Stanford fans, click here for Part One.
5. First Punch: Gaffney's 69-yard touchdown (at Arizona State)
Stanford's offensive struggles on the road entering the Pac-12 Championship Game were well documented. To put it bluntly, the Cardinal attack had been lousy away from Stanford Stadium since the beginning of October. A marked improvement in performance would be necessary if the Farm Boys were to extend their BCS bowl streak to four years.
The first play from scrimmage in Tempe, a two-yard loss, was not promising: Kevin Hogan and Tyler Gaffney both stumbled on the handoff before Cam Fleming jumped early to push the Cardinal back another five yards. Suddenly, it was second down and 17, and the Sun Devil Stadium crowd was pulsating with energy. For many observers, it might have been a "here we go again" moment, until Gaffney got the ball and took off behind the left side of his offensive line. David Yankey, Andrus Peat, and Kyle Murphy formed a gigantic wall moving toward the sideline. No. 25 shot out of a canon around the corner. He raced 69 yards, untouched, into the end zone. The Arizona State crowd, smelling blood just seconds earlier, was suddenly silent. In a play that was symbolic of a reversal in road offensive fortune, Stanford had struck first in enemy territory.
4. Not On My Goal Line, Pt. 1: Skov's Strip (vs. Oregon)
Two of the top four plays in Stanford's 2013 season are goal-line stands. That's a testament to a rugged Cardinal defense that has been the team's bedrock ever since Andrew Luck's departure to the NFL. It's also a testament to Shayne Skov, who was vital to both of these definitive defensive moments.
The first moment will be remembered for Skov's ferocious tackle in the open field. With Stanford leading Oregon 14-0 in the second quarter, De'Anthony Thomas caught a short pass with room to work near the goal line. Safety Jordan Richards was able to alter Thomas' direction. As a result, Skov would have a chance to make a play, and he did just that in violent fashion just short of the goal line. True to form, though, Skov did more than just tackle Thomas: He ripped the ball out during the process, denying the Ducks points and securing possession for Stanford in the process.
It was a play that embodied the versatile skill set Skov has embodied in his college career: mental awareness, physical toughness, quickness, and strength. It also changed the complexion of the contest. Before the strip, Oregon was a yard away from making it a one-score game. Instead, they found themselves trailing by three possessions after Stanford's next drive.
3. Ty Montgomery Takeover (vs. Washington)
Offensively, Washington outgained Stanford by over 210 yards. The Huskies outplayed the Cardinal on the defensive side of the ball, too. Had it not been for Ty Montgomery's spectacular contributions, Steve Sarkisian's squad might have blown out the Farm Boys.
There would be no Washington win on October 5, though. Montgomery did enough to turn that night into a thrilling Stanford win. He first returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. He later hauled in a crucial 39-yard touchdown bomb from Kevin Hogan to send the Cardinal to halftime leading by 10 points. When the Huskies crept to within three in the second half, it was Montgomery who came to the rescue again: His 68-yard kickoff return set the table for another Stanford insurance touchdown. By the time it was all said and done, No. 7 had racked up 204 kick return yards, a program record. He was the NCAA's kickoff return leader from that point onward.
Of course, the ever-humble Montgomery will always remind the media that his blockers and coach Pete Alamar's special teams coordination had everything to do with his success. The observation here: His speed had a lot to do with it, too.
2. Kodi Whitfield's Sensational Catch (vs. UCLA)
On October 19, Stanford desperately needed an offensive spark. Their attack was still reeling after a devastating loss to Utah. A first half of missed opportunities against UCLA meant that the score was tied 3-3 midway through the third quarter. The Cardinal needed something special to break out of the doldrums, and Kodi Whitfield provided just that.
On second and 18, Hogan rifled a pass over the middle of the field toward the end zone. Whitfield, in heavy traffic, hauled in a spectacular backhanded catch with only arm. The officials failed to call pass interference on the play, but it didn't matter: Stanford had finally found the end zone thanks to one of the most spectacular receptions in program history.
1. Not On My Goal Line, Pt. 2: Skov, Hoffpauir Build a Wall (at ASU)
Arizona State was threatening to bite into the Cardinal's 31-14 lead toward the end of the third quarter. A productive drive had taken them all the way to Stanford's one yard line. The home team was tantalizingly close to making the Pac-12 Championship a 10-point game entering the final quarter.
Some have jokingly called Stanford's style "Soviet-style football." Fittingly then, in perhaps the definitive moment of this 2013 season, the Farm Boys built an Iron Curtain at the goal line in Tempe. Shayne Skov and Arizona native Zach Hoffpauir made epic stops on third and fourth down. No. 11 stuffed ASU's third down quarterback sneak attempt with a dive over the Sun Devils' offensive line. It wasn't the first time he had perfectly timed an opponents' snap count, and he explained his thinking afterward:
"You just kind of get it over a period of time. You get a feel for certain situations: How much time left on the play clock, the quarterback's physical presence and whether or not he is anticipating the snap, motions. There are different things you take into account as a whole. It's an educated guess... I can give you a nice estimation of what I assume [the snap count] will be... On third and fourth down [and goal], there was no risk, high reward. A penalty [would have been] a few inches. We don't have anything to lose at that point. I read his lips as the snap was coming... It's a hitting percentage thing."
Skov hit a home run on that play, and Stanford will now play in the Rose Bowl because of it.
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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