Over three decades later, Stanford football had already outlasted
Oregon in the rainy teeth of Autzen Stadium. That dramatic triumph,
sealed by the golden Jordan Williamson strike that created a
stunning juxtaposition of shocked silence and on-field delirium,
instantly became an iconic part of the program's lore.
But two games against a resurgent UCLA program still stood between
Stanford and the elusive Pac-12 championship trophy. The Bruins held
their ground after encounter number one, refusing to budge
after Stanford slapped them silly last week at the Rose Bowl, 35-17. As it
turns out, Jim Mora's boys were only digging in back then,
fortifying themselves to unleash hell in the Northern California
rain six days later.
Nothing Comes Easy - But It Comes Nonetheless
Sure, Stanford had slain the Oregon titan, but this title wouldn't
follow the model of Steve Young's 1995 Super Bowl cakewalk -- an
easy coronation after he finally overcame the Dallas Cowboys hump in
the NFC Championship Game. From the opening drive, it was evident
that UCLA had come for their money's worth. The Bruins were intent
on blocking Stanford's march toward the Rose Bowl's gridiron
grandeur more arduously than any previous opponent in the Cardinal's
magical November resurgence.
But the Farm Boys would not be denied their key back to UCLA's home
fortress in Pasadena. Bruins' stud Johnathan Franklin gashed their
nation-best rushing defense for 194 yards on the ground -- all to no
avail. Freshman Brett Hundley unleashed the dual-threat sensation
that had crippled so many Stanford defenses of the past, but that
still wasn't enough for the Baby Blue. UCLA outgained Stanford by
over 100 yards, racked up nearly 10 yards per non-quarterback carry,
and controlled the game entering the fourth quarter. But when all
was said and done, no amount of opposing success could phase
David Shaw's squad. The group had winning embedded in its DNA
several weeks ahead of time.
This was, after all, the same ball club that had waltzed into Eugene
and secured victory against this generation's most feared offense,
despite being held scoreless for 10 straight possessions. It was
also the same team that had somehow, someway found a way to win
against a well-oiled Oregon State machine despite turning the ball
over four times.
With 2012 Stanford football, it's safe to throw statistics and
historical trends out the window. Focus on those grind-out wins
instead, the ones that started coming without fail after a chilly
Colorado afternoon one month ago, when Kevin Hogan assumed the
Cardinal quarterback position. At that moment, the club made the
leap from the state of solid to the territory of legendary.
Following Friday's 27-24 triumph over UCLA, Stanford is headed back
to the Rose Bowl, a rare destination foreign even to the likes of
Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck.
It was quickly clear that UCLA wasn't messing around. Over the
six-day hiatus, the Bruins morphed into a precision-driven machine,
one that resembled the Oregon teams that caused Stanford massive
headaches before this season. Derek Mason's Cardinal defense,
meanwhile, came out overaggressive, looking for a quick kill with
borderline suicide blitzes that included Terrence Brown's failed
This aggression played right into UCLA's gameplan, which emphasized
quick swing passes to neutralize Stanford pressure and lure the
defense out of position against Franklin's zone-blocked gashes up
the middle. A 51-yard sprint highlighted a startling eight-play,
85-yard touchdown drive to open the scoring.
But Hogan answered with steady composure. His 11-play, 69-yard
rebuttal featured a picture-perfect third down read keeper that went
for 13 yards and an excellent 33-yard check-down completion to
Stepfan Taylor. The score was knotted at a touchdown apiece. The
Bruins' offense, though, maintained its torrid pace, with Hundley running in another score from five yards out by the end of the first quarter.
Then came Stanford's emblematic play, the electrifying burst that
encapsulated the team's November knack for victory. With UCLA up
14-7, dominating statistically, and inside Cardinal territory, threatening to build a
two-possession lead, the Farm Boys
finally caught a break. Ricky Marvray's false start, one of seven
costly Bruin penalties, forced the visitors into their first
uncomfortable down-and-distance situation. On 2nd-and-16, the front
seven finally smelled blood, and, at long last, Ed Reynolds
again saw daylight.
He intercepted Hundley's pressured pass (and the momentum) along the
far sideline. He took his early Christmas present on a wild ride to
the end zone. Reynolds knifed through perplexed tacklers, broke
toward the middle of field and streaked to glory with the defining
play of the Cardinal's season. The officials robbed Reynolds of his
NCAA-record fourth pick-six by incorrectly ruling him down shy of
the end zone, but count it as an 81-yard touchdown in The Bootleg's
book -- a spectacular effort that also tied the NCAA single-season
record for interception return yards at 302 (except it technically
didn't, because the officials butchered the call a yard short).
Cal's Deltha O'Neal, who owns the threatened pick-six record,
immediately gloated about his good fortune on Twitter -- just as
Stepfan Taylor punched in the equalizing touchdown.
"Yeah, they got me," was Reynolds' light-hearted, smiling postgame
criticism. "But oh well."
No. 29's right: on a championship team featuring so many different
heroes, an individual record is indeed irrelevant. Touchdown or not,
his interception return put Stanford in position to win a title. The
Farm Boys were again afloat, still in the mix even after falling
behind 24-17 on another Franklin touchdown run.
In a see-saw battle of runs, it would take one more leap in Hogan's
maturation for Stanford to secure the last laugh. Like both Oregon
schools, the Bruins had found a way to stall No. 8 after a hot
start. Stanford drives were sputtering in the face of a disciplined
defensive scheme, one that capitalized on predictable
play-calling and would drop as many as eight men into coverage on
To win the biggest game of his young career, Hogan the athlete would
have to become Hogan the passer. He'd have to find a way to dissect
what had been impenetrable Bruins' zone coverage downfield, and he'd
have to do it against the long odds of 3rd-and-15. Drew Terrell, the
zone buster of four critical catches for 70 yards, stepped up to the
challenge on Pep Hamilton's aggressive four verticals play-call.
When the Bruins brought safety help to the middle of the field to
assist with Zach Ertz, the streaking Terrell bolted for the vacated
back corner of the end zone. In a defining moment of quarterback
development, Hogan made the correct read, lofting a brilliant throw
over coverage into No. 4's waiting breadbasket. Terrell, whose
subsequent 18-yard punt return set up Williamson's winning field
goal, became one of the game's many heroes. All tied up.
Defense Secures Championship
Stanford's defense would not squander second life. UCLA outgained
the Cardinal 461-325 on the game, but the bulk of that production
came before Mason's adjustments kicked in. When push truly came to
shove, Usua Amanam's speed was used to curtail the Bruins' sideline
swing pass game, while Jordan Richards crept up to take away
dangerous tight end Joe Fauria (one catch, 17 yards) and the rest of
the Baby Blue's quick strike attack. That allowed the Cardinal to
stay at home against Franklin while daring Hundley to beat them over
the top. On a wet day, the freshman wasn't able to do that, and UCLA
came up empty in the fourth quarter after slicing like a hot knife
through butter during the previous three.
Offense wins games; defense wins championships. Modify that for this
contest: offense kept Stanford in the game, until the defense
figured it out and sealed the Pac-12 Championship.
Of course, there was an element of poetic justice in this one, too:
Williamson's two solid field goals provided the difference, while
Stanford actually clinched the title on Mora's curious decision to kick, as UCLA missed a 52-yard try in wet conditions.
The end 27-24 result was a sum of dozens of distinct efforts, a
fitting conclusion to an 11-2 team's spectacular season of growth,
development, and improvement.
It's time to party like it's 1999.
David Lombardi covers Stanford
sports for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. He can also be heard
on San Francisco's 95.7 The Game. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @davidmlombardi.
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