Watching football on television is always a great way to spend a weekend. Still, nothing compares to seeing football team live and in person. You get much more of a sense of a team, its psychological state, and its true capabilities when they're all on display right on front of you. Stat sheets lie. Sometimes, television lies. In football, seeing truly is believing.
And this weekend, I saw a lot. As I type this, I'm on a Delta flight somewhere over middle America, making my way back to Connecticut from the Bay Area. From a gloomy Friday afternoon in New Haven to a postcard Bay Area Saturday, this was a whirlwind weekend of sights.
This is the second time I've seen this year's Cardinal squad in person, and much like in South Bend seven weeks ago, I saw a Stanford squad that is better, more cohesive, and more physical overall than it has been in years past. I saw an offensive line that takes pride in its run blocking, and is just as devastating on the second level as they are at the point of attack. I saw Clinton Snyder spend time back at his old middle linebacker spot, and play back to his 2007 form.
I saw a Stanford squad that still has some ways to go before it can be considered a consistent upper-tier contender in the Pac-10. But I also saw a team that knows it's closing that gap. Their coach knows it. And just as important, their opponents know it, too.
Still, if I hadn't seen the temperature soar to 81 degrees on The Farm in mid-November with my own eyes, I wouldn't have believed it. If I hadn't seen what a sold-out Stanford Stadium 2.0 actually looked like, I wouldn't have believed it. If I hadn't been there in person to see Stanford men's hoops get out-rebounded by Yale, I wouldn't have believed it. (More hoops thoughts later, by the way…)
And when it comes to the on-field events from last Saturday, if I hadn't seen U$C's kickers carry the day to a Trojan victory, I wouldn't have believed it.
Yes, Trojan running backs took over in the second half. Just when Stanford's defense started wearing down, thanks to repeated blows from Stafon Johnson and Joe McKnight, U$C smartly switched to a fresh C.J. Gable in the backfield to finish the job. I know the U$C defense regrouped from an ineffective first half and came through when it mattered most.
While Stanford struggled mightily in kick coverage (who knows how different that first half would have looked without that 75-yard return and that 93-yard score?), U$C had no such problems, mostly because Buehler's kickoffs were so effective. Actually, as the game went along, and as Stanford's needs for a special teams spark became more and more desperate, Buehler's kicks kept booming deeper into the endzone with each try. There's a big difference between starting drives in plus-territory all the time and starting at your own 20 all the time.
Sometimes, starting at the 20 would have sounded pretty good to Stanford, as even the punting game went decisively to U$C. I watched much of the game with Stanford Stadium public address announcer Steve Frost, and we both spent much of the evening marveling at Greg Woidneck's punts: high, spiraling missiles that defied gravity, forced fair catches, and pinned the Card deep. Frost and I started calling Woidneck "The Human Juggs Machine." He was that good.
Meanwhile, David Green did not have one of his better days in the punting department. And we're well aware of the Cardinal's performance in kick coverage against U$C.
It's amazing to think that, as athletic and dangerous as the U$C Trojans are at the skill positions, the set of guys who did the most damage to Stanford's hopes were the kickers. But I saw it, and seeing was believing.
Seeing was also believing for the many Cardinalmaniacs who have made the trek to the lobby at Arrillaga and saw The Axe hanging in its rightful spot. For a while there, it seemed as if it would be decades before we Stanford regain The Axe. That changed thanks to last year's satisfying win. More importantly, a win this year would clinch The Axe and a bowl berth, all in one fell swoop.
For Stanford, the stakes in a Big Game haven't been this clear-cut since the 1996 meeting in Berkeley. And as I remember, that game turned out pretty well for Stanford, a 42-21 Golden Bear beatdown that sent the Cardinal to the Sun Bowl.
I'll admit that I haven't seen cal play in person this year. However, I have seen Stanford in person enough to believe that this is a winnable game for the Card. I don't believe this is a cal team that will respond well to being punched in the mouth, as Stanford has proven it is. I don't believe in their quarterback. Come to think of it, cal fans and coaches probably don't, either.
Now that I'm headed back to that faraway land called the East Coast, I won't be able to see Big Game in person. But I believe in the Cardinal's chances of getting it done at Raspberry Ravine.
********** ********** **********
RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
All I wanted from Stanford last week was to put ten points on the scoreboard. I got them by the end of the first quarter!
In Pac-10 conference games this year, the home team is 24-13. Take away those two teams that play north of Oregon, and the home team is 24-5 in Pac-10 games…
Watched the Stanford men's hoops opener live and in person at Yale last week. After the game, Johnny Dawkins called Yale's gym one of the most competitive environments ever. "Ever?" asked a skeptical writer. "Yes, ever," Dawkins replied with a straight face…
Then again, I'm sure Landry Fields would agree. It was so hot in that gym, the poor kid needed an IV just to get to the locker room after the game…
Great to hang with the Court Jester before the game for an unofficial East Coast Bootleg staff meeting. Special shout-out to former hoopsters Mike McDonald and Rob Little, who were at the game, as well as former Stanford tight end and fellow ESPN Radio producer Steve Coughlin. Pete Sauer was supposed to be at the game, but apparently his stretch Escalade got stuck on the 95…
We mentioned the 1996 Big Game earlier. Want to jump in the Stanford Football wayback machine to that glorious day? Click here to hear our recap of that game for KZSU's Sun Bowl pregame show that year…
Quote of the Week comes from the Yale student section during Friday's hoops game. At halftime, a few fans were brought down to the court to take part in a free-throw shooting contest. One of the lucky fans just happened to be wearing a Stanford shirt. The Yale students welcomed him to the court by chanting, "Safety school! Safety school!"…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… hey Delta Airlines, if you're going to sell me a window seat, can you make sure it actually has a window? Here's a travel tip for you folks out there…if you're flying a Delta 767 and you like to check out the scenery while you're flying, avoid the window seats in row 15…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but…believe it or not, this is officially the 100th Clardy's Corner for TheBootleg.com. Since this is Big Game week and we have an Axe and a bowl game to go clinch, this isn't quite the time for a huge reflection on that milestone, so I'll definitely have some deeper thoughts on this in next week's Corner. But it's never an inappropriate time to say thank you for your support of these Corners!...
********** ********** **********
CLARDY'S CORNER INBOX
Some folks thought Stanford's loss to Oregon was a choke. I didn't think so in last week's corner. Bill in La Jolla adds, "I agree [with you] about the Oregon game. There's a difference between choking and just being bad. Stanford lacked the speed to stop Oregon's running game. I agree with some other posters that the UCLA game in 2005 was a choke. We blew a three touchdown lead in the fourth quarter. Inexcusable."
Choking is a very, very touchy subject in sports, so that's why I don't take the "choke" label lightly. I only use it on special occasions...and that Oregon game wasn't a special occasion. By the way, I had forgotten about that UCLA game...probably because I blocked it from my mind after it happened!
Agree with this Corner? Disagree? Got something else on your mind? Drop me a line at my Scout.com inbox (username: troyc) or e-mail me at email@example.com . The best e-mails will be answered in next week's Clardy's Corner Inbox!
********** ********** ***********
Oregon State @ Arizona. I can't wait to check this game out. If Willie Tuitama takes care of the football, and if Nic Grigsby holds on to the rock, I like Arizona's chances. But can they limit the Beavers' rushing attack? That's the true key. It's also why I like Oregon State by 4.
Last week: 4-0 (straight-up), 4-0
This year: 25-4 (straight-up), 18-11 (ATS).
Last year: 26-10 (straight-up), 20-15-1 (ATS).
********** ********** **********
Troy Clardy hosts the Stanford Daily Update, airing every weekday at 7:30p on Cardinal Sports Network flagship radio station KTRB (860 AM) in San Francisco, and available in podcast form at gostanford.com.
Clardy's Corner appears Wednesdays on TheBootleg.com. You can also check him out online at TroyClardy.com.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg ? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up )!