Stanford 20, Wisconsin 14. This Rose Bowl was so good, so satisfying
that even the Big 12's commissioner graced the Stanford sideline by
game's end, beaming from ear to ear.
It was so important to former Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby, one
of the early architects of the Cardinal's remarkable turnaround,
that he came back to see his work finished. He shared a hearty
handshake with his successor, Bernard Muir, below a screaming mass
of over 50,000 fans. He then turned to congratulate David Shaw, but
was blocked by the throng of photographers swarming an embrace
between the head coach and Condoleezza Rice.
It was a quintessentially Stanford moment: this flurry of rapid-fire
camera shutters, this mayhem headed into the Rose Bowl tunnel, this
sheer joy that was 41 years in the making.
"It's been a personal journey for all of us. We have such a great
amount of unity on this team," fifth-year senior Alex Debniak reflected afterward in the
locker room. "The Rose Bowl is the pinnacle of everything we wanted
to do. It was a battle tonight. It's been a hell of a journey, man."
A journey indeed, one ages in the making. The last time the
university won the Rose Bowl, its sports teams were called the
Indians, Richard Nixon was President, and gas cost 36 cents per
gallon. But this first day of 2013 felt so much like the one that
kicked off 1972. The famous "Thunderchickens" defensive front
dominated Bo Schembechler's undefeated Michigan Wolverines on that
day, holding an elite power running offense to 12 points en route to
A Heroic Defensive Effort
This time around, four decades later, the new age Farm Boys front
administered pain again. Wisconsin, a team fresh off a 539-rushing
yard, 70-point performance, mustered only 87 total yards in the
second half. Stanford shut them out over the game's final 30
"Montee's hurting right now," Ben Gardner, the Wisconsin native once
snubbed by his home state school, smiled in the immediate postgame
Despite the beating he took, all-time NCAA touchdown leader Montee Ball was not even on the receiving end of Stanford's most vicious
hit. That distinction would belong to to wide receiver Chase Hammond, who was brutally shaken up by Jordan Richards' massive
third quarter contact that dislodged the ball and jolted Pasadena.
Time and time again, a different Cardinal defender would seize the
spotlight to stymie another Wisconsin drive. Once, it was Josh Mauro
who ripped through the line of scrimmage to destroy the Badgers in
the backfield. David Parry threw a similar party, all part of
an effort that set up 17 combined tackles on the interior for A.J.
Tarpley and Shayne Skov.
The Stanford secondary then sealed the deal in the same way that the
unit completed the team's 2012 defensive surge. Usua Amanam, the
nickel back not expected to play all that much against the Badgers'
jumbo-sized attack, intercepted Curt Phillips to seal it. Not
surprisingly, the Cardinal's ultimate clinching highlight was the
sum of more than one individual effort: Mauro re-directed the pass
at the line of scrimmage.
"We're so deep, we've known that all year long. Everywhere you turn,
there's a new guy making a play in a crucial situation," Gardner said. "We're not a team of
star players. We're a team in the true sense of the word."
Even the secondary's eye-popping work extended beyond Richards'
mini-earthquake and Amanam's heroics. True freshman Alex Carter --
the guy who certainly doesn't look like one -- provided stiff run
support, tossing aside a block and freezing the momentum of Phillips
a yard short of the first down marker on a crucial conversion
attempt down the stretch.
Skov was punishing in his own right, muscling his way out of an
open-field block to make a superb touchdown-saving tackle on a
screen pass in the second quarter. It was a play that represented
Stanford's remarkable progress over the years: It wasn't long ago
that fly sweeps and open field screens sliced the Cardinal defense
like a hot knife knife gashed through butter.
Not anymore. Wisconsin's only points -- and only offensive success
-- came in the second quarter, when four tipped passes somehow found
their way into the hands of Badgers' receivers. In the game's three
other frames, Barry Alvarez saw his squad complete only three throws
against Stanford's defense, a statistic that suffocated the Badgers'
mighty rushing attack.
Offensive Ingenuity: A Table Setter
Early on, the Cardinal seized New Year's Day with offensive
creativity not seen since the days of No. 12. The game's two opening
drives resembled a juggernaut that looked like a hybrid of the
Andrew Luck era attack, Oregon, and what USC's offense should have
looked like in 2012.
With center Sam Schwartzstein paving the way 20 yards downfield,
blocking was seamless. With Jamal-Rashad Patterson (wearing the name
Holland-Patterson on his jersey in memory of his brother, who was
shot and killed last year) and Zach Ertz snatching
deep floaters in traffic, receiving was spectacular. With Kelsey Young and Stepfan Taylor playing an effective speed-power combination,
Stanford's scheme was flawless.
And then, of course, there was the redshirt freshman quarterback
Kevin Hogan, hanging in the teeth of a smearing hit to unleash his
perfectly-placed downfield bomb to Ertz that made it all click.
"You can never watch the rush. You've got to stare down the barrel
of the gun," Hogan told me
after. "It didn't hurt as bad as it would have if it was an
The Cardinal shocked the Badgers en route to their early 14-0 lead,
highlighted by a 34-yard reverse pass from Terrell to Patterson,
Young's subsequent sprint to the end zone, and the aforementioned
42-yard Ertz connection. All these plays were part of an early-game
offensive script that meticulously crafted Stanford's first two
touchdown possessions. Most significantly, the Cardinal made it a
point to run out of passing formations and pass out of running
formations -- the bomb to Ertz came out of a goal line package with
no wide receivers.
Enough for the Kill
This offensive creativity, fueled by unpredictably, would elude
Stanford the rest of the way. It left when Young disappeared from
the action and unimaginative, poor play calls from inside the five
yard line took over on the team's third possession.
But two touchdowns were enough for the Farm Boys' defense to work
with, particularly after Jordan Williamson nailed two perfect field
goals -- including a nasty 47-yarder that hooked right down the
middle -- to provide the Rose Bowl difference and officially push
last year's Fiesta Bowl nightmare by the wayside.
Punter Daniel Zychlinski, Williamson's holder, also delivered a
hero's performance after the Cardinal offense stalled down the
stretch. As shadows overtook the Rose Bowl's field and the
temperature plummeted in the Arroyo, the game turned into a battle
for field position. Zychlinksi finished with an average of
45.5 yards per boot over the course of his six punts, an eye-opening
figure on the very same field where he was hurt just over a month
The defense would handle the rest before handing the keys to Stepfan
Taylor for one final Rose Bowl-clinching clock bleed. In the huddle,
the senior promised his teammates that he would deliver his career's
hardest run on third down with one yard separating the Cardinal from
Taylor plowed forward for five behind an offensive line that had
finally broken the will of Wisconsin's defense. Kevin Danser's solid
pull blocks and Andrus Peat's rumbles into the second level had
taken a toll on the Badgers. Even young receiver Devon Cajuste
contributed to the tireless physicality that eventually beat
Wisconsin into submission.
"We preach body blows in the beginning. We'll hit them in the
stomach, we'll hit them in the ribs. Body blows, body blows,"
freshman guard Joshua Garnett said.
"You'll see them at the end of the game, we'll hit them with the
knockout punch, because they're so tired from those body blows, they
just quit. That's when we capitalize."
A Bright Future
Character and cruelty iced it, just the way the visionaries who
resurrected Stanford from the dark ages in 2007 drew it up. Back
then, "Rose Bowl" was used as a rallying cry to break up practice
huddles. Those on the outside only chuckled, unaware of the physical
beast that the Farm Boys were patiently growing.
Now, the monster has arrived to the tune of 35 wins in three years
and physicality that has been used as a model for elite college
football programs across the nation. Prior to 2010, Stanford had
never won 11 games in a single season. Now, buoyed by a pair of
12-win campaigns, they've recorded three such years since. Sights
are reasonably set on 14 victories next season, a journey that can
potentially end up back at the Rose Bowl -- not for the New Years'
Day game, but for the National Championship.
"We don't necessarily recruit people based on the talent that they
have, but rather on the character that they have at the end of the
day," Debniak explained while predicting
sustained future success for the team. "So keeping good,
high-quality character people in here that can play our style of
football, that's what's going to keep this program going. It's a
very bright future for us."
It's definitely bright enough to keep both January 1 and January 6,
2014 open on the calendar.
David Lombardi is the Stanford
Football Insider for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. Check him
out at www.davidlombardisports.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @DavidMLombardi.
Are you fully subscribed to The
Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on
all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our
award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in
Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com