Just about everybody hates clichés. They're simple, they're unoriginal, and they're bland, among other things. But, whether we like them or not, clichés are often true.
That might be why they're all over the place in football. If not for clichés, how would coaches and athletes talk to the media? How else would we know that you gotta take ‘em one game at a time, play from snap to whistle, and give it 110 blah blah blah blah blah?
"It's not how you start, it's how you finish." That's one of my personal favorites. I've probably said and written that one at least a thousand times.
"Great teams aren't always great, they're just great when they have to be." I learned that one from John Facenda!
How about this one: "It's the sum of little plays that add up." True, very true. And very applicable for Cardinal Football too, as that lesson had to be re-learned the hard way by Stanford during last Saturday's game at Notre Dame.
For most of the past two seasons, many Stanford fans' complaints have centered around the big play. Too few produced by the offense. Too many allowed by the defense. So far this season, those trends have largely reversed. Against Notre Dame, Trent Edwards completed seven passes that traveled 20 yards or more, a single-game number that probably hasn't been seen at Stanford since Todd Husak and Troy Walters were doing their thing. The defense bottled up a quarterback who had torched Purdue for 432 yards passing the week before.
So big plays weren't the problem for Stanford. But little plays were. Big plays are nice, but (say it with me) it's the sum of little plays that add up. Especially when you're on the road in front of over 80,000 fans and on national TV.
Not every little play went against the Cardinal. With just seconds left on the clock, and Stanford trying for one final, desperate throw to the endzone, a pressured Trent Edwards stepped up in the pocket, inadvertently bumped into J.R. Lemon, and was wrapped up by a Notre Dame defensive lineman, who began spinning Edwards toward the ground.
But on his way to the turf, Edwards had the presence of mind to somehow throw the ball toward the line of scrimmage. Instead of a game-killing sack, the incomplete pass stopped the clock with two seconds remaining, giving the Cardinal a bonus shot at the endzone. In the play-by-play, that sequence simply goes down as "Edwards, Trent pass incomplete." But that little play meant much, much more than that.
Still, the little plays went Notre Dame's way early and often. In their first two possessions, Stanford drove impressively to touchdown's doorstep. But both times they had to settle for field goals. A 6-0 lead is fine, but a 14-0 lead is far better. Edwards fumbled a snap on a third-and-one in the second quarter, and was intercepted on a two-point conversion attempt (more on this later). Stanley Wilson dropped a fourth-quarter interception, and Notre Dame scored the game's final touchdown five plays later.
For a surefire way to tell which team is making the little plays and which team is coming up short, check out the third down conversions, one statistic that never lies. Notre Dame converted ten of their 19 third downs. Stanford went just three of 14. That set of numbers tells the story.
Mark Bradford is a big-play receiver, but there were a couple of opportunities for little plays that didn't go his way. Early in the second quarter, Edwards fired a third-down pass toward Bradford, who was open after running a 10-yard in. The throw was high, and a little behind him, but still catchable. The ball skidded off Bradford's hands, and Stanford had to punt.
Early in the fourth quarter, with Stanford facing 3rd & 16 from their own six, Bradford ran a deep out, and Edwards found him, this time with a perfect pass. But Bradford didn't react quickly enough to the ball, and a first-down catch slipped away. Mark may have been thinking about those two little plays all the way home from South Bend.
Another little thing that went against Stanford: timeouts in the second half. They had to use their first one before the ill-fated two-point conversion attempt in the third quarter. The second was burned before Stanford's fourth-down attempt late in the game. While I have no problems with the second timeout being called, the Card would have been in a little better position if they hadn't had to waste that first timeout.
Sometimes it's better just to take the five-yard penalty. I'm sure that in hindsight, Stanford would rather have tried the two-point conversion from the eight-yard line and had two timeouts in their pocket down the stretch. When the other team has the ball and is trying to run down the clock, there's a huge difference between having at least two timeouts and having just one.
Making all the little plays isn't something that just happens overnight. Maybe the Notre Dame game should just be chalked up as another learning experience and another step in this year's maturation process.
After the game Coach Teevens and I crossed paths outside the stadium. I shook his hand, then held up two nearly-pinched fingers, the international symbol for "this close." Coach sighed in exasperation, "I know…I know…"
Anyone who ever said "Don't sweat the small stuff" never lost a football game.
RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
I'm not a coach, but I sometimes play one on the radio and the internet… I don't go for two points unless I absolutely have to. To steal the line from NFL.com's Tuesday Morning Quarterback: kick early, go for it late…
Special shout-out to the Colonial Pancake House in South Bend. They've been very good to us every time we've walked in there with our full Stanford gear on gameday. Notre Dame fans were being especially nice to us, both at the pancake house and on campus. And then I found out why… they were rooting for Stanford to win so Tyrone could be moved one step closer to the exit! Any other Cardinalmaniacs™ that made the trip last week experience the same thing?
So everyone's all atwitter over Aaron Rodgers completing 23 straight passes. But those completions went for just 220 yards. Those short passes allowed the Bears the chance to establish ball control, and 23 straight completions is certainly a notable feat. But I'd be more impressed if there was more yardage attached to those completions. This is why I think completion percentage is perhaps the most overrated stat in football. If you're only throwing the ball five, six yards downfield, you should complete at least 70% of your passes! To me, the completions-to-attempts ratio isn't as important as the attempts-to-yardage and, to a lesser extent, the completions-to-yardage ratios…
Don't look now, but the Cougars' offensive line is growing up right before our very eyes. They were porous early in the season, but now they've allowed just one sack in their last three games. They're also starting to run the ball well, too…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… our Chicagoland friends are blessed to live in one of the greatest cities on the planet. It doesn't get much better than being in downtown Chicago on a perfect autumn Sunday afternoon. There was such a vibe there, such energy. Either that or those folks realized it would probably be the last weekend of the year in Chicago without any snow on the ground…
TV programming note: it's another double dip of the Farm Report this week… Friday evening at 7:00p and Saturday morning at 9:00a on FOX Sports Net Bay Area. Who said this show wasn't ready for primetime?
Arizona @ Oregon. Mike Stoops' season just got a little tougher; he only has two healthy defensive linemen. Where's Tedy Bruschi and Rob Waldrop when you need them? Look for Oregon to go to the ground and stay there. I like Oregon by 17.
Arizona State @ U$C. The Sun Devils are arguably a more dangerous opponent for U$C than the Bears. I think cal has the edge on offense, but A-State's defense is better. The Trojans escaped with a game they didn't dominate, and they know it. This could be another close one, and while it wouldn't surprise me to see Andrew Walter add to his legend with a win here, I like U$C by 6.
UCLA @ cal. On paper, the Bears should have few problems against the Bruins. UCLA's defense is suspect, although LB Spencer Havner is having a fine season. Drew Olson won't have Craig Bragg to throw to. This really shouldn't take long at all. Expect to hear "Big C" a lot more than you hear "Sons of Westwood" on Saturday (not that there's much difference between the two songs). I like cal by 21.
Oregon State @ Washington. I can just imagine the scene at halftime last week when the Huskies were carrying a 7-3 lead over San Jose State to the locker room. Derek Anderson will probably make this game more interesting than it should be, but the Huskies just don't have enough healthy bodies to get a win anytime soon. I like Oregon State by 14.
Last week: 2-1 (straight up), 0-3 (ATS).
This year: 5-3 (straight up), 4-4 (ATS).
-- Got a thought on this column or on Stanford sports? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org! 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 on Fox Sports Net Bay Area. Clardy hosts "Stanford Sports Weekly", which airs Wednesday evenings at 8:00 pm on KNTS (1220 AM) in San Francisco. He also hosts Cardinal men's basketball pregame shows on Stanford radio network flagship station KNEW in San Francisco, and "College Football Today" on KNBR 1050 in San Francisco.
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