Stanford's Surge: From the East Coast

Pat Skov's big hit was a Big Game highlight

Justin Muchnick, The Bootleg's youngest writer, checks back in from boarding school on the East Coast. He's tracked Stanford late into the night throughout this entire season, and he has some thoughts on the Cardinal's recent Big Game victory.

About this time last year, I was lamenting my restricted ability to follow Stanford football at my East Coast boarding school. But returning to Andover as a sophomore, I have learned how to fully fit the Cardinal back into my life.

It definitely helps that I am no longer subject to the strict freshman curfew rules. While I spent last season having to turn the TV off after the first half, I have now earned the right to stay up until 2 AM and watch the final moments of the Washington game play out. Though some of my friends think I'm crazy for it, I can't think of a better way to spend a Saturday night (actually, Sunday morning) than cheering on the Cardinal from my dorm's common room and sending rapid-fire texts after almost every play to my dad, who's watching the same game in a living room 3,000 miles away.

Also, this year, I have been able to win TV controller rights more easily than last year. While seniors generally get to choose which sports event the dorm watches, I have become smarter and more resolute in my weekly quest to get Stanford on the screen. I now employ an array of tricks I have picked up over a year of fighting for the TV, the most important of which is staking my claim early. When I know there will be controversy about what to watch, I take my homework or another activity to the common room up to an hour before kick off and turn on the TV in the background. I've won some major victories with this tactic, but I am proudest of fending off a horde of Red Sox fans when Game Three of the World Series conflicted with the Oregon State game.

And the fact that so many Stanford games were televised on the East Coast might be one of the greatest indicators that, just as I have grown as a Cardinal fan, Stanford Football has grown tremendously as a program. I can't tell you from experience, but I'm pretty sure that if I lived on the East Coast five years ago, I'd be relying much more heavily on box scores and day-after write-ups than I am now. (If I lived on the East Coast seven years ago, those day-after write-ups would be pretty nauseating.) My parents have friends on the East Coast who have historically complained about how hard it is to catch a Stanford game, so the fact that the majority of this season's games were nationally televised is truly a testament to the program's upturn.

That's not to say that being a Stanford fan this season has been a total walk in the park. Rather, it's been an emotional roller coaster that started out with legitimate national championship hopes. Each passing week yielded further calculations for a shot at the crystal football – until I was hit by the Utah bombshell. The loss reduced me to "settling" for the Rose Bowl, with Oregon as the one major obstacle. But the sweet satisfaction of showing Oregon fans that good old-fashioned hard work trumps flashy uniforms faded away as quickly as it arrived. I spent a few days post-USC wallowing in my misery, but I soon decided to be slightly more productive and try to figure out whether the Alamo Bowl would be better than the Las Vegas Bowl or the Fight Hunger Bowl or the Whatever Other Lesser Bowl. Having made little headway on that not-so-worthwhile front, I returned to my Southern California home for Thanksgiving Break a few days ago not sure what would be in store for the rest of the Cardinal's season. I was, though, certain of two things: It was the week of Big Game, and, instilled with a hatred of Cal from birth, I couldn't think of a better activity than spending some quality family time watching Stanford beat up on the Bears.

Nothing about the outcome of the game surprised me. Big Game is (obviously) a big game and Stanford was certainly out for blood after the disappointment at the Coliseum, so a rout was to be expected. That said, I was pleased with the performance of Mike Bloomgren's offense. I do realize that Cal is not the strongest of opponents, but it was refreshing to see the sometimes-sputtering offense score with ease. Kevin Hogan, who's been pretty shaky at times this season, looked dominant, which should give him some much-needed momentum going forward. And since Ty Montgomery seemed to be M.I.A. against USC, his mind-boggling five first-half touchdowns will hopefully get him back on track.

On the other side of the ball, the Cardinal delivered a textbook performance aside from Cal's seemingly too-easy touchdown on their first possession. For me, one defensive play stands out. On fourth-and-six, Patrick Skov delivered a bone-crunching hit after Cal attempted a fake punt. Now, I became a big Shayne Skov fan long before he was one of college football's foremost linebackers – I've been cheering for him since he was a freshman on special teams making huge hits and celebrating wildly afterward – so to see Patrick following in his brother's footsteps by ensuring that his opponent needs an ice bath the next day was definitely a special moment. It was also nice to see the Stanford defense keep its 36-game turnover streak alive thanks to a fourth-quarter interception by Blake Martinez.

All in all, Big Game was a resounding success, both on the field and in the Muchnick living room, yet the Arizona game proved even more interesting for Stanford fans everywhere. After an early Christmas present from Rich Rodriguez and the Wildcats, the Cardinal is miraculously back in the driver's seat and on the cusp of consecutive Rose Bowl berths. So, fortunately, the roller-coaster ride continues.

Justin Muchnick is a tenth grade student-athlete at Philips Academy Andover in Massachusetts. In addition to being an avid Stanford sports fan, he is extremely passionate about soccer, wrestling, reading, and history. He is also the co-author of "Straight-A Study Skills" and is currently writing "The Boarding School Survival Guide" which will be published in June, 2014. He still remains our youngest Bootleg journalist and is also a charter content creator of Yoursports.com.






David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.

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