"The Report Card-inal": Stanford 45, ND 38

Stanford finished the 2009 campaign with a rousing come-back victory in its final regular season game and is now preparing for a post-season appearance. Thanks to the team's fourth quarter heroics, Dave Fowkes was able to go light on the red pencil this week, as the Cardinal passed its final exam with flying colors. On to earning extra credit and national exposure in a well-deserved bowl game!

"The Report Card-inal": Stanford 45, Notre Dame 38

Editor's Note: The following commentary offers the author's personal views of the on-field performances of some of Stanford University's exceptional student-athletes. In no way should constructively-intended criticism be deemed as a lack of respect or admiration for our players' obvious desire, dedication, sacrifice and commitment. The views expressed below do not reflect necessarily those of Bootleg management, Major Upset Productions, the Scout Network, Fox Sports, News Corp or Coach Harbaugh.     

Some would say that the best way to end the season would be a 58-0 blowout of the Irish. Instead it was anything but easy, as Stanford managed to rally late and defeat Notre Dame in a 45-38 thriller. Rather than a blow-out, fans were treated to yet another outstanding college football game. Most importantly, the Stanford senior class walked off the home field for the last time with the win.



Rarely does this part of the Stanford game earn anything but an "A". As expected, the running game was back to firing on all cylinders. For the third time this season Heisman hopeful Toby Gerhart crossed the 200-yard mark. 29 carries for 205 yards and three touchdowns for Toby. Not a bad day. The coaching staff clearly went to school on the Cal game and ran more plays to the outside than they had all year long. While it was not always successful, it set sit things up nicely for the inside game in the deciding fourth quarter. Once again in crunch time, the boys up front just plowed through the opposing defense giving plenty of space for Gerhart, who doesn't need much, to run. The offensive line's blocking was excellent, but in the fourth quarter as the Irish wore down, it was nothing short of outstanding. I am also pretty sure that there is a linebacker in South Bend right now that has the number "48" tattooed on his chest. Owen Marecic was even better than he normally is with his lead blocking in the middle of the trap. Often the scheme was designed for Marecic to go man-to-man with a middle linebacker. He never lost that battle on Saturday, and twice he even blocked two guys at once. The run game was again brilliant for the Cardinal.



Again the passing game took a little bit of a back seat to Toby Gerhart's heroics. But when called upon, Andrew Luck & his receivers came through. Luck was a "mere" 14 of 20 for 198 yards. Pedestrian stats to outside observers, but to those who watched the game, they were huge stats. He made a number of big third-down conversions through the air. Some of his passes were perfectly-placed throws. That were in spots few collegians could put the ball. In some cases they were passes that required finger-tip catches, but any other spot would have been deflected or overthrown. Luck was "on fire" for much of the night. The receivers responded. Ryan Whalen (#8) was amazing. His sideline catch of a Luck throw was text book. And let's not forget the game-tying touchdown when he fought through interference to dig Gerhart's pass off the ground. TE Jim Dray (#83) may have jumped two rounds in the draft on his night. His normally terrific blocking was augmented by two clutch receptions, one of them made with his finger tips. Coby Fleener (#82) had a really nice day as with a key four receptions. The offensive line was again solid in giving Luck time to throw, and space to run when he needed to use his legs.



The run defense was okay. The Notre Dame offense was relying far more on its passing attack. The offense averaged 4.3 yards per carry, although that number is somewhat deflated due to the sack total. Notre Dame had a few nice runs but they never really broke any big plays (that did not include Golden Tate). Robert Hughes was the lead back with a solid 74 yards on 13 carries with a long of 15 yards. Thomas Keiser (#94) and Chase Thomas (#93) each did a nice job of keeping contain on the edge. Shayne Skov (#11) was very good again at linebacker, making the most critical stop of the game. Delano Howell (#26) was outstanding in supporting the run from his strong safety position. Overall the unit was adequate and, for the most part, got the job done.



I am sure many will argue with this grade. The pass defense was not wonderful for much of the night. But I bump it up to a "C" based on the final drive. With a minute to go and Notre Dame on the attack, I am sure many Cardinal faithful saw a game-tying touchdown coming. But the Cardinal generated a pass rush with sacks from Keiser and Thomas. Nickel back Michael Thomas (#3) did a great job of knocking down the desperate "Hail Mary" throw at the end. It may not have been pretty but Stanford shut out Notre Dame over the last 12:56 of the game. As for the first three quarters, sophomore Johnson Bademosi (#27) clearly struggled. He is certainly not the first to do so against the immensely-talented Golden Tate who ended with 201 yards receiving and three touchdowns. Senior Richard Sherman (#9) showed good tackling ability, when he was in position. The pass rush was not there on a consistent basis. Jimmy Clausen with time to throw is dangerous, and he showed that for most of the night.



We'll start with the obvious. Notre Dame transfer Nate Whitaker (#39) made all three of his field goal attempts. Now the not-so-obvious - Whitaker's kick-offs are nothing short of outstanding. His accuracy on his kicks is amazing. Every kick lands somewhere between the goal line and the 10-yard line, but in the same spot in the corner of the field. It allows the Stanford coverage team to only cover half of the field. It makes you wonder why more kickers don't do this? My guess, not every kicker can be relied on to get the ball to the exact mark without kicking it out of bounds. The field position battle was again dominated by Stanford who never let an Irish return get past the 30-yard line. Meanwhile, Notre Dame's fear of Chris Owusu (#81) led to the the Irish kicking short. Stanford started inside their 35-yard line just once.



The Cardinal had a winning game plan. It did not always work early on, but the coaches stuck with it. The outside run emphasis early in the game was a very nice adjustment from last week. Then at halftime Stanford came out and brought back the physical game. The 4th & 4 call with Gerhart throwing a touchdown pass to Ryan Whalen was pure genius. I am pretty sure nobody saw that one coming, I know I certainly did not.



Obviously Notre Dame moved the ball and scored, but we knew that would happen going in. Anyone who did not enjoy watching that football game Saturday night needs to find another sport. That was just flat-out a highly entertaining game. And in the end, the Cardinal would emerge victorious. It was a come-from-behind win, the first for Stanford this year, a learning experience that should pay dividends next year. But for now, it was just so satisfying to see the senior class walk off the Stanford Stadium field in triumph, being congratulated by long-supportive family, friends and fans. The Stanford seniors came to the Farm in what will be remembered as some pretty dark and dreary years for Stanford Football. As they leave Stanford they can always take with them the great turnaround they helped engineer for the Cardinal, having left what we hope will be a lasting legacy. In a final month that everyone thought would be brutal for the Cardinal, Stanford ended up going 3-1 beating Oregon, USC and Notre Dame in November. What a great way to end it for some really good football players, and some really great people.




Offense:  Toby Gerhart.  Shocking, I know. Honorable mention to the entire offensive line, Luck and Whalen.

Defense: Thomas Keiser.  Honorable mention to Howell and Chase Thomas.

Special Teams:  Nate Whitaker.

Dave Fowkes is a longtime Stanford Cardinal fan, who is finally seeing his loyalty pay some serious dividends. Born at Stanford hospital and raised on the Peninsula, he has been a football season ticket holder since 1981. In that span he has only missed three home games, but of course never a Big Game. Dave currently works in media both on the air and behind the scenes in advertising sales. He has covered sports on and off since 1992. Currently he works as a traffic, news and sports man on several Bay Area radio stations under a few different on-air aliases. Dave blends the passion of being a fan with the perspective of being a reporter in his stories. For more Stanford football coverage by Dave Fowkes, you can read the "Stanford Football Examiner" at www.stanfordfootballreport.com  

Do you have a "premium" subscription to The Bootleg? If not, then you are seriously missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest, baddest  and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)! At The Bootleg, "WE WRITE!"

The Bootleg Top Stories