For the U$C Trojans and their fans, all seemed right with the world as they took the Stanford Stadium field last Saturday. With the 2012 Heisman Trophy clubhouse leader taking snaps, they were ready to reclaim their rightful throne as the best college football team in the West. They wore their No. 2 ranking like a Song Girl wears her sweater.
Now they were set to restore order against a Stanford team that had become its biggest nemesis. It was a perfect setup. And, once they dismissed the pesky Cardinal once and for all, it was going to be just like the old days once more. Just like everything was supposed to be.
U$C took the field as potential champs. Four hours later, U$C left that same field as total chumps.
A Heisman Trophy for Matt Barkley? Gone. National championship hopes? All but gone. U$C’s image restoration project? Shattered into a million pieces, buried underneath Chase Thomas and Trent Murphy.
After it was over, a dazed U$C head coach Lane Kiffin told the media, “I thought we’d come up in the second half, up by seven … I thought we’d come out and start rolling. Unfortunately, we didn’t.”
Read that quote again. Their head coach basically thought Stanford would simply roll over and bow down to U$C at the first sign of adversity. All merely because the Trojans were on the other side of the ball. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but that quote perfectly sums up the Trojans’ approach to the Cardinal, and how it helped cost them this game.
It sure looked to me like U$C thought this was 1980 all over again. With Andrew Luck now in the NFL, it looked like the Trojans thought Stanford would hear that band, see that number two in U$C’s ranking column, flash back to the old days, and keel over while the Trojans passed them by and left them for dead. It looked like U$C thought they had this game won on talent alone, like they could score 21 points just by walking onto the field. Just like almost every other time they’ve taken the field against the Cardinal.
Those days are over. And if anyone should have realized this going into that game, clearly it should have been the U$C players, coaches, and fans. They don’t have to dig too far to remember the Greatest Upset Ever, the “What’s Your Deal?” game, the last-second field goal, and the triple overtime thriller. They should have known better.
But instead of pushing away from the pool tile and recognizing Stanford’s present success against them, U$C chose to do what they always do: cling to the safety wall of the past, and blindly adhere to the mentality that they will win because they are U$C.
Meanwhile, Stanford’s coaches and players lived in the here and now against the Trojans. The Card’s game plan was predicated on turning a track meet into a street fight. The Card won’t beat you in a shootout. But if Stanford can corner you with their defense and pound you with their running game, they will win.
While Josh Nunes gets his feet underneath him, that’s the exact fashion in which Stanford is going to have to win most of its games this year. The Cardinal applied that formula to the U$C Trojans, and it resulted in 60 minutes of brutally physical football.
Steady Stepfan Taylor wore down U$C’s front, while the entire Stanford defense put on an awesome clinic on how to rush the passer and shut down his receivers. I’m certain there were a lot of sore football players who had to drag themselves onto that plane back to LAX on Saturday night.
My favorite play of the game came in the second quarter when David Parry and Trent Murphy crunched Matt Barkley and jarred the ball loose for a play that eventually resulted in a 13-yard loss. I could watch that play again and again. Barkley was never quite the same after getting rocked like that, by the way.
Now, do I think Stanford is the ninth-best team in the country right now? No. God, no. I almost drove off the road when I heard that news. Our offense doesn’t exactly scream out “top ten” right now. If Stanford gets into a situation where it has to win a game with Josh Nunes’ right arm, I wouldn’t like the Cardinal’s chances of getting it done.
And even though Stanford has abused the Washington Huskies so badly of late that animal rights activists should be picketing the game, I can’t rule out the possibility of the Husky Stadium field being stormed in jubilation next week. It can all go away just as quickly as it comes. Ask U$C for their thoughts on this.
Stanford Football is a hot commodity once more, but who knows? These good times against U$C may come to a crashing halt next year. Hell, if Stanford isn’t careful, these good times may come to a crashing halt next week in Seattle.
Stanford’s present is pretty good, and maybe their future is a bit brighter as a result of Saturday’s win. But I trust that the Card aren’t resting on their laurels because they beat U$C (again) in dramatic, attention-grabbing fashion (again). That game is now in the past, and there is way too much football left this season for Stanford to be living off of past glories.
If the Card need proof of what happens when you live in the past, and when you haven’t learned any of the true lessons from that past, they can just look at the U$C Trojans. As usual.
Bill Walsh didn’t call them “Yesterday U” for nothing.
********** ********** **********
RANDOM PAC-12 THOUGHTS
One thing I would like to see more of from the Stanford offense: a quicker, higher-percentage passing game with the ball out after a three- or five-step drop. I thought there were too many low-percentage passes by Nunes, and that prevented him from getting into a real rhythm. …
Washington State QB Connor Halliday does some good things, but he has a nasty habit of throwing too high. After seeing some of the hits his receivers have taken as a result, I’m sure they are letting him know all about this tendency. …
Down 35-0 after one quarter? Down 55-7 at the half? To Fresno State? Thanks to that putrid performance from Colorado, I may have to start calling it the Pac-11 again. …
Was that the Fresno State band playing NFL Films music while the Bulldogs were marching on the Buffaloes again? Well done. …
Not a Pac-12 thought, but… I was floored when I heard the news of the death of NFL Films president Steve Sabol. He is one of the reasons why I do what I do, and why so much of my professional career revolves around football. I love football because he loved football. Thank you, Steve. Rest in peace. …
Not a Pac-12 thought, but… Geno Smith will be in the room when the Heisman Trophy is announced. Whether he ends up on stage with the trophy is up to him. …
********** ********** **********
Yes, once again I’ll be putting it all on the line each week with my Pac-12 picks! You know the rules: I don’t pick games involving Stanford, and these are for entertainment purposes only…
Oregon State @ UCLA While the Beavers showed me a lot during their win over Wisconsin, I still don’t know how they’re going to respond to being on the road. Since I have fewer questions about the Bruins right now, I like UCLA by 11.
Colorado @ Washington State As I type this, Mike Leach doesn’t know who he’ll be starting at quarterback. Based on how the Buffaloes have been playing, Leach could have Timm Rosenbach taking snaps and the Cougs would still score 40. With ease. I like Washington State by 27.
cal @ U$C After showing well at the big horseshoe in Columbus, I don’t sense cal will be intimidated by a trip to South Central. And while I’m not a fan of cal’s defense right now, I think they may have enough on offense to make Trojans fans sweat this one out. Still, I like U$C by 8.
Utah @ Arizona State I like Jon White IV. But there isn’t much more that I like about the Utes at this point. I hate Todd Graham, but I like Arizona State by 16.
Arizona @ Oregon Finally, Oregon actually plays some real competition. If this were on the road, I’d like Arizona’s chances. But, since they’re in Eugene, I like Oregon by 29.
Last year: 27-19 (straight-up), 28-18 (ATS).
Last three years: 75-43 (straight-up), 63-54-1 (ATS).
********** ********** **********
Troy Clardy is in his 20th year of following the Cardinal as a columnist, broadcaster, and announcer. In its 11th 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, hear him on Pittsburgh’s Sportsradio 93-7 The Fan, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 (sign-up)!