A game worthy of deciding a championship
Published: Friday, November 30, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 30, 2012 at 11:16 p.m.
There was something redundant about the Pac-12 championship game. Stanford defeated UCLA for the second time in six days, which proves the Cardinal are better than the Bruins. It is not clear if they will play each other next week.
The prize for beating the plucky Bruins, 27-24, is a trip to the Rose Bowl, the Cardinals’ first trip to the Promised Land since 2000. All of this makes you think the Bruins are a bunch of stooges. But that wasn’t the case. They played beautifully and made the Cardinal sweat. UCLA showed no respect for Stanford’s passing game. The Bruins loaded the box to stop Stepfan Taylor’s running, and dared quarterback Kevin Hogan to throw. For most of the game, Hogan wasn’t a good thrower, and that meant the Stanford run game was no big deal. In my notebook I wrote, “Hogan vanished.”
But something interesting happened early in the fourth quarter with Stanford trailing by seven points. On third-and-15 from the Bruins’ 26, Hogan bought time in the pocket. Stanford had four receivers running vertical and a safety-valve receiver running a crossing pattern. Hogan kept moving and he kept looking.
At the very last instant, he spotted receiver Drew Terrell in the right side of the end zone and threw a lovely pass, a high, accurate, perfect pass, and Terrell caught it with a defender all over him. And the Cardinal tied the game, and that changed everything.
On their next offensive series, Hogan led the Cardinal to a field goal and the deciding three-point lead. After that he kept driving the offense and mostly kept the Bruins’ offense off the field, and you realized, yet again that, despite inexperience, this young quarterback is very good and so is Stanford.
They named Hogan Most Valuable Player in the game — he is 4-0 as a starter. He was MVP even though his statistics were modest. He was MVP because of that pass to Terrell, a game-changer at the most desperate moment. A pass like that makes a quarterback the MVP.
The mere fact of winning this tough, hard-hitting game gives Stanford credit. And maybe it gives the Pac-12 credit, or at least gets it off the hook for being redundant. This game really was worthy of deciding a championship.
Afterward, Stanford coach David Shaw reminded the media, “We (the team) talked about how this game wouldn’t be easy. We talked about how we were going to get Notre Dame’s, I mean UCLA’s best shot. (He really did say Notre Dame — maybe he was over-excited and lost track of reality.) Were we going to be smart enough at the end to make just enough big plays? And we did just that.”
Let’s talk about Shaw. Aside from momentarily losing track of the opponent, he has done a marvelous job at Stanford. Jim Harbaugh gets credit for bringing back Stanford. But Shaw has maintained Stanford football at the highest level, coached at the highest level. This season, he did it with a redshirt quarterback he belatedly pressed into service. And he did it without Andrew Luck.
Many people felt Shaw would flop without Luck, that he would be out of Luck or Luckless. Take your pick. After the game, he didn’t seem to miss Luck. The Cardinal wanted “to prove they are not a one-man organization,” he said. They proved it.
Shaw is a charming man — he brought his young children to the postgame news conference. He usually has a warm smile on his face — the smile is his default facial expression.
Please allow me this observation. Harbaugh was an excellent Stanford coach, but he thinks like a pro coach and acts like a pro coach for better and worse. Shaw, who attended Stanford, is more appropriate to coach this special football team at this special university.
I want to remind you of something I’ve written before. Before he died, Bill Walsh would call me to get things off his chest. I wasn’t the only one he spoke to, don’t get me wrong. I got the feeling he was clearing accounts. One time he phoned, his voice strident, full of emotion, and he told me Stanford should leave the Pac-10. (The Pac-12 used to be the Pac-10 — it keeps expanding.)
I told him his idea surprised me. After all, he had twice been Stanford’s head coach and he had won bowl games there and he used Stanford as a springboard to become the iconic Bill Walsh of the 49ers. He should believe in Stanford.
I asked why Stanford should drop out. And he said — I’ll never forget this — the admission standards at Stanford are way too high and it would be impossible going forward to field a good football team.
I believed him because he was Bill Walsh.
I guess he was wrong. You were wrong, Bill.
Stanford is the Pac-12 champion in football. In the last three seasons, Stanford has won 11 or more games. Stanford is going to the Rose Bowl — it really is. Stanford, with its high admission standards, is one of the best football programs in the country.
Shaw played for Walsh at Stanford. I imagine Walsh would feel proud of Shaw. I imagine he wouldn’t mind being wrong about Stanford.
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