Years from now, when people talk about the turning point of the 2003 Stanford football season, hopefully they point to the second half of last week's game at Provo.
The Card had two separate chances to cave in and revert to 2002 form. The first came after a third-quarter sequence in which BYU gained 87 yards on two plays. After connecting on a deep ball downfield on third-and-long, the Cougars struck quickly with a trick play that gave them a 31-yard touchdown and a 14-9 lead.
The second came after Gerren Crochet's momentary disorientation on the field in the fourth quarter. Crochet had made a third-down catch in first-down territory, but gave ground and was tackled behind the marker. Stanford punted the ball away still down by two points with just over four minutes to go. Those two moments were the two best chances Stanford could have picked to fold up shop for the day.
But a funny thing happened on the way to a moral victory… the Card kept fighting. The dam-breaking sequences that became Stanford's trademark last year never materialized.
After allowing the third-quarter touchdown, the Stanford defense settled down, even forcing the Cougars into a third-and-39 situation. After missing out on the opportunity to move the chains, Oshiomogho Atogwe intercepted John Beck's first-down pass, with Trent Edwards scoring the go-ahead touchdown three plays later.
The BYU victory might not have won many style points, but it showed a potentially inspiring side to Stanford football that hasn't been seen in a while.
Keep fighting. Don't ever quit. Don't ever give up. These are lessons that our coaches and parents all tried to teach us from day one. They're also lessons that we all need to relearn every once in a while, even if we're not being chased around by 300-pound linemen or trying to hit a 98-mph fastball.
Already, in both games this year, Stanford has shown an ability to battle back. Of course, this was demonstrated on a smaller scale in the opener, when the Cardinal was down 10-0 to San Jose and not looking very good doing it. But instead of regressing into "Same Old Stanford" mode, the Card righted the ship, made plays, smacked the other team's quarterback around, and walked out of Stanford Stadium with the win.
The ability to hang in there and fight is what often makes the difference between a winning season and a holiday season spent cleaning out the garage and watching all the other bowls. For some teams, that trait might even be the difference between a good season and a magnificent one that will be remembered for all-time. Seven of Ohio State's wins last season came by a touchdown's margin or less. Because they were able to dig deep in the late-going of those games, they were center stage when the fireworks were booming and the confetti was falling after last season's Fiesta Bowl. Sometimes the line really is that thin.
It is certainly easier to take pride in supporting athletes and teams that compete with heart, even when the odds are stacked against them. Remember watching the battered "Trench Dogs" fight valiantly against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl? Remember watching Stanford fight back during that emotionally-draining (and body-soaking) game against the Huskies in 2000? Remember watching the Card's improbable comeback at Oregon a couple years ago? Even though two of those examples still ended in tough losses, didn't you feel proud of Stanford football on those days?
Aside from the win, perhaps that's the biggest nugget to take away from last week's game: a pride in the program that certainly wasn't there for most of last season. Yes, the passing game left plenty to be desired. Yes, there's plenty more football to be played. And time will tell whether last week's second half will be this season's turning point.
But if the Card competes and fights this weekend in Seattle, in an environment that few outside the program expect them to compete and fight in, that would go a long way in the continuing process of restoring the pride in Stanford football.
RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
There's almost no way a team should win a game in which it only manages 56 yards passing. Unless that team is Nebraska…
Gotta admit I kinda got a kick out of the BYU fans booing the officials every time Stanford celebrated a big play and no flags were thrown, unlike after the Cougars' first touchdown…
I did not, however, get a kick out of the beverage selection at the Lavell Edwards Stadium press box. And I mean that literally. Caffeine-free Coke? Sigh…
Aside from the MAC (which deserves a hearty congratulations), no conference had a better day than Pac-10. Sure, UCLA ran into a buzzsaw, A-State took one on the chin, and Arizona got beaten like a drum kit during a James Brown show. But the Pac-10 still got six wins, five against some quality opponents…
The first winner of the "He's One Guy I Wouldn't Want To Be This Week" Award: UCLA assistant coach Gary Bernardi, who handles the Bruins' punt return and coverage teams…
Sure, Antonio Perkins' three punt returns for scores were incredible, but I was more amazed by the fact that UCLA actually scored 24 points on the Sooners…
Some folks will cringe when they read this, but I gotta give major props to Oregon for sacking up big time against Michigan. Michigan! Big, bad, we-just-ended-Notre-Dame's-season-and-it-isn't-even-October-yet Michigan. Who knew?
It's just too bad the Wolverines won't get their chance for revenge until September 8, 2007…
Quote of the week, courtesy former Washington head coach Jim Lambright, who expressed his contempt for the way fellow former Washington head coach Rick "Who, Me?" Neuheisel conducted his practices: "It was all intellectual and a lot of teaching and a lot of music." You know, Lambright never really struck me as a particularly refined individual…
So Mike Price plans on being in Martin Stadium on October 4 when the Cougars host the Arizona Wildcats, eh? Hmmm. Will he be on the Cougars' sideline keeping a low profile as he was during Wazzu's game against Idaho? Or will he be on the Wildcats' sideline wearing a headset and carrying a playsheet?
The Rose Bowl race seriously gets underway this week, with four conference games kicking off on Saturday. Let the fun begin!
Stanford @ Washington. Yes, we know Stanford hasn't won in Seattle since I was exactly one week old. But this is a Stanford team that has been playing lights-out defense and is feeling good about its chances against an uninspiring Husky team. This is also a Husky team that features one of the best pitch-and-catch combos in college football in Cody Pickett and Reggie Williams. It just might be enough to break open what could be a defensive struggle. I like Washington by 3.
Washington State @ Oregon. The Ducks are feeling 10 feet tall after their big win over Michigan, but if they're not careful, the Cougars could cut them down to size in quick fashion. Wazzu's defense has already exceeded my expectations, and Matt Kegel has helped bring the big play back to the Cougars' passing attack. But the Ducks are getting great play from both of their quarterbacks, a rejuvenated effort from their defense, and the support of the Autzen Stadium crowd. I like Oregon by 5.
U$C @ cal. The Bears have largely shown an inability to make the little plays so far this season. Little plays may be all they get against the Trojan defense, so the Bears' margin for error is almost nonexistent. Also, the U$C coaches have had an extra week and, thanks to the Bears' early start to their season, a lot of game film to prepare for cal. Jeff Tedford's good, but I think the deck is stacked in Pete Carroll's favor here. I like U$C by 9.
Arizona State @ Oregon State. Andrew Walter is coming off of a rough week at Iowa, while Derek Anderson is in the midst of a rough season. Beaver Nation is tired of Anderson not completing the majority of his passes (which, as I've explained before, I don't think is a legitimate beef given the way OSU's passing offense works). They're also tired of him throwing the ball to the other team (which is a very legitimate beef). But Beaver Nation can't get enough of Steven Jackson running the ball, no matter how banged up he is. Walter could be getting WR Daryl Lightfoot back, which should help, but I like Oregon State by 2.
This year (straight up & ATS): 1-0.
Last year (straight up & ATS): 27-13.
Got a thought on this column or on Stanford sports? E-mail me at email@example.com! The ones I like best will end up in next week's E-Mailbag…
Troy Clardy is a reporter for the Stanford Cardinal Farm Report, which airs Saturday mornings at 8:30 PDT on Fox Sports Bay Area.
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