fortunate enough to experience consistently incredible seasons from the Cardinal. Blessed – or perhaps spoiled – by four consecutive BCS bowl berths and back-to-back Pac-12 championships, I found this past season to be, at times, tough to watch. But when viewed not under the lens of the magnificently high standard the Cardinal has set for itself but rather against the backdrop of the pre-Harbaugh dark ages, this season really wasn’t that bad, and it has certainly ended on a hopeful note. It may have been harder for me to come to terms with this season than it was for more longtime Stanford fans, but as I was shivering in the Santa Clara cold at Levi’s Stadium and watching the Cardinal pummel the Terps the other night, I eventually came around to the belief that everything is going to be OK.

On Tuesday, our defense lived up to its reputation as one of the best around. Despite some shaky early play that allowed the Terps to tie the game in the second quarter, the Cardinal D was as stingy as ever, evidenced by the fact that it only allowed Maryland 17 rushing yards. Granted, key players like A.J. Tarpley, James Vaughters, and Henry Anderson will be missing next year, but that’s no reason to lose faith in the defense moving forward. The unit’s fairly consistent play this season, culminating in a fantastic performance in the Foster Farms Bowl, definitely makes me hopeful to see many more parties in the backfield in the coming seasons.

On the other side of the ball, our offense had a great night. After the season’s fair share of lackluster and lethargic offensive performances, it’s refreshing to see the offense finally find its rhythm over the past three-game stretch. Just as against UCLA, Kevin Hogan was an efficient and poised quarterback in the Foster Farms Bowl. He made good decisions, whether spraying the ball out to his receivers or choosing his opportunities to pick up yards on his feet. Moreover, our receivers again stepped up in the absence of Ty Montgomery. Younger players like Austin Hooper as well as veterans like Devon Cajuste – whose announcement to return next season is a big positive – have shown improvement throughout the season and capped it off with successful play on Tuesday night. Meanwhile, Christian McCaffrey wrapped up a solid freshman campaign with a banner night at the Foster Farms Bowl. On more than one occasion on Tuesday, McCaffrey’s uncanny knack of juking defenders and evading tackles on rushes and punt returns left me thinking, “How did he do that?” All in all, the offensive performance against Maryland shows a lot of promise and potential, and 2015 should be an exciting year for the Cardinal offense.

Finally, Stanford football has undoubtedly gained a top-level infrastructure capable of pulling off a championship-caliber tailgate on short notice. The Stanford tailgate (also known as the Foster Farms Bowl Official Pre-Game Tailgate Party powered by YourSports) was a truly outstanding event, complete with great food, TVs showing highlights of Stanford’s previous bowl games, and even Stanford football-related crossword puzzles and other activities at the tables. So, if nothing else, we can be very confident on the tailgate front for next year!

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