Amazingly enough, perhaps the most important quote concerning this past weekend's game was actually said on August 28…
"We have got to finish games. We had an opportunity to finish a couple of games last year, but we didn't finish them in the fourth quarter. Offensively, defensively, or on special teams. The good teams in the nation consistently finish games in the fourth quarter. They finish the first half, and they finish the second half. We want to be one of those teams."
- Stanford offensive coordinator David Shaw
That was Coach Shaw's response to my question about his goals for Stanford Football this year. Fast forward two weeks to Winston-Salem. Early on, the Card had all the right answers. Except for a handful of snaps, QB Andrew Luck and the offense looked crisp. The defense struggled, but at least they got off the field at critical times. And special teams finished with Nate Whitaker's kiss over the crossbar. It was one of the best first halves I've seen since "Full Metal Jacket."
Obviously, we all know what happened next.
Even Appalachian State's failure to finish cost them a ballgame. With no Notre Dame-Michigan on the radio dial in Winston-Salem, I listened to the Mountaineers' game against McNeese State all the way on the drive back to Raleigh.
Not only did Appalachian State's defense allow a 16-play, 95-yard drive for a fourth-quarter, go-ahead touchdown for McNeese State, they followed that up by negating their offense's game-tying drive and letting McNeese State drive to the two-yard line before kicking the game-winning field goal with 18 seconds left. It was actually pretty incredible to listen to.
(By the way, amazingly enough, Appalachian State actually has a decent radio network. I had to switch to a different station just outside of Durham, but still heard the game loud and clear. I was shocked by how strong the Mountaineers radio network is. Just saying…)
If you don't finish, you don't win. It really is that simple. Stanford had that lesson reinforced in gut-punching fashion last week.
"Would you like another sweet tea, hon?"
- Wake Forest press box attendant
Two clear indications that you're in The South: the sweet iced tea always flows freely, and every single female calls you "hon", "sweetie", or some other variation. I have zero problem with either of those things.
Anyway, for the record, after conducting extensive research on this (nine glasses during the game), I can tell you that the sweet iced tea at the BB&T Field press box is some of the best stuff on Earth. Wow. Damone from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" would have been impressed.
"Hey, we're still in first place in the Pac-10!"
- a Stanford fan I met in the Atlanta airport on Sunday morning
While waiting for my flight out of Raleigh-Durham on Sunday morning, I noticed a Stanford sweatshirt-clad high schooler and his dad sitting in our boarding area. When our plane landed in Atlanta, the three of us ended up walking up the jetway together. They had gone to the game and were flying back to the Bay Area.
We fretted about the Stanford defense, condemned the bogus clipping call against Chris Marinelli that proved to be a cruel and crucial turning point, and compared notes on some of Saturday's other results in the Pac-10. That's when the youngster offered up his reminder of the Cardinal's standing in the conference right now.
Maybe he was joking, at least partially. Maybe it was genuine youthful optimism. But the kid had a point. What really, really, really matters is what happens in the Pac-10. Ask the 1999 Stanford Football team for their thoughts on this.
Me: "So, this aside, how's life?"
Stanford official (sighing): "Troy, right now there is no ‘this aside.'"
- Postgame conversation with a Stanford official
Well, then. Need further proof of how disappointing that loss was, especially to those within the program? That's it right there. I might as well have asked Mary Todd Lincoln if she liked the play.
Stanford's game against Wake Forest was a pivotal one for many reasons. It was a chance to go toe-to-toe with an ACC foe. It was a chance to play in The South, which is critical for recruiting. And it was a measuring-stick game that could have potentially revealed many answers for this team going forward.
Luck made some throws and some decisions that a redshirt freshman shouldn't have the experience or the ability to make. I'm sure he'll still have some "learning curve" games where he struggles, but with Luck taking snaps, this Stanford offense is going to be a force to be reckoned with in the years to come.
Unfortunately, that second half showed us a nasty vision of Stanford's recent past and apparent present. The inability to come up with the one big play it needs most. The lack of depth to truly overcome injuries and combat a hostile environment. And, worst of all, inconsistency.
In thirty minutes, we saw how far Stanford has come. And in thirty minutes, we also saw how far the Card may have yet to go. Those things aside, Stanford needs to take those lessons it learned at Wake Forest and apply them to San Jose State in convincing fashion.
But don't quote me on that.
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RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
It was great to meet some of you before the game! Major props to the Stanford folks who represented and made the road trip to Winston-Salem… and looking forward to meeting more of you at the Arizona State game on The Farm next month!
Stanford's playcalling in the first half was totally on point, nearly from start to finish. I loved watching this team use shifts, various formations and personnel groupings, and, above all, tempo to keep Wake off-balance. That was fun to watch, and I suspect that when this offense is running at peak efficiency, that's what it looks like. [Editor's note: Forgot to mention this in my piece, but I agree totally. The first drive in particular was a thing of beauty. DN] …
Hearing "Here's To Wake Forest" before the game live and in person was absolutely awesome. Hearing it from about the middle of the fourth quarter on made me want to puke…
As I type this, I'm flying back to Connecticut from Oklahoma City, and there's no question about it: the Sooners own that state. Everywhere I went (the airport, the store, my Dad's neighborhood, biking around Lake Hefner), there were multiple sightings of people wearing some kind of Sooners gear. It makes me wonder what they would think about the uproar that seems to happen whenever Stanford changes (or doesn't change) a kickoff time…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… wow, it looks like it's back to the drawing board for Mike Gundy and his crew in Stillwater…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… our Score of The Week: Stephen F. Austin 92, Texas College 0…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… the Premature Celebration Award goes to San Jose State fans, who started their "overrated" chant with the game tied at 7 and 11:46 left in the second quarter…
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CLARDY'S CORNER INBOX
Thanks for everyone's suggestions on spots to check out U$C-Ohio State in Raleigh-Durham last week! The winner: my hotel room. Although I was extremely intrigued by Bob from parts unknown's suggestion of the Angus Barn, I have to admit that after the result in Winston-Salem, I wasn't in much of a social mood!
Agree with this Corner? Disagree? Got something else on your mind? Drop me a line at my Scout.com inbox (username: troyc) or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The best e-mails will be answered in next week's Clardy's Corner Inbox!
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It's our first crack at picking conference games for the year. And as you know, these picks are for entertainment purposes only! Let's start with a big, big game…
U$C @ Washington. Taylor Mays might play. Matt Barkley might not. Tough to go on the road with your go-to guys already banged up. Oh, and that Steve Sarkisian guy might know a thing or two about the Trojans. Do I have the guts to pick the upset? Do I? Not quite. But this won't be easy for the Trojans. I like U$C by 6.
Last year: 30-6 (straight-up), 24-12 (ATS).
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Troy Clardy hosts the Stanford Daily Update, airing every weekday at 7:30 p.m. on Cardinal Sports Network flagship radio station XTRA Sports 860 in San Francisco, and available in podcast form at gostanford.com and on iTunes.
Clardy's Corner appears Wednesdays on TheBootleg.com. You can also check him out online at TroyClardy.com.
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