So how embarrassing was last Saturday's loss to UC Davis? After the game, a few buddies and I convened at a pizza-and-beer establishment in Mountain View. A Stanford offensive lineman and his family were sitting at the table next to ours. Unfortunately, a few Davis fans were also in the house. After some occasional hooting and hollering, a couple Aggie backers headed for the door, but not before turning towards the player and his family and hollering, "In your face!" Some of us at our table sunk down in our seats. I would have given anything for a paper sack to wear. I can only imagine how the player felt at that moment.
How embarrassing was that game? More embarrassing when I found out some of the other scores on the college football scoreboard. Rutgers won. Duke handled VMI. Indiana is 3-0. So is Vanderbilt. Baylor is too!
Really, how embarrassing was that game? Driving back to Oakland, I was listening to a national sports radio show. The host was talking about the Oklahoma Sooners and how much easier their schedule gets over the next few weeks: Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor… and the producer yelled out, "Can they get Stanford on their schedule too?" I almost drove off the Dumbarton Bridge.
Seriously, how embarrassing was it? When I got home and went to sleep (finally), I dreamed that a Stanford quarterback dropped back to pass, threw one out into the left flat, and was intercepted by the Burger King, who took it in for six, then did a dance in the endzone while the NFL Films music blared.
And then… depression set in.
It was that embarrassing, and then some. I expected a black cloud to be hanging over Arrillaga Center when I drove onto campus on Tuesday morning. To my surprise, there actually was one! Then I remembered that the forecast had called for thunderstorms around the Bay Area. Thunderstorms in September? Seems about as likely as what happened at Stanford Stadium last week.
Stanford dropped a stinkbomb against Davis last week. Period. There's no other way to spin it. There were some bright spots (Traverso, Schimmelmann, Oshinowo, and Okwo), but no matter how you look at it, the Aggies outplayed the Cardinal in nearly every phase of the game.
They certainly outplayed Stanford's offense, dominating the line of scrimmage, erasing the running game, blanketing the receivers, and making life a living hell for Trent Edwards and T.C. Ostrander. Their offense wasn't perfect, but their quarterback and their running back put forth two of the gutsiest performances I've seen at Stanford Stadium. More importantly, they made the plays they needed to make when they absolutely, positively needed to make them.
Davis deserves credit for their success, but they were certainly helped out by a Stanford effort that could only be described as a disaster. Seriously. I thought about calling FEMA, but I don't think they'd get here before next Saturday.
So where can the Card turn to for help from last week's mess? Well, as Walt Harris noted earlier, he can't check the waiver wire and bring guys in off the street. Stanford isn't the Houston Texans, so they're not going to be firing assistants mid-season. The head coach isn't going anywhere. Neither is the athletic director.
(Quick tangent: this stuff from some of you about showing Walt Harris the door after just two games is absolute nonsense. But I'll play along for a moment… say Ted Leland calls a press conference right now, apologizes for the Davis result, and summarily throws Walt out on the street. Who would Ted be able to get? Who? Norm Chow ain't walking through that door, folks. Urban Meyer ain't walking through that door. Bill Walsh is in the building, but he still isn't walking through that door. And who would be willing to walk through that door, knowing that the athletic director turned on his last guy after just two games? Answer those questions first before you throw out nonsense like that. Back to the column.)
So if help can't come from the outside, it has to come from within. The players and the coaches are the ones that will have to dig deep and get this thing turned around again. Walt needs to figure out how to regain control of this season and maintain control of his team. The coaches are going to have to do some reevaluation of this team and its capabilities. The players are going to have to ask themselves how big of a price they want to pay to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.
For better or for worse, that game against Davis has set a new standard. Everyone now knows what can happen to this team when the coaches and players fail to pay the price every week.
After all, Stanford didn't lose that game because previous coaches left the cupboard bare. They didn't lose that game because of the uniforms. They didn't lose that game because there were only 31,000 people in the stands, and a good chunk of them happened to be rooting for the other team. They didn't lose that game because of marketing, admissions, the sports information department, or any of the other areas of the university that are supposedly conspiring against Stanford football. They didn't lose that game because no replay crews were on hand to rule Nick Sanchez' interception legal.
OK, maybe Stanford did lose that game because of that botched call, but blaming everything on just that one play doesn't do justice to the real reasons why the Card failed against Davis.
They lost that game because, in no particular order: Their secondary struggled big-time. Special teams committed too many mistakes. The offensive line got dominated. The receivers couldn't get open. The defense was out there too long. The offense wasn't out there long enough. The coaches seemed to throw away most of the playbook after Edwards went down.
Above all, Stanford lost that game because Davis wanted that game more than the Cardinal did. I saw it every time their quarterback pulled another scramble out of his hat. I saw it every time their running back bounced off Stanford defenders, yet still found ways to churn ahead for small, steady, important gains. Every time their players played like they had nothing to lose, and showed the heart of a scrappy underdog that was willing to do whatever it took to win. Sometimes that really is all you need.
After a loss like that, not much is certain for Stanford Football right now. But I can tell you this: we will learn plenty about this team over the next few days as it tries to figure out which way it wants to go from here. To steal the marketing department's slogan, it really does all start now. Or else it may have ended last Saturday.
RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
If you haven't heard of Elvis Dumervil yet, you will. He single-handedly destroyed the Beavers' offensive line. It was jaw-dropping to watch him abuse the Beavers' offensive line play after play. Next time you watch Louisville, keep an eye out for number 58…
Anyone else notice how much better Kellen Clemens seems to operate when the Ducks go to a no-huddle attack?
Glad to see UCLA get a big win against the Sooners last week, but I really think that Oklahoma gave that game away with stupid mistakes and questionable playcalling. As disappointed as I was in OU's quarterback play (again), I was shocked by some of the playcalling. Rhett Bomar has had problems handling the ball all year. Given that, why have him go shotgun near his own goal line? Then, on a do-or-die fourth down in the fourth quarter, why have butterfingered Bomar try to execute an option pitch from the shotgun? Didn't make much sense to me. Oklahoma players made their share of mistakes, but the coaches didn't do them many favors, either…
Am I the only one not holding his breath to see if UCLA is still playing this well in November? I mean, haven't we been down this road before with the Bruins looking like world-beaters early in the season, then starting to slide off the face of the earth around Halloween?
Stat of the Week: U$C's offense is averaging a touchdown every eight plays. How insane is that? Is that even legal?
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… Mike Tice might be thinking about getting in his car, driving off and starting a brand new life somewhere else…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… Mike Sherman might not be far behind him…
Gregory from parts unknown chimes in: "Thanks for the view from the sidelines. Brought me back to my days as a student manager during the Ralston era. Coach Ralston was a hell of a guy. In a Big Game, one of our assistant coaches grabbed my arm and said 'Coach wants to make sure all of the seniors get to play. Make it happen.' For what he accomplished at and for Stanford, Coach Ralston seems underrated and/or overlooked."
Good stuff… and an interesting take on Ralston. I'll gladly defer to those of you who were there during those days on what Ralston's Stanford legacy is, but I can see how that might be the case. Seems like when most folks think about Stanford Football in the 1960s and the early ‘70s, they think about the players: Plunkett, Washington, Vataha, the Thunderchickens. Maybe I'm wrong, but I kinda get that sense too. But since I'm deferring to others here, I'll throw it out to everyone: is John Ralston underrated as a Stanford coach?
No E-Mailbag is complete without Derek from San Francisco: "I was there when Steve Stenstrom was knocked unconscious at a home game, and his father ran from the parent section on to the field while trainers were there trying to wake him up. I remember seeing the collision with Kerry Carter and that poor kid from Washington. Didn't look like much at the time, but it's hard to imagine a worse outcome.
Who can forget the time Estevan Avila smacked Tommy Maddox over the rainbow? When he finally got up, he wasn't sure which way to stumble. In the same game, "Touchdown" Tommy Vardell injured two very talented defensive backs on a long run down the sideline that was called back. One limped to the sideline, and the other was helped into the locker room.
I think probably the worst injury I've ever seen would sadly have to be Mike Mitchell's. In his last game as a Stanford Cardinal, after a very respectable career and dreams of the NFL, he was hit by a savage tackle in the Big Game that shredded both of his knees in an instant. I remember seeing his parents around the stadium afterwards but couldn't think of a single thing to say that may have offered even a little relief.
Like you said, the lows are damn low, but the highs are unbeatable. Football season is back."
Football season is back. Amen.
Who could forget the time Estevan Avila smacked Tommy Maddox over the rainbow? Tommy Maddox did, I'm sure! And what happened to Mike Mitchell in the 1997 Big Game was an absolute shame. His career didn't have to end like that.
Got a thought on this column, on Stanford sports, or on anything else that's on your mind, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org! The best e-mails I get will end up in next week's Corner…
The Beaver State takes center stage in the Pac-10, with both of this week's conference games kicking off in the 541 area code…
U$C @ Oregon. It's U$C's world. Until proven otherwise, the rest of us are just living in it. The Ducks could make it interesting, though… for about 20 minutes. I like U$C by 25.
Arizona State @ Oregon State. The Beavers' defense got shredded by Louisville's frighteningly efficient offense last week, and their offense crumbled under the Cardinals' pass rush. How in the world are the Beavers going to contain Sam Keller and the Sun Devils' explosive offense, and how in the world are the Beavers going to protect their backfield when Pac-10 tackles-for-loss leader Dale Robinson is coming to town? I like Arizona State by 32.
This year: 1-0 (straight up & ATS).
Last year: 25-7 (straight-up), 15-17 (ATS).
Troy Clardy is a host and reporter for the Stanford Cardinal Farm Report, airing Saturdays on FSN Bay Area.
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