Clardy's Corner: Never in doubt
Unsung WR Griff Whalen
Unsung WR Griff Whalen
Senior Columnist
Posted Nov 2, 2011


My Saturday began with snowflakes in the Pittsburgh sky and ESPN’s Lee Corso dancing around in the Tree’s costume, signaling his prediction for a Cardinal win over U$C. An October snowfall and the College GameDay crew picking Stanford to win the game of the week? All in the same morning? I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, outside my window or on my television.

As it turned out, those were the only things I doubted all day.

Fast-forward ten hours later. Curtis McNeal’s second touchdown had given the Trojans a ten-point lead in the third quarter. Stanford was against the ropes. The Trojans were poised to exorcise the demons of demoralizing Stanford defeats, and to rid themselves of their boogeyman Andrew Luck once and for all. Those damn fans and that damn band were partying like it was 2004 all over again.

Clearly, it wasn’t the kind of scene that I enjoy watching. But oddly enough, I wasn’t upset. I wasn’t mad. I wasn’t pacing the room and muttering to myself. I wasn’t throwing things or shouting curse words to no one in particular.

Truth be told, I was actually excited. I actually welcomed the moment. I wanted to see how Stanford would respond. I wanted to see if the Card would pass its biggest test yet. The plot had thickened, and now it was just a matter of watching to see how the good guys would pull it off.

Even when Nickell Robey jumped all over a rare mistake by Luck and took it back for six, a Stanford defeat did not cross my mind. Not at any point in the game. What, me worry? With three minutes left and the Cardinal down by seven? With the kind of team we have? Please.

As my buddy Jeremy would say, never in doubt.

In previous years, you can bet your sweet bippy I would have doubted. I would have been freaking out, bracing myself, and trying to find something to hold on to for dear life.

Not this time. Not this year. Not with this team. Never in doubt.

This isn’t 1995, when a good Stanford team coughed up a 16-0 lead en route to a 31-30 loss to U$C, a result so shocking and bitter that Tyrone Willingham saw fit to call a team meeting on the plane once it landed in San Francisco.

This isn’t 1999, when Stanford’s high-powered offense and cardiac defense made every game a rollercoaster ride.

This isn’t 2001. As good as that team was, it didn’t have anywhere near the depth and athleticism this year’s team has. Nor did it have the discipline and consistency in the passing game.

This is 2011. And this game was never in doubt.

Of course, it’s easy to leave all doubt behind when the best quarterback in college football is taking your team’s snaps. Admit it…even though he had just made a critical mistake that could have crumbled any other quarterback, you just knew Andrew Luck would still lead the Cardinal to six points, didn’t you?

I also wasn’t worried because Stanford’s lesser-known players all elevated their games at critical times. With his huge catches on Stanford’s touchdown drives in the third quarter, Griff Whalen may be the game’s true unsung hero. The offensive line didn’t have its best game, but they still found a way to open the big holes at the key moments.

Linebacker A.J. Tarpley was already having a nice game with nine tackles and a big-time interception. But his fumble recovery that finished the evening ensured his permanent spot in Stanford-U$C lore. Those guys helped set the tone, and the rest of the team responded.

Another factor that erased my doubts was the knowledge that this team has shown a closer’s instinct and a knack for finishing that few others can boast. It takes a special kind of team to be able to gain momentum, get stronger, and play better as the game progresses. This team has done that.

It also takes a special kind of team to respond to adversity, answer the challenge, and even just plain outlast their opponent. U$C matched Stanford punch for punch down the stretch. But the Cardinal always found a way to dig deeper. That’s what it took to beat the Trojans.

I wasn’t worried because this coaching staff has shown that it can come up with the right answers at the right times. No matter how talented a team is, it doesn’t get to be 8-0 without the coaches pushing the correct buttons.

Sure, they still throw a curveball at you once in a while (breaking out the Wildcat on third down in the red zone, for example). But for every slightly questionable choice, this staff comes up with 99 decisions that are spot on. David Shaw and his coaches have put their players in the best possible position to succeed and win. That’s all you can ask of any coaching staff.

On the flip side, there’s also no doubt that Stanford’s road to New Orleans is far from paved. Corvallis has generally not been a kind place to the Cardinal, or to highly-ranked teams in general (ask Mark Sanchez for his thoughts on this). The Golden Bears will try their best to erase the memories of last year’s shellacking in Strawberry Canyon. Notre Dame will not be an easy opponent. We’re not even taking into account a likely matchup against Arizona State in the conference title game, assuming Stanford gets there. That won’t be easy, either.

Oh yeah, and there’s also November 12 to deal with, too.

Still, there’s no doubt that what Stanford has done to U$C since pulling off the Greatest Upset Ever is nothing short of incredible. After all, it wasn’t that long ago when many Cardinalmaniacs were wondering if Stanford was going to beat U$C ever again. What’s happened since? Three straight wins over the Trojans. Four of the last five. Three straight at the Coliseum. Hanging a double nickel on the scoreboard in 2009, then breaking that total by one point in this year’s matchup.

Stanford is better than U$C. We can say that now. What seemed preposterous five years ago is real. No doubt about it.

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RANDOM PAC-11 THOUGHTS

Question…if Stanford-Oregon was being played in the old Stanford Stadium, how many tickets would be sold? Would all 85,000-plus of those seats be filled? Part of me wishes we could find out somehow…

The difference between this year’s Duck defense and previous editions of Gang Green is simple: turnovers. This year’s team doesn’t force them…

Give Washington State credit: they outplayed Oregon in that first half, and did a good job of moving the ball throughout the game. But all their hard work resulted in just three first-half points from the offense…

What a play by Arizona safety Robert Golden, taking the ball off the carom, juking out eight Huskies, and taking it to the house for the 91-yard pick-six. One of the craziest interception returns I’ve ever seen, and your leader in the clubhouse for Play of the Year in the Pac-11…

Brutal performance by cal against UCLA. Just brutal. Is that program imploding before our eyes?

Not a Pac-11 thought, but… so West Virginia is suing the Big East for not having a competitive football conference. How can you claim that the Big East isn’t a competitive football conference when you can’t even beat Syracuse? Feel free to explain that to me…

Not a Pac-11 thought, but… the Tebow-maniacs sure seem quiet this week, don’t they?

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CLARDY’S CORNER INBOX

Got a thought on this Corner? Drop me a line either at my Scout.com inbox (username: troyc)... or e-mail me at troyc@thebootleg.com...

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PAC-11 PICKS

U$C @ Colorado (Friday). With Colorado’s secondary, Matt Barkley could set some records in this one. I like U$C by 25.

Washington State @ cal. The difference in this game is the quarterback. And I would take Marshall Lobbastael over Zach Maynard before you even finished the sentence. I like Washington State by five.

Utah @ Arizona. Finally, the Utes have a Pac-11 win to their credit. Now let’s see if QB Jon Hays can deliver one on the road. Although it wouldn’t surprise me if they got it done, I like Arizona by nine.

Arizona State @ UCLA. Believe it or not, a Bruin win will put them in first place in the Pac-11 South. I don’t believe it, so I like Arizona State by 16.

Oregon @ Washington. The Ducks will go up and down the field on the Husky defense. We know this. The only question is whether Washington can force turnovers. Unless they do, I like Oregon by 18.

Last week: 5-0 (straight-up), 5-0 (ATS).
This year: 17-8 (straight-up), 18-7 (ATS).
Last year: 23-13 (straight-up), 16-20 (ATS).

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Troy Clardy is in his 19th year of following the Cardinal as a columnist, broadcaster, and announcer. In its 10th season of Cardinal commentary, Clardy’s Corner appears Wednesdays during the college football regular season on TheBootleg.com. You can also check him out online at TroyClardy.com, or e-mail him at troyc@thebootleg.com.


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