A friendly crowd, an untimely Stanford injury and, mostly, a ferocious rush defense propelled No. 9 Nebraska to its winningest season since the Tom Osborne era, with the Huskers claiming a 23-14 Alamo Bowl victory.
Despite the loss, Stanford (9-4) finished with as many wins in any season since 1992, when the Cardinal went 10-3 under legendary coach Bill Walsh. And the 2010 Cardinal looked on their way to matching their 1992 record – and a postseason Top 25 ranking for the first time in a decade – until an injury and a drop turned the game.
"Today stinks, but let's not lose sight of the big picture," Jim Harbaugh said postgame. "Chris is going to be just fine, and this was one great season for Stanford football. I'm coming back next year, I'll say it right now, and we're looking forward to taking another step forward then."
Stanford led 14-10 at halftime and 14-13 after three quarters, but the Cardinal could only hold off the Huskers for so long after losing Chris Owusu for the game with an apparent leg injury in the late-second. Though Owusu didn't score himself, both of the Card's touchdowns came with him on the field, and on a day when Stanford was only moving the ball through the air, his presence was sorely missed.
Still, Stanford did have one last scoring chance in the fourth quarter, but a wide-open Drew Terrell, playing in Owusu's stead, dropped a would-be 53-yard touchdown bomb from Luck with 5:23 to play.
"I feel awful about it," Terrell said. "I remember talking to Chris about a drop like that he had last year [at Oregon State], and he said it's almost hard when you're too open. I was already thinking about keeping my balance and sprinting all the way to the end zone, and I just forgot to make sure I had the ball first."
Stanford trailed 16-14 and would have therefore taken the lead with the touchdown, but instead the Cardinal turned over the ball on downs, and Nebraska's Dontrayevous Robinson punched in a game-clinching score from six yards out with 1:34 to play.
Stanford's defense acquitted itself relatively well on the afternoon, yielding touchdowns only on that late score and a Mike McNeill 25-yard pass from San Francisco native Zac Lee in the second. In fact, save for the last 1:34, Nebraska led by no more than three points at any time during the contest, but Stanford's offense simply could not do convert enough opportunities to firmly establish a lead.
The Cardinal ran for a season-low 61 yards on 24 carries, as a stout Nebraska rush defense that starred All-World tackle Ndamakung Suh last year and led the Huskers, pedestrian offense and all, to a top-ten finish this season, lived up to the billing. Try as they might, Stanford's vaunted offensive line, which looked downright invincible over the last two seasons, simply could not create enough creases against, arguably, the country's best front seven.
"The Pac-10 isn't some pass-happy conference where no one plays defense, and I really get upset when people think it is, but I have never in my college career seen a front seven like that," guard David DeCastro said. "I can see why they absolutely shut down Arizona this time last year [33-0 in the Holiday Bowl]. I want to play at the next level though, so going against guys like today is great practice."
Still, with a healthy Owusu in the first half, Stanford moved the ball well through the air, as Andrew Luck combined precision passing and a key third-down scramble to march the Cardinal to the Nebraska five with seven minutes left in the first half. There, a Stepfan Taylor draw surprised the Huskers, and Taylor, playing in front of his home-state friends and family, had the game's first score from five yards out.
Nebraska rebounded with an Alex Henery field goal – his first of three on the afternoon – and the McNeill touchdown to jump ahead 10-7 with 1:09 left in the half, but then Stanford ran the two-minute drill to perfection – and in half the time. A strong kick return shorted the field, two Luck first-down throws shortened the field further, and then a 39-yard touchdown strike to Jamal-Rashard Patterson with 20 seconds left in the half gave the Cardinal its four-point halftime lead.
A Stanford goalline stand at the end of the third forced Nebraska to settle for another Henery field goal, and Henery's final field goal of the contest, with 6:25 remaining, put the Huskers up 16-14, setting up Terrell's costly drop and Robinson's clinching touchdown.
TD Stan: S. Taylor 5-yd run, 6:56 left. Stanford 7, Nebraska 0.
FG Neb: A. Henery, 46-yd FG, 2:38 left. Stanford 7, Nebraska 3.
TD Neb: M. McNeill, 25-yd pass from Z. Lee, 1:09 left. Nebraska 10, Stanford 7.
TD Stan: J. Patterson 39-yd pass from A. Luck, 0:20 left. Stanford 14, Nebraska 10.
FG Neb: A. Henery, 19-yd FG, 0:02 left. Stanford 14, Nebraska 13.
FG Neb: A. Henery, 40-yd FG, 6:25 left. Nebraska 16, Stanford 14.
TD Neb: D. Robinson 6-yd run, 1:34 left. Nebraska 23, Stanford 14.
|Third down conversions||5-12||4-10|
Key Stanford player stats
QB Andrew Luck: 22-of-33 passing, 281 yards, 1 TD
WR Griff Whalen, Jamal Patterson, Levine Toilolo, Doug Baldwin: 40+ receiving yards apiece
CB Quinn Evans: 1 INT, 4 tackles, 2 PBU
@Stanford 35, Sacramento State 6
Stanford 22, @UCLA 16
Stanford 52, @Wake Forest 14
Stanford 30, @Notre Dame 27
@Oregon 16, Stanford 7
USC 31, @Stanford 7
@Stanford 36, Washington State 21
Stanford 21, @Washington 11
@Stanford 13, Arizona 3
@Arizona State 31, Stanford 28
Stanford 37, @Cal 10
Nebraska 24, Stanford 13 (Alamo)
Inspired by reading stories like this as a kid in the Michigan student newspaper on game days, the author hopes you enjoy reading this series every bit as much as he enjoys writing it. The 2010 season is being simulated on EA Sports NCAA 2011, with the author playing all Stanford games and simulating the rest in a dynasty mode.
All statistics, game summary, rankings, player news and out-of-town scores are reported unchanged from game simulation. (I.e. Don't call the author pessimistic if Stanford struggles. Call him bad at video games.)
Got any idea for future weeks, especially if they're funny? PM dannovi.
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