Posts Tagged ‘Michael Rector’

Bad-Ugly-Good: Taking stock of Stanford football at the close of the regular season

November 30, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 30, 2016

Stanford’s season finale against Rice was only the second game of 2016, following the team’s 52-27 win at Oregon that largely coincided with my Scrabble tournament, which I didn’t get to watch on television as it took place. Because the game was carried on the Pac-12 Network, and because many TV carriers don’t have the channel, it can be hard to find places that show Pac-12 programming.

Dish does carry the Pac-12 Network nationally — but which bars are Dish subscribers? Ultimately, because I wasn’t in my home territory of Durham, I didn’t find one.

• The Bad 

Although Stanford concluded the regular season on a five-game gave winning streak, which pushed its record to 9-3 overall and 6-3 in the Pac-12, the team had another less savory string going on in November: Three straight games in which the team was penalized either seven or eight times.

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Cardinal easily overwhelms Rice, 41-17, in post-Thanksgiving workout

November 28, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 28, 2016

The Stanford football team outran and outmuscled Rice on Saturday, outrushing the visiting Owls by more than 200 yards in a 41-17 victory to complete its 2016 regular season schedule.

The 9-3 Cardinal used the same formula that had served it so well throughout the squad’s five-game winning streak: A lot of Christian McCaffrey, now fully healthy, nicely complemented by unremarkable but largely reliable and mistake-free quarterback play from Keller Chryst, a strong performance from an increasingly confident offensive line, contributions from the rest of the offensive and special-teams units, and a suffocating effort by the defense.

The fact that Stanford was playing another team with an at-best mediocre offense (see also: Arizona and Oregon State) and a lousy defense (see also: Arizona, Oregon State, Oregon and Cal) played a pretty important part, too.

The Cardinal banked 20 points in the first half, scoring on four of six possessions, including a one-play, nine-second possession that closed out the second quarter. The Owls, meanwhile, didn’t cross midfield until the second quarter and scored only a field goal before intermission, and that on their final drive of the half. What’s more, Stanford’s defense engineered four three-and-outs by the visiting offense.

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Cardinal cruises at Oregon, 52-27

November 15, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 15, 2016

Should you happen to flip through the recent records of what is now the Pac-12 Conference, you’ll notice something interesting:

Although the league had 10 teams from 1978 through 2011, and now contains an even dozen universities in the American West, ownership of the football title has been somewhat streaky. The University of Spoiled — sorry, the University of Southern California — had a six-year run atop the conference spanning 2003 through 2008. Since then, however, the championship has belonged to one of two teams: either Stanford University or the University of Oregon.

The Ducks won the Pac-12 three years running, from 2009 through 2011, before yielding to the Cardinal the next two years. Oregon reclaimed its crown in 2014 but was shouldered aside by Stanford last year. Over this period, encounters between Stanford and Oregon were generally expected to have important implications for the state of conference — and in some years, for all of college football.

It became evident in early October that another team would be this year’s league champion. Stanford’s chances of winning the Northern Division were severely damaged by the blowout loss to Washington and essentially eliminated in the following week’s nearly-as-ugly blowout loss to Washington State. By that point, the Ducks were mired in what eventually became a five-game conference losing streak.

And so it was that on Saturday in Eugene, the 6-3 Cardinal was hosted by a 3-6 Ducks team that had managed to win but a single conference game. A clash of the titans this was not.

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Escape from South Bend: Stanford does just enough to snatch a 17-10 road victory over Notre Dame

October 20, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 20, 2016

Going into Stanford’s home game against Washington State, I had a sense of foreboding. A similarly dire feeling once again took hold of me ahead of the Stanford football team’s visit to Notre Dame.

True, the Fighting Irish had an unimpressive 2-4 record, having face-planted their way to a 10-3 loss at North Carolina State in their previous outing. But that game had taken place in a Raleigh that was waterlogged thanks to the outer bands of Hurricane Matthew; otherwise, the Irish had scored at least 28 points in all of its games. Since the Cardinal defense had allowed 86 points in the past two games, Notre Dame seemed to have an excellent chance of racking up touchdown after touchdown.

By contrast, 3-2 Stanford hadn’t scored more than 27 points this season and was averaging just 19.4 points a game. Would the Irish defense, which had surrendered 33 or more points in four of its games, be the cure for the Cardinal offense?

I had trouble being optimistic, especially when I arrived at a Stanford alumni watch party and saw on the television that the Cardinal’s all-world back, Christian McCaffrey, was not wearing football gear.

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WSU slices and dices foundering Stanford, 42-16

October 11, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 11, 2016

There were a number of encouraging omens for the Stanford football team entering Saturday night’s home contest against Washington State, despite the fact that the Cardinal was coming off of a crushing 44-6 road loss to the University of Washington.

Item: Stanford was tied with Alabama, Boise State, Clemson and Louisiana State for having the fewest home losses since 2010 — four apiece. The team hadn’t dropped an October contest at Stanford Stadium since 2007.

Item: Under head coach David Shaw, Stanford had a perfect 5-0 record against Washington State.

Item: Stanford had beaten WSU eight straight times, going back to 2008.

Item: Under Shaw, the Cardinal had won 13 times and lost just once in games following a loss.

Item: On Saturday Stanford broke out its all-black uniforms, which debuted in 2010, for only the eighth time in history. The team was undefeated when wearing these dark-hued duds, including a 41-22 win over USC in the 2015 Pac-12 championship game.

However, as San Francisco Chronicle sportswriter Tom Fitzgerald aptly observed before Saturday’s game, “past performance is no guarantee of future success.”

About 15 minutes after Fitzgerald’s tweet, I posted a tweet of my own that reflected my baseless yet increasing anxiety about the upcoming game:

Actually, my foreboding wasn’t entirely baseless. The Cardinal had been beaten, and beaten very badly, by the Washington Huskies in their previous game. In that contest, UW had played the kind of physical football that used to be a Stanford trademark. By contrast, Washington State had soundly defeated Oregon last week. The Cougars owned a two-game winning streak over the Ducks, which is something that even Stanford, the reigning conference champions, could not claim. And the Cardinal had injuries that would hold out several significant players.

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Stanford moves to 3-0 with two unlikely last-minute touchdowns against the Bruins

September 28, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Sept. 28, 2016

Late on Saturday night, matters were looking dire for the No. 7 Stanford football team.

The squad, playing in its first road game of the season, was trailing UCLA 13-9 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, having mustered just a trio of Conrad Ukropina field goals in more than three and a half quarters of play. After Ryan Burns scrambled for two yards on third down with three yards to go, head coach David Shaw and offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren had to decide whether or not to go for it on fourth and 1 at the team’s own 39-yard line.

The seconds ticked away; then the Cardinal used its first timeout, with 4:51 remaining in the game. Then Stanford punted, and fans of the team had to hope against hope that the Cardinal defense could stand fast against Bruins quarterback Josh Rosen and his potent attack.

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So USC came to town last Saturday night…

September 24, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Sept. 24, 2016

Given USC’s haughty college football legacy and Stanford’s modest one, Cardinal football fans have found themselves both surprised and gratified to be looking down on the Trojans in recent seasons. Last September, the Cardinal went to Los Angeles and upset the Trojans, 41-31. In December, the teams met again in the Pac-12 championship game, and after a tense third quarter, the Cardinal exploded to claim a 41-22 victory.

But as the disclaimers on the financial-management firm advertisements and prospectuses invariably state, past performance is no guarantee of future results. So when USC came to the Bay Area last Saturday for a game at Stanford Stadium, I was by no means confident in the outcome.

That held true early in the first quarter, when the Cardinal went three and out and Justin Davis opened USC’s initial possession by rushing for 30 yards on the first four plays. But immediately afterward, the Stanford defense asserted itself, holding Davis to a one-yard reception, stopping rusher Ronald Jones II behind the line of scrimmage and then tackling Jones short of the first-down marker on third and 20, which had been set up in part by a USC false start on second and 9.

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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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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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No upset Bruin: Stanford dismantles UCLA, 56-35, on national television

October 17, 2015

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

“I want to just run a big picture of Christian McCaffrey instead of a recap tomorrow,” Do-Hyoung Park, a Stanford student and sportswriter, tweeted late in the third quarter of the Cardinal football team’s 56-20 demolition of the visiting UCLA Bruins.

And why not? The super sophomore was only his regular extraordinary self during Thursday night’s game, which was broadcast to a national audience by ESPN. His 25 rushes went for a school-record 243 yards, easily cruising past the mark of 223 yards that Toby Gerhart set on 38 carries against Oregon in 2009. McCaffrey also tied a school record with four touchdowns, which had been done eight times previously in Stanford history. (The feat has now been accomplished on five occasions since Jim Harbaugh became Stanford’s head coach in 2007.)

McCaffrey’s 96-yard kickoff return set up the first of Kevin Hogan’s three touchdown passes, giving the Cardinal an early 14-3 lead on the Bruins. Add in a four-yard catch and a second kickoff return, this one for 26 yards, and all this spectacular athlete did was run up 369 all-purpose yards, the highest single-game total by any college player so far this year. His per-game average of 253 all-phases yards surpasses that of the runner-up, San Jose State’s Tyler Ervin, by 19 yards.

Incidentally, McCaffrey has now rushed for at least 100 yards in the past four games. Not so incidentally, the Cardinal has rushed for 300 or more yards in the past four games and scored at least 40 points during each of those outings.

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Cardinal flirts with perfection in 55-17 stomping of Arizona

October 8, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 8, 2015

In recapping Stanford’s 42-24 road win over Oregon State, I wrote that I thought the Cardinal offense “has yet to play at peak efficiency. If and when that time comes, it doesn’t matter who the opponent is — they’d better watch out.”

The University of Arizona football squad came to town on Saturday night, and they got steamrolled. The Cardinal scored 13 points in the first quarter, 14 points in the second quarter and 21 points (!!!) in the third quarter en route to a 55-17 walloping of the Wildcats.

This was the first time that the team had scored 40 or more points in three consecutive games since quarterback Andrew Luck and head coach Jim Harbaugh were helming the squad that went on to win the Orange Bowl. With 325 yards vs. the Beavers and 314 yards against the Wildcats, the Cardinal has recorded 300 or more rushing yards in consecutive games for the first time since 1981.

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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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Cardinal chronicle: ASU clobbers Stanford, 26-10, in demoralizing desert defeat

October 21, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 21, 2014

Let’s not mince words. The Stanford team’s 26-10 loss at Arizona State on Saturday night was a full-fledged disaster. Any sense of panic that Cardinal fans had after the demoralizing loss at Notre Dame is now running rampant.

There was, of course, a game sandwiched between those road losses — a 34-17 home victory over Washington State. But the pass-oriented Cougars boast one of the worst defenses in the Pac-12 conference, and everyone knew that Arizona State would pose a much stiffer test.

The game seemed to be going wrong from Stanford’s very first possession. Quarterback Kevin Hogan sandwiched two incomplete passes around a run for no gain by Remound Wright. The Cardinal punted without gaining a first down for the first of what would turn out to be four times.

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Stanford setback: Golden domers crush Cardinal hopes in the Indiana rain

October 7, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 7, 2014

It’s hard to lose in more agonizing fashion than the Stanford football team did on Saturday.

The Cardinal traveled to South Bend, Ind., with a great deal at stake. If Stanford’s team was to make the inaugural college football playoffs, it would essentially need to win out its schedule. The squad also had a chance to avenge the 20-13 overtime loss that it suffered in its last trip to Notre Dame, in 2012 — a controversial affair in which Cardinal running back Stepfan Taylor appeared to score what would have been the game-tying touchdown on a play that was whistled dead by the officials.

Stanford’s 2014 edition has had a bifurcated identity. The defense is the Cardinal’s Dr. Jekyll: Entering the weekend, it led the nation in scoring defense (6.5 points per game), total defense (198 yards per game) and passing defense (74 ypg). The team had permitted just four plays of 20 yards or longer this season, second fewest in the land.

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Stanford hangs on: With a 27-20 nailbiter of a victory over Notre Dame, the Cardinal moves to 10-2 on the year

December 2, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 2, 2013

Stanford hung on to defeat Notre Dame Saturday night by a 27-20 margin. And considering the discrepancy in offensive yards — the host Cardinal won the day, 419 yards to 263 — the “hung on” is entirely applicable. 

The game seemed to fit a template that has become very familiar in 2013. The Cardinal defense combined for one sack and four other tackles-for-loss. For the 21st time in that many games, Stanford’s opponent was held under 30 points; for the sixth straight game, the opponent did not exceed 20 points. This was the fifth consecutive game, and the ninth time this season, in which the opposing squad rushed for fewer than 100 yards (Notre Dame had 64, on Saturday evening).

Tyler Gaffney was monstrously good; he rushed 33 times for 189 yards and a touchdown, marking his eight time exceeding the century mark this year. Ty Montgomery had three catches for 46 yards, all of which went for first downs, and four kickoff returns for 127 yards, with a long of 51. Jordan Williamson hit both of his field goals (from 27 and 28 yards) and all three extra points. A seemingly healthy Devon Cajuste grabbed three balls for 75 yards, including a lovely 16-yard end zone reception on the run in which he extended himself to catch a Kevin Hogan ball that was slightly long. 

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The Big Game beat rolls on and on: Stanford triumphs over cal, 63-13, in a record-setting Big Game rout

November 25, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 25, 2013

The 116th edition of Big Game got off to a brisk start. Stanford put the first points on the board exactly one minute in, courtesy of Lee Ward advancing the kickoff 30 yards, a pass interference flag and Ty Montgomery’s 31-yard touchdown run. Fewer than three minutes later, california (lowercase c intentional) had matched that score with Jared Goff’s touchdown toss to Maurice Harris.

cal, alas, is a team that does many, many things wrong. That proved true upon the ensuing possession. First, there was the kickoff — a 15-yard boot that was caught at midfield with no return. On the very next play, Kevin Hogan dropped back and found Montgomery, who went the distance for a 50-yard touchdown.

Here’s how the rest of the possessions in the first quarter went:

• cal: 3 plays, minus-1 yard, punt.

• Stanford: 7 plays, 51 yards, 12-yard Montgomery touchdown pass from Hogan.

• cal: 3 plays, 5 yards, punt.

• Stanford: 3 plays, minus-2 yards, punt.

• cal: 11 plays, 83 yards, 29-yard Vincenzo D’Amato field goal.

The home team ended the first quarter up by a 21-10 margin, and things only got more lopsided from there. D’Amato would hit a 47-yard kick in the second quarter for cal’s last points of the game. But in that same period, the Cardinal added another 21 points: a 72-yard touchdown on a short Hogan-to-Montgomery connection, a 45-yard TD that Hogan tossed to Michael Rector, and a 9-yard touchdown thanks to another Hogan hookup with Montgomery.

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Trojans break Cardinal streak: Stanford goes down, 20-17, in a heart-breaking defeat in Los Angeles

November 22, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 20, 2013

I can’t think of le mot juste to describe Stanford’s 20-17 upset loss at USC Saturday night.

Shocking? Yes, it was that. After all, the Trojans are the team that had lost at home, 10-7, to lowly Washington State on Sept. 7. That was a game in which USC gained just 193 yards.

Devastating? Yes, it was that, too. With the Cardinal falling to 8-2 overall and 6-2 in the Pac-12 North, the team lost the primacy it had wrested from Oregon with the inspiring 26-20 victory on Nov. 7. Stanford still might advance to the conference championship game by beating california (lowercase c intentional), but that scenario now requires the Ducks to lose either to Arizona (6-4, 3-4 Pac-12 South) or Oregon State (6-4, 4-3 Pac-12 North). That is, at best, an uncertain prospect.

Expected? Oddly, this also fits. Stanford has played with fire time and again. The Cardinal dominated Oregon for roughly 50 minutes, but the final score showed just how effectively the Ducks managed to claw back into the game. In fact, with the exception of the 55-17 pasting of Washington State, virtually every win the Cardinal has had this year might have gone the other way had a handful of plays yielded different results.

Oregon State would have needed just a touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie Stanford as the clock wound down. Before Kodi’s catch was made with nearly two-thirds of the contest vs. UCLA having already been played, the score was tied, 3-3. With 1:16 left to play, a review showed (to some folks, anyway) that a fourth-down Washington pass had fallen incomplete, thereby wiping out a play that would have extended their drive for a game-tying field goal. Despite ultimately losing by 14 points, Arizona State put a huge scare into the Cardinal by ripping off three straight fourth-quarter touchdown drives. Army is 3-7 so far this year, but the Cardinal could muster only a paltry 20-13 halftime lead in the game at West Point — and that required a 47-yard Jordan Williamson field goal as time expired in the second period.

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Who’s got it better than Oregon? Stanford does, after a thrilling 26-20 Thursday night victory over the Ducks!

November 8, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 8, 2013

That. Was. Amazing.

How else could Stanford football fans describe Thursday night’s 26-20 victory over the second-ranked Oregon Ducks? This was a season-defining game for both teams, who together clearly represent the top echelon of both the Pac-12 North Division and, indeed, the conference itself.

Going into the game, Cardinal faithful knew that their team could prevail over the mighty Ducks; for evidence, all they had to do was cast their minds back to last season, when Kevin Hogan led his squad to a 17-14 overtime upset in his first-ever road start. But Cardinal fans also knew that a win would require Stanford to play a nearly perfect game.

That’s not exactly what the home squad turned in Thursday night; instead, the Cardinal played phenomenal ball for 50 or so minutes before all three of the team’s units suffered very significant lapses. These let-downs turned what had been a thorough beat-down of the Ducks turn into quite the nail-biter, as we shall see.

Oregon received the opening kickoff and responded by doing what the Ducks have so often done for the past four-odd years — by moving the ball with relative ease. Still, their eight-play, 35-yard possession stalled at the Stanford 48-yard line with an incomplete throw by quarterback Marcus Mariota. The Ducks punted, pinning the Cardinal to their own 6-yard line.

Alas, the red-jerseyed offense went three and out, and Bralon Addison returned the punt 25 yards to the Stanford 28-yard line. Less than five minutes into the game, Oregon had moved into scoring position.

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Stanford emerges — scared, scarred but victorious — with a 20-12 win at Oregon State

October 28, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 28, 2013

After Stanford’s 24-10 win over UCLA on Oct. 19, perhaps your reaction was something like, “Yay! That was fun!”

If so, then your response to Saturday night’s 20-12 victory against Oregon State was likely closer to, “Yikes! That was scary!”

The Cardinal defense stifled the Beavers, holding a team that came in averaging 28 points and 397 yards a game to two field goals and a touchdown and 288 yards. This was very much comparable to what happened in Stanford Stadium against the Bruins.

What was different? Unlike the Kevin Hogan who led the attack on homecoming day, the Cardinal quarterback who showed up in Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Ore., was mostly awful. Hogan tied his season low for throwing attempts (18, the same number he had vs. Army) and set career lows for completions and passing yards as a starter — eight and 88, respective.

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The alumni return, and so does dominance: Against UCLA, Stanford football notches an inspiring homecoming victory

October 25, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 25, 2013

Now that’s more like it!

That’s the thought that went through my mind, and likely the minds of Stanford football fans everywhere, as the Cardinal wrapped up a 24-10 win over UCLA last Saturday.

In every way, the game was superior to Stanford’s loss at Utah the previous week. The dangerous Brett Hundley and his Bruins offense had been averaging nearly 46 points and 547 yards per game. But last weekend, the dominating Stanford defense returned, holding the visiting squad to just 266 yards.

Saturday, which was Stanford’s homecoming, also saw the return of ground-and-pound Cardinal offense. Coach David Shaw’s squad ran 50 times and threw 25 times. When the afternoon was over — remember afternoon football, Cardinal fans? — the home team had a time-of-possession edge of about 14 and a half minutes over UCLA.

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David Shaw: A defense of the Stanford coach who should not need defending

October 17, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 10, 2013

===

I’m inclined to cut Shaw some slack. Fans, in my view, have been overly critical of the Cardinal coach, despite the fact that he’s just one of two coaches to lead Stanford to the promised land — the Rose Bowl, that is — in 41 years. He is also, mind you, the only Stanford coach to win a Rose Bowl since John Ralston did it on Jan. 1, 1972.

===

Yet despite his accomplishments, a lot of fans seem to hold him to account for two questionable decisions involving quarterback. One was opting for conservative play-calling at the end of the 2012 Fiesta Bowl, rather than trusting all-world passer Andrew Luck to lead the offense to a game-winning touchdown.

Shaw’s other mistake, in fans’ eyes, was waiting until the ninth game of the 2012 season to start Hogan under center in lieu of senior Josh Nunes. The move came after Stanford had sustained its only two losses of the year, at Washington and at Notre Dame, games in which the Cardinal offense collectively generated a measly 385 yards and a pathetic 12 points.

Fans feel that the Cardinal might have been undefeated and in position to contend for the national championship if Hogan had been installed as the starter sooner. That’s certainly a tantalizing scenario to envision.

But it is ultimately, I feel, a chimerical one. Shaw has been coaching football since 1995. He played for Walsh at Stanford and since then has worked for Jon Gruden, Brian Billick and Jim Harbaugh. The first three of those men have all won Super Bowls, while the last one has coached his way to two mid-major college national titles and a Super Bowl berth.

Shaw is hardly perfect, and like any other football coach, he is a perfectly valid target for criticism. But he’s also forgotten more about football than I’ll ever know, and I believe him when he says that Hogan simply was not ready to play full time until November.

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Crashing back to Earth: Revisiting reality after the 27-21 defeat at Utah

October 15, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 15, 2013

There’s no way around it. The Stanford football team’s 27-21 loss on Saturday evening to Utah was thoroughly disappointing.

The hosts outhustled and outcoached the Cardinal on virtually every level, and it showed. Name a category and the Utes owned it. They led in total yards (410-389), rushing yards (176-143), time of possession (32:54–27:06), penalties (Utah was flagged four times for 30 yards; Stanford, 6-33), turnovers (Stanford lost two fumbles, killing both of the Cardinal’s third-quarter possessions; Utah quarterback Travis Wilson was picked once) and fourth-down conversions (1-1, compared to 0-1 for Stanford).

The good news was that, despite lackluster play in the second and third quarters, fifth-ranked Stanford had a chance to win in the final minute. The bad news, of course, was that coach David Shaw’s squad could not pull it out despite being more heralded and more talented than Utah.

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Cardinal clobbers Cougars: Stanford rolls, 55-17, in Seattle

October 1, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 1, 2013

Football can be a funny sport. Saturday night’s Stanford game against Washington State in rainy Seattle provided another example of that.

Paradoxically, I was reassured that everything was going to be OK by the Stanford football possession that ended with quarterback Kevin Hogan’s worst pass, an underthrown ball intercepted by WSU defender Deone Bucannon in the end zone.

Up until the pick, the drive had borne all the hallmarks of classic Cardinal offense. Stanford traveled 74 yards over the course of 17 plays. The protracted possession ate up more than half of the second quarter — 7:57, to be precise.

Talk about balance: The Cardinal rushed nine times and threw eight times on the series. (A pass interference penalty on tight end Luke Kaumatule erased another aerial play.) Talk about power: Three of the Cardinal rushes, all by Tyler Gaffney, went for five yards or longer. Talk about versatility: After the flag on Kaumatule, Hogan threw three straight completions — to Ty Montgomery for 14 yards, to Devon Cajuste for 16 and to Sanders for another 16. (Montgomery and Cajuste caught balls for nine and 10 yards respectively earlier in the drive.)

The Cougars defense held Gaffney (and Anthony Wilkerson, who got one carry) to three yards or fewer on six occasions, and Hogan had three incomplete passes, which included the Bucannon intersection plus what I recall as being an overthrown deep ball to an open Michael Rector. But the overweening impression that I took away from the drive was that the Cardinal offense was going to be very, very difficult to stop.

That conclusion was justified in the second half. Stanford led just 17-3 at intermission. But Cardinal fans who expected the Farm boys’ size and strength to overwhelm the Cougars after the break found their expectations amply rewarded.

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