I once heard (probably on The Bootleg) that the there are four levels of teams: teams that lose big, teams that lose small, teams that win small, and teams that win big. Today, Stanford put together a Category IV performance, winning big in a Big Game utterly devoid of drama.
It looked like an SEC team had clad itself in Cardinal red. The offense could run the ball, and while the quarterback didn’t remind anyone of Johnny Unitas, he did enough to keep his team firmly in control. Still, make no mistake, the defense set the tone.
When your defense is playing at another level, football can be boring. The opposing offense will run for a yard or two, run for a yard or two, get blitzed for its life and throw up a prayer and punt. Meanwhile, the offense knows it doesn’t need to do too much and, by and large, it doesn’t. The O focuses more on managing risk than making explosive plays. A constant focus on winning the field-position battle, a lot of drives that eat up clock, and before you know it, Bo and Woody are smiling in their graves and you’re back on the Peninsula with the W.
Much-maligned California quarterback Zach Maynard has made a habit of making opposing defenses look like Alabama, so project forward at your own risk. With that said, at least for an afternoon, Stanford’s defense looked as fine as any in the land.
The statistics bear this assessment out, as through three quarters – while the game was still in question – Cal was 0-of-9 on third downs, and had mustered just 89 yards on 18 passes, and 21 yards on eight rushes. Hard to imagine from a school that produced Marshawn Lynch, but when the game was still in question, Cal’s longest run had gone for 11 yards. Hard to imagine from a school that produced Aaron Rodgers and DeSean Jackson, but when the game was still in question, the Bears’ longest pass was a screen that went for 31 yards, and that was a singular respite from an otherwise bleak afternoon.
More than any number, however, is a feeling that set over Memorial Stadium and, if we’re going to be perfectly honest with ourselves, even the most passionate of Stanford fans. That was one borrrrring game. But after too much drama already in this 2012 season, with nailbiters against every opponent save for Duke, Stanford couldn’t have picked a better time to give her fans a breather.
That’s our take. Here are takes from around the country.
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