Posts Tagged ‘Blake Martinez’

Bad-Ugly-Good: Taking stock of 3-2 Stanford

October 14, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 14, 2016

A few weeks ago, I was chatting with an acquaintance who was munching on some roughage — I believe it may have been celery. When a bit of food went down the wrong way, she started coughing and excused herself to walk around the corner to the water fountain. As the coughing persisted, a clerk came to me and asked if my acquaintance was OK. I said I thought she would be.

But as my acquaintance continued to cough, the clerk walked over to aid her. I also became alarmed and followed the clerk over. At my acquaintance’s insistence, the clerk thumped her on the back, thus restoring some natural order to her windpipe.

It was a minor incident, but afterward I found my nerves on edge and my eyes somewhat teary. Death had not made an impact on my life that day, but it had come far too close for comfort.

My acquaintance and I talked a bit about how it’s important to savor every moment, especially the good times, because you never know when your life is going to change permanently. And after the Stanford football team sustained its second ugly defeat in a row, I’ve tried to keep that lesson in mind. Don’t take the good times for granted, friends, because you’ll need them to buoy your faith during the bad times.

With that in mind, here’s my second edition of B-U-G — that’s bad, ugly and good — for Stanford football.

• The Bad

Last week, when the Cardinal fell to 3-1 overall and 2-1 in Pac-12 play following the 44-6 defeat at Washington, I categorized the North Division title chase as The Ugly. This week, now that the Cardinal has fallen to 3-2 and 2-2 following a rout at home by Washington State, the division standings have been downgraded.

I struggled after the UW loss to find a scenario in which Stanford might advance to the Pac-12 championship game — a situation that necessitated the Huskies sustaining at least two conference losses. Now that both Washington schools own wins over the Cardinal, the Cardinal can kiss its chances of repeating as conference champions goodbye. And unless the Cardinal pulls itself together and runs off seven straight wins, which is possible but certainly not likely given how badly the squad has played in the past two contests, the team’s chances of getting a berth in a prestigious bowl are probably shot.

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The Cardinal rules, 45-16, in a Rose Bowl romp

January 2, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 2, 2016

One of the greatest seasons in Stanford football history ended on Jan. 1, 2016, with a resounding victory in the most hallowed of all college football venues — the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

The Cardinal demolished the Big Ten’s runner-up, the Iowa Hawkeyes, with a 45-16 steamrolling of the type that most Pac-12 teams came to know well in 2015. During the game, Christian McCaffrey set several Rose Bowl records and made a significant fraction of Hawkeyes defenders and Heisman Trophy voters look foolish.

The night before the Rose Bowl, Heisman winner Derrick Henry finished Alabama’s 38-0 embarrassment of the Big Ten champion Michigan State Spartans with 20 rushes for 75 yards (3.8 yards per carry) and one catch for minus-two yards.

McCaffrey outdid Henry with his first touch of the game. On the 102nd Rose Bowl’s initial play from scrimmage, Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan threw McCaffrey a short pass in the flat that the super sophomore took to the house for a 75-yard touchdown reception. McCaffrey went on to amass 172 yards on 18 carries (9.6 yards per cary) and 105 yards receiving on four catches.

McCaffrey also got two opportunities on special teams — a 28-yard kickoff return and a 63-yard punt return for a touchdown that put the Cardinal ahead, 28-0, early in the second quarter. Add it all up and the 2015 Heisman Trophy runner-up finished the day with 368 all-purpose yards. Not only was that good for a Rose Bowl record, it made for the fourth-highest total of any bowl game in the history of college football.

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2015 Pac-12 football championship recap: Two teams played; the better team prevailed.

December 9, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 9, 2015

In every good action movie, there’s a part, often around the halfway or two-thirds mark, where the hero is given cause to think that she or he might be overmatched.

During Saturday night’s Pac-12 championship game between the USC and Stanford football teams, that part came, on cue, in a sequence that began in the second period and lasted until late in the third quarter.

The Cardinal entered the second period with a 3-0 lead and would add to it immediately. Everybody’s All-Everything, Christian McCaffrey, lined up on the left flank. On the first snap of the quarter, quarterback Kevin Hogan pitched right to Barry Sanders, who was lined up at tailback. As McCaffrey raced around the formation, Hogan — who was completely ignored by outside linebacker Scott Felix — stepped to his right and made his way past the line of scrimmage. Sanders made a short lateral to McCaffrey, who set his feet and lobbed a soft throw to an unguarded Hogan on the right side. The 11-yard touchdown was McCaffrey’s second scoring pass of the year.

The Cardinal defense forced a Trojans punt after just three plays, and McCaffrey went back to work right away with a 50-yard run on the first play of the new series, bringing the ball to the USC 15-yard line. Stanford would end up having third and goal at the 1-yard line, but Remound Wright was stuffed by Anthony Sarao. After a delay-of-game penalty, the Cardinal called in Conrad Ukropina to kick his second field goal of the night.

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Fantastic finishes for Hogan, Cajuste, Ukropina and co. send Irish hopes tumbling: Stanford beats Notre Dame, 38-36

December 2, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 2, 2015

After Conrad Ukropina’s 45-yard kick sailed through the uprights as time expired to give the Stanford football team a dramatic 38-36 victory over Notre Dame on Saturday night, I tweeted about it. Then I raised my hands triumph and ran around the sports bar where I’d been watching the game.

I’d heard a small group of fans cheering on Stanford. I headed their way to exchange high-fives and fist bumps with the men at the table. I lay on the floor and stared at the ceiling, pretending to clutch at my chest. As I tweeted, “I didn’t actually have chest pains — thank goodness. It was just, you know, cardiac Cardinal.”

Saturday night’s finish made for one of the most dramatic in Stanford history. What’s more, it came in a matchup of top-10 teams: The hosts were ranked ninth by the College Football Playoff selection committee, the visitors sixth.

I know what happened in the game, but I have a confession: I still don’t understand exactly why the outcome came to be. Suffice to say that it was an amazing game.

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Ducks by a nose: Oregon nabs 38-36 road victory over Stanford in a game where small things made a huge difference

November 17, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 17, 2015

When thinking about a football game, and especially the reasons why it turned out the way it did, it’s tempting to focus on big things.

For example, in contemplating Stanford’s heartbreaking 38-36 home loss to Oregon Saturday night, the mind is naturally drawn to things like Royce Freeman’s 49-yard rush on the Ducks’ second play of the game, which set up a touchdown; or Charles Nelson’s 75-yard rush on the Ducks’ second possession, a one-play drive that put the Ducks up by 14-10; or Darren Carrington’s 47-yard touchdown reception that gave the visitors a one-point advantage, 21-20; or Vernon Adams Jr.’s 33-yard pass to Evans Baylis on the first play from scrimmage in the second half, which instantly put the host team back on its heels; or Taj Griffin’s 49-yard touchdown reception from Adams at the close of the third quarter, which gave the visitors a 35-23 lead.

But I would posit that the outcome came down to three much less flashy or dramatic plays — one in the third quarter, two in the fourth quarter.

In the first of these, a Stanford special-teamer failed to execute a difficult but nonetheless relatively routine play successfully. In the second of the decisive trio of plays, Stanford’s center and quarterback failed to conduct a successful exchange, perhaps the single most fundamental action in the sport of football. And in the final such play, an Oregon defensive back managed to deflect a Cardinal pass — not by a lot, but by just enough to secure the outcome of the game.

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Boulder surmounted: Stanford clobbers Colorado on the road, 42-10

November 14, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 14, 2015

Once the carnage in Boulder ended Saturday, with the Cardinal football team earning a 42-10 victory in its final road contest of the regular season, the postgame scene played out much as it normally does. After the coaches and their teams shook hands, and after the Stanford players congratulated one another, they gathered in front of the visitors section and sang the university’s alma mater.

What happened next, however, was rather…unusual.

A few Stanford fans high up in the stands began a chant. “Six more games!” they cried. “Six more games!”

I furrowed my brow: The only games left in the regular season are Oregon tonight, Cal in the Big Game on Nov. 21 and Notre Dame on the 28th. A visit to the Pac-12 championship game, which is not yet guaranteed, would bring the total to four games. But college football teams play only one postseason game…

…usually. That’s when it hit me: These fans were cheering for Stanford to make the College Football Playoff, win its semifinal game and advance to the national championship game. Four plus two equals…

I laughed. Then I joined in with the handful of people yelling “Six more games!” And then I tweeted about it.

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Fright night: Stanford vs. Washington State and the second-half squeaker

November 3, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 3, 2015

I continue recapping Stanford’s 30-28 victory at Washington State on Saturday night. We pick up early in the third quarter, right after the hosts took a 15-3 lead on kicker Erik Powell’s fifth (!) field goal of the evening.

Coach David Shaw’s team hadn’t trailed an opponent since game 3 against USC; they hadn’t previously been losing by this large a margin to that point in 2015. Fans watching the game surely worried that the offense wouldn’t be able to respond, especially since both the passing and ground attacks had been feeble at best.

But Kevin Hogan and comrades responded in inspiring fashion, as the veteran quarterback connected with freshman speedster Bryce Love for a 14-yard gain on the offensive unit’s initial play in the second half. Two plays later, on third and 6 from the Washington State 41-yard line, Hogan faked a pitchout to Christian McCaffrey going left before bursting up the middle and sprinting for the goal line. Only a desperation diving try by cornerback Marcellus Pippins prevented a touchdown. The 39-yard run was the longest of Hogan’s career.

Shaw and offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren turned next to — say it with me, Cardinal true believers! — fifth-year running back Remound Wright on goal to go from the 2. He was stifled on his first rush, but on second down, Wright went over the top for the touchdown. Suddenly, Stanford’s deficit was a much more manageable 15-10.

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Fright night: Stanford vs. Washington State and a hellish Halloween-evening half

November 3, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 3, 2015

On Oct. 24, Stanford hosted Washington and notched a relatively modest 31-14 win to close out a three-game home stand. One week later, the Cardinal took to the road and visited Pullman, Wash., — probably the remotest outpost in the Pac-12 Conference — for what proved to be an extremely frightening 30-28 tussle.

True, the Cardinal emerged the victor, but only after converting just four of 13 third-down tries, and only after surviving a second quarter in which the offense accumulated a paltry 25 yards, and only after enduring a first half that ended with Washington State taking a 12-3 lead… and only after the Cougars’ Erik Powell, who had booted five field goals, sliced a kick wide right as time expired — his sole misfire of the evening.

Incidentally, this marked the first time Stanford had won a football game on Oct. 31 since 1970, considerably before I was born.

On a Halloween night when the Stanford offensive unit spent much of its time mimicking its largely ineffective 2014 self, the defense mounted a decent imitation of the stellar crew that throttled the life out of opponents throughout last season. The Cougars were just 2-14 on third downs, and while they scored in all seven of their visits to the red zone, Wazzu managed just a pair of touchdowns while playing before a fired-up home crowd.

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Five victories and still going strong: Stanford keeps rivalry streak intact with 38-17 triumph over Cal in the 117th Big Game

November 24, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 24, 2014

Big Game’s luster has dwindled somewhat in recent years. Stanford walloped Cal in their 2013 meeting, 63-13; the 50-point thrashing was the largest point differential in Big Game history. It was the Cardinal’s fourth consecutive Big Game triumph; only one of those contests, Stanford’s 31-28 win in 2011, was closer than 18 points. In each of those four years, the Cardinal went on to enjoy 11 or 12 total victories.

If the 2014 matchup wasn’t quite as glamorous as it has been in past year, there were circumstances that added an element of intrigue to Saturday’s contest. The teams entered the 117th Big Game on much more even footing than of late; both sported 5-5 overall records.

But in most other ways, the teams were mirror images of one another. A 5-5 win-loss tally represented a come-up for Cal, which won only a single game in 2013; for Stanford, which finished last year 11-3 with a Rose Bowl berth, that record was a definite let-down. Cal has a prolific offense and a terrible defense; going into Saturday, Stanford’s scoring defense was ranked seventh nationally (16.5 points per game), but its offense was relatively anemic.

On Saturday afternoon in Berkeley, Stanford took a 17-point lead into the locker room at halftime — yet the game could easily have gone differently.

The visitors in white jumped out to a 10-0 lead thanks to a short Remound Wright touchdown run and Jordan Williamson’s 24-yard field goal. But on its second possession, Cal drove the length of the field and seemed poised to score.

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