6:58 pm - Second straight game that Stanford has won the coin toss, and Walt Harris has deferred the ball for his offense to the second half. He talked up his defense the last few months, and it looks like his opinion has not yet changed. He may be an offensively-minded coach, but his money is being bet on his defense thus far in his first year.
7:00 - Kickoff coverage was a real disappointment for Stanford's special teams last week, but Michael Sgroi just put the opening kickoff deep into the endzone for no return. That'll fix the problem, or at least render it moot.
7:01 - I saw Stanford run a lot of its nickel defense this week in practice - so much so that I thought it might be their base defense to start the game. Davis has started the game with three receivers, yet the Cardinal are in their base defense with four defensive backs. Strong safety Brandon Harrison is in coverage. Interesting.
7:03 - On Davis' first third down (3rd & 10) of the night, Stanford brings the nickel defensive personnel on the field. Babatunde Oshinowo, Udeme Udofia and Gustav Rydstedt leave the field, replaced by Tim Sims, Pannel Egboh and Emmanuel Awofadeju.
7:04 - David Marrero is still back deep for the Cardinal in punt return duty. His fumble last week was understandably bemoaned (to put it lightly) this week by the coaching staff, yet they thus far still have faith in him at the position.
7:05 - We now have the answer on Stanford's second starting receiver: Justin McCullum. He earned the job through a strong week of practices, despite classmate Gerren Crochet's touchdown scored in the opener at Navy.
7:06 - Trent Edwards just gave a great fake and had Mark Bradford deep down the left sideline, dropping the pass right over the receiver's shoulder and out of reach of the two defenders. Fantastic pass, but Bradford does not hold onto to the ball. That was a catchable ball, but a lapse of concentration cost him and Stanford the big play. What separates Bradford from being bigtime is his consistency - i.e. making those catches. I thought he made strides in this area in my observations of him in August, but drops when the lights shine bright = no bueno.
7:06 - Matt Traverso picks up the Cardinal's first down of the night. He is known as the team's best blocking tight end, but the redshirt junior quietly made some of Stanford's biggest receiving plays in scrimmages in the spring and fall camp. He picks up a big third down here with a 10-yard reception.
7:07 - There is some speed from the running back position for Stanford. Anthony Kimble takes the ball around the left side for a 20-yard pickup. Davis players may be small, but they are quick - i.e. that's a meaningful play in my eyes.
7:09 - McCullum was big on a third down pickup last week in Annapolis, and Walt Harris went to him again here. McCullum was open and in the right spot past the first down sticks, but he let the ball go in and out of his arms. That's a fast way to lose the confidence of your head coach and offensive coordinator. That is also two big drops by your starting two receivers in the span of just three or four minutes - uh oh.
7:10 - You can't ask for a better start for Sgroi to his fifth-year senior season. He hit both of his field goals last week, both 40+ yards, and right here he knocked a 48-yarder early in the first quarter for a 3-0 lead. And like we saw last week, he had plenty of leg to spare on the kick.
7:12 - Sgroi boots this kickoff out of the back of the endzone. The early game ball is sitting in the kicker's locker tonight.
7:14 - Kevin Schimmelmann reads the quarterback's eyes and comes across in front of a passing play. Great read. But then he swats the ball down, despite being chest-high. You have to instinctively know to try and catch that ball. Turnovers change the game, and you have to capitalize when they are so ripe for the taking.
7:15 - Stanford goes to the nickel defense again on 3rd & 10. The coverage is solid, while pressure comes from all sides up front. Pannel Egboh comes up the middle and forces Davis quarterback Jon Grant to throw the ball away into the dirt. That's all you can ask for.
7:16 - Stanford starts this series with three wideouts and a single back (Kimble). Crochet is the third receiver. Call is a draw to Kimble, which is smothered for a three-yard loss. Not pretty. You have to wonder if Harris is again scripting the first 15 plays of the game... On second and long, Kimble fights and twists his way, bouncing off tacklers, for a very tough five yards. Not just quick, he is a tough runner. Though, this is the second straight week of running against a defense manned by undersized athletes...
7:19 - Jon Cochran gets beaten at right tackle, while Brian Head is beaten at center, letting their men hammer Trent Edwards on third down for an eight-yard sack. That hurt from up here. You cannot have that.
7:20 - We have rotation, just as last week, at the strongside "Sam" outside linebacker position. Michael Craven is in for Udeme Udofia.
7:23 - As Kevin Schimmelmann warned us this week, Davis is content to throw the "intermediate" passes on you all night. That's code for "nickel & diming" your defense. It isn't sexy, but high-percentage shorter passes can pick up yardage and move the chains. Their guys are getting open, though the ball isn't always getting there. But when it does, they can be effective.
7:25 - Davis just burned their second timeout, and we're not yet 10 minutes into the game. They clearly want to put everything at their disposal into holding on early in this contest. I completely understand.
7:27 - The Aggies are down to the Stanford 25-yard line. Last play was a 12-yard pass to 6'2" Blaise Smith, their slotback or "X" receiver. They're moving the chains, sure enough, with more consistency than Stanford has yet shown with their offense. It's early, but that's not a good thing.
7:30 - Stanford's linebackers just made a big stand. Jon Alston stuck a Davis runner for a loss behind the line of scrimmage (four yards) on second down, and Michael Okwo on third down hammered a guy named Doris (really) and forced him to drop a short pass. The Aggies looked like they were headed into the endzone, but now have to kick a field goal... which misses wide.
7:32 - T.C. Ostrander is into the game at quarterback, with 3:30 to go in the first half. Walt Harris was not able to get the redshirt sophomore onto the field last weekend, despite his publicly declared desire to do so. Ostrander goes to work on his first play of 2005 with a quick pass to Bradford on the left side, which Bradford then powers up the sideline breaking tackles for 16 yards. This is not likely a planned substitution at quarterback, however. Trent Edwards has his throwing (right) hand getting iced. Ruh roh. His last play was the sack he suffered to end the previous offensive series.
7:34 - Ostrander takes off on a passing play and lunges through traffic rather than taking the slide. That's the adrenaline of a second-string quarterback getting his taste of game action. It's a great pickup, though, for nine yards.
7:35 - McCullum makes a bid for redemption getting open 32 yards downfield for Stanford's biggest pickup of the day. The ball at the 16-yard line is the Cardinal's best push down the field thus far in this game.
7:36 - Right on the heels of a confidence-building play for Ostrander, he misses a pass to McCullum near the goalline, throwing inside at the defender when his receiver was headed for the cone. The ball is intercepted at the one-yard line. It is the first interception thrown by a Stanford quarterback this year.
7:37 - Quick bail-out on the very next play! Kevin Schimmelmann hammers the Davis quarterback in the endzone, forcing a fumble, which Schimmy recovers for a touchdown. Hmm... maybe Harris is onto something with this confidence in his defense...
7:40 - Sgroi kicks the ball strangely short and low, squibbling out of bounds well short of the goalline. That's the 35-yard line for Davis. Whoops.
7:41 - We have a new Stanford defensive rotation to start the next series. Starting left defensive end Gustav Rydstedt has moved to nose tackle in relief of Babatunde Oshinowo, the starter in the middle of the Cardinal defensive line. This is precisely what we expected, mirroring what happened in the fourth quarter in Annapolis. Pannel Egboh and Chris Horn are the defensive ends. Also, Mike Silva is in at inside linebacker to spell Schimmelmann.
7:47 - Stanford loses sight of Davis' best receiver, Tony Kays, who last week had 15 receptions for the Aggies. He hurts the Cardinal right here with a 31-yard catch that brings the ball down to the Stanford 11.
7:49 - The Aggies burn their third and final timeout with 11:00 to go in the second quarter. They have 4th & 2 at the three-yard line. Down 10-0, what will they call on this critical fourth down? They didn't call the timeout to discuss Supreme Court vacancies.
7:51 - Ouch. They go to an end-around, which is a strange call in close quarters to the near side of the field. But no running play works when your ballcarrier falls down on his own, tripped up by a blade of grass. Turnover on downs. That's twice that Davis has tasted the redzone and come up empty. When you are a big underdog, how many of those blown opportunities can you stomach?
7:53 - Ostrander still on the field while Edwards remains out. So now you do have to ask who would Harris play as his third quarterback should something happen to Ostrander? Not an issue many Cardinalmaniacs™ have given much... Second down is a nice running play by Nick Frank for 10 yards, though Stanford needed 12 after a two-yard loss on the previous play. Frank gives the offense breathing room, however - no longer inside their own five-yard line.
7:54 - Three-and-out for Ostrander and the offense, despite the nice run by Frank.
7:55 - Silva stays on the field in the linebacking corps, though now in the place of Okwo, who gets a breather while Schimmelmann returns.
7:57 - Wow, Grant gets away with a big mistake. He has Alston running down his throat but throws off his back foot and slingshots the ball blindly. It falls to his man, Kays, who comes back for the ball and gets the first down. That had "interception" written all over it when it was released.
7:59 - Davis cannot dodge turnover turmoil for long, though. Babatunde Oshinowo blasts our friend Doris and forces a fumble, which Michael Craven scoops and scores 54 yards later. 17-0. Here's the funny thing, though: Stanford has not yet controlled the game, as measured by yardage, on either side of the ball, but they are winning on the big plays in a big way so far.
8:01 - What gives? Is this the jinx that comes when you give a kicker too much love too fast? Sgroi kicks his second straight kickoff out of bounds. This ball was high and directed toward the right sideline, likely by design for a given kickoff coverage scheme. But not designed to go into the chalk. I do not have the wisdom, additionally, to understand why you would call any kickoff other than Sgroi hammering the ball deep and unreturnable, if he can do it each time like he did his first two times tonight.
8:03 - David Jackson is now at nose tackle on defense - the third Cardinal at that position tonight... Davis goes to a little "trickeration" with a lateral toss to a receiver, who heaves a pass just before getting creamed. Bad throw, worse decision. Pannel Egboh leaps to tip the ball to himself and almost pulls it down on the sideline. The redshirt freshman is such a nice athlete.
8:07 - Marrero might have just spent his ninth life on punt returns. A high and deep punt angles toward the corner, which Marrero chases running backward inside the 10-yard line. That's a cardinal sin and a big Cardinal mistake here. He fumbles the ball trying to field it over his shoulder, recovered by UC Davis on the five-yard line. Brutal.
8:08 - Very next play, Davis runs it in for a touchdown. Stanford was in control (at least on the scoreboard) at 17-0 but just handed new life right to the Aggies. That's the second straight week where a Marrero punt return turnover gift-wrapped seven points for the opponent. I like Marrero a lot, but I cannot see Tom Quinn and Walt Harris sticking with him after two such grave mistakes in the first two weeks. Ball security is paramount. Next on the depth chart is Gerren Crochet, though he has not been too healthy this fall...
8:11 - When have you seen a "delay of game" call on the kickoff team? Davis just lost five yards on the penalty. They then chip their kickoff high and short, fair caught by Kris Bonifas at the 34-yard line. That's respect for kickoff returner T.J. Rushing right there. 3:29 left in the second quarter, by the way, for the first Davis kickoff of the game.
8:13 - It's been a while since the Stanford offense has been on the field, and I've been wondering who they would bring out at center. Fifth-year senior Brian Head has been talking with the medical staff on the sideline for quite some time, as they do some things with his shoulder. Sure enough, Tim Mattran is in the game. One silver lining here is that Ostrander and Mattran work together on the second team offense, which means they are used to each other on the center exchange. Also note that Jason Evans is in the game for the first time at tailback.
8:14 - Ostrander scrambles and rolls out when nothing is open, then finds Traverso for a 23-yard catch and run. Traverso is hit right after the catch by a Davis defender, who bounces off the big Stanford tight end like a pinball. Like it!
8:16 - All of a sudden, Davis is getting pressure on the quarterback. It's a noticeable shift, and it's a big problem.
8:17 - Sgroi misses his first field goal of the year, a 45-yard attempt in the middle of the field. There goes the perfect season...
8:18 - Davis takes over with under 45 seconds left in the half, so Stanford puts their nickel defense on the field starting on first down, in anticipation of passing down the field... Davis doesn't make any real threat, running out the clock just past midfield.
8:20 - Halftime stats are not encouraging. Stanford has passed for just 95 yards, on 5-of-12 throwing. And it's not like they have gone away from the pass because they are running the ball down Davis' throats. The Cardinal have just 43 net rushing yards, on a 3.3 yards-per-carry average. Also losing the time of possession game, 19:12 to 10:48.
8:37 - Davis kicks off again high and short, though this time fielded by one of the back men, Marcus McCutcheon. Though those high kickoffs are supposed to avoid a return, "Cutch" does fine work to pick up 12 yards and get to the 33-yard line.
8:38 - Stanford is going to the ground game with two runs to start their first possession of the second half... but Kimble is stripped of the ball while tackled in a pile on that second carry. Big play for Davis right out of the gate, giving them the ball on the Stanford 41-yard line. That is already three turnovers for the Cardinal barely past 30 minutes in this game. On a cold evening at Stanford Stadium, I can feel up in the press box the heat radiating from Walt Harris on the sideline.
8:45 - It's unpleasant enough to see the Aggies so quickly in the redzone on offense, but more troubling right now is seeing Schimmelmann and Rydstedt both hurt leaving the field. Silva and Egboh come on in relief.
8:47 - Watching Davis pass against you is one thing, but running the ball for first downs is unacceptable. David Lofton just raced by a running back, looking like he either whiffed on the play or was aiming for the ball rather than the body. Lofton does redeem himself on the next play with a two-yard tackle for loss.
8:49 - Davis gets in the endzone on 3rd & Goal, running untouched to the left side. 17-14 ballgame, with Stanford getting nothing at all done on offense. Not only is this discouraging for fans who wanted to see the Cardinal blow out a Division I-AA opponent, but it is also dangerous to let an underdog opponent taste such momentum in the second half. Once they look up at the scoreboard and really believe, they become inspired.
8:51 - McCutcheon again fields a kickoff, kicked deliberately away from Rushing, but he makes them pay running it out to the 46-yard line. This is good field position for Ostrander and the offense to get started. Note that Ostrander and Mattran are both still in with the offense. Edwards and Head are still out of the game. Ismail Simpson is in at left guard for Josiah Vinson, as well. Vinson does not look like he is hurt at all, though. I'm betting that he was yanked because of poor play. Remember those leaky plays on the offensive line I mentioned a bit ago?
8:56 - Ostrander is not sharp. Threw behind an open Traverso down the field, and just left a ball short for a wide-open Bradford. The drive stalls on the Davis 30-yard line.
8:57 - From bad to worse, Sgroi has his 47-yard field goal attempt blocked at the line of scrimmage. These plays are a good way to keep an opponent in the game who should have no business hanging with you.
8:58 - Remember the Schimmelmann play earlier where he punched down a would-be interception? He again is crossing in the middle of the field and has a pass come right to his hands. He drops it. Your seniors are the ones upon whom you depend to capitalize on those opportunities.
9:00 - The first Davis punt since Marrero's fumble (seems like it was a while ago... which says something about how the game has flowed since - Davis should be punting often) sends Gerren Crochet back to return. Marrero will not see the field for a long while, friends. Not only has he been bumped off his special teams duty, but he may drop from third to fourth on the tailback depth chart now that J.R. Lemon has returned healthy to practices.
9:03 - Three-and-out for the home team. I don't think punter Jay Ottovegio anticipated much work in this game. You hope his leg is swinging right tonight.
9:04 - Ottovegio actually will boot the ball again right away, after an accepted five-yard penalty when Davis runs into him. Unfortunately for the Cardinal, his second kick is short and actually gives the Aggies better field position than when the previous ball was downed. Ain't that swell?
9:07 - Anybody want this game? Davis fumbles on their first play on the shotgun snap, recovered by a diving Oshinowo.
9:09 - Jason Evans has been in the ballgame since Kimble's fumble... Also noteworthy that redshirt freshman Ben Muth is in at left tackle for Jeff Edwards, who may have hurt his left knee... Additionally, Gerren Crochet has been getting the work in place of McCullum at the second wide receiver spot. McCullum looks gimpy.
9:10 - The best offensive player thus far tonight is probably Matt Traverso. He just moved the chains on another third down reception.
9:12 - Stanford has two of its five starting offensive linemen in the game. Ostrander just took a 10-yard sack on 3rd & 8.
9:14 - Stanford starts the fourth quarter punting from the Aggies 41-yard line, but Ottovegio puts it too deep, into the endzone. That's a net of 21 yards after the touchback. Not a lot is going right for the Cardinal in Walt Harris' Stanford home opener.
9:15 - I should note that Rydstedt and Schimmelmann did both return to the game, after they left the field earlier. Rydstedt had looked like he was in a world of pain when he left. Maybe there is no word in the Swedish language for "quit."
9:18 - It's more special teams snafus for Stanford, as a UC Davis punt hits redshirt freshman Carlos McFall in the back while he blocks an Aggie player downfield. Davis recovers the ball on the Stanford 28-yard line. Down three, they have a chance here to score and tie or go ahead. Yikes.
9:21 - The Aggies attempt a 41-yard field goal to tie, though their kicking has been a big problem thus far this year. Indeed, a weak, short kick wobbling off to the left. Stanford clings to a three-point lead, mercifully.
9:22 - The second half advertisement just ran on the jumbotron and loudspeaker for The Bootleg. Yeah, with this product on the field, I bet you that both fans will race home to their computers to check us out tonight!
9:26 - Stanford digs into its bag of tricks for the first (and probably only) time this evening, with a flea-flicker. But not a soul is open for Ostrander. Thud. That fell flat.
9:27 - I don't have the official updated stats in front of me yet, but Stanford has passed for just a handful of yards thus far this half (the scoreboard is trying to tell me just two yards). We're already a few minutes into the fourth quarter. Gulp.
9:28 - Davis has the ball again, already. Ottovegio booted one deep but past his coverage. The Aggies brought it back to their 43-yard line. Now they have moved across midfield, and it is notable that they just picked up a third down running the ball. The time of possession still has to be really skewed in Davis' favor. Did you imagine you could say in the fourth quarter of this game that "Stanford's defense has been on the field an awfully long time?" It's showing a little bit...
9:30 - As soon as I say that, they swarm on back-to-back plays to stuff the Aggies. Loss of three and loss of one. 4th & 8 on the Stanford 33. Too close to punt, and they could not dream of a 50-yard field goal.
9:31 - Blaise Smith is wide open in the middle of the Stanford secondary for a 15-yard gain and first down. If you haven't been sweating it, you should now folks. Davis is 18 yards away from leading this game late in the fourth quarter. This has an eerie resemblance to the emotional state watching some of those losses to San Jose State a few years back. This is not a pleasant deja vu.
9:35 - Stanford stands tall on 3rd & 10, with coverage all over the field, forcing the Davis quarterback to scramble. He picks up just five.
9:36 - Davis may lose this game solely on the back of their kicking. They just missed a 32-yard field goal. How does it feel to be a Stanford fan right now, knowing that your potentially winning competitive advantage is that you have a better kicker than your Division I-AA opponent?
9:38 - This has been a relatively penalty-free game, but Stanford just got a huge one in their favor. On 3rd & 11 at their own 19, Ostrander looks for Crochet crossing the middle of the field. Crochet is clobbered and draws a flag from the back judge. Defensive pass interference - 15 yards - first down.
9:40 - Stanford (too) quickly faces another 3rd & long right away. They run Jason Evans for six tough yards. Davis burns their second timeout to stop the clock at 2:49 to go in the game.
9: 41 - Time to head down to the field for post-game locker room interviews. The Aggies are going to have a chance with ample clock to tie this up or win, though they may miss their two burnt time outs.
Postscript: Davis gets the ball back on their 28-yard line with 2:42 to go and drive 72 yards in 11 plays. Nick Sanchez makes what looks like a sure interception right in front of me at the one-yard line on the second-to-last play of the drive, but the official makes no call, looking back to another official before they finally rule no catch. No instant replay tonight, however, with the Pac-10 only able to field seven replay crews - Stanford was one of two games today without a crew... The next play is a three-yard touchdown pass to Blaise Smith. The Aggies miss the PAT (of course), but own a three-point win, 20-17, after Stanford cannot complete a Hail Mary on their one play from scrimmage. A stunning, dizzying defeat. Shocking. One that will go down in the history books as perhaps the worst upset loss in the history of Stanford Football.
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