An Aw-foul Finish!
Man, that one hurt. Haven't seen that many freakin' flags since the opening ceremonies in Beijing last summer! Due in no small part to a series of infractions, real or imagined, we gave that one away, friends. Say what you will, but in the end, a QB who really wasn't very good made a great play when the chips were down. Good for him, bad for us.
We may have given away the 2005 UCLA game after building a 21-point lead and eventually losing in OT, but in trying to come up with a comparable infliction of emotional pain, I am reminded of another time we should have beaten the Bruins and managed somehow not to. Personally, I haven't felt this sick to my stomach after a UCLA game since Bruin kicker Brad Daluiso booted a back-breaker with 0:01 left to edge Stanford back in 1990. (Stanford had taken the lead with a John Hopkins field goal with 1:14 left). Long-time Cardinal fans will recall that Stanford's Frank Busalacci blocked a PAT that if successful would have tied the game at 28-28, but the ball popped miraculously, freakishly into the hands of QB/holder Tommy Maddox who said "Thank you, Lord" and threw for a two-point conversion that ultimately made the difference in a 32-31 loss.
It may be a couple of weeks until Halloween, but this one should and will "haunt" us for years to come. Floundering from a flurry of personal fouls , the Cardinal allowed one of the most imminently beatable UCLA teams in decades to steal a win in the final seconds. Last year we beat Southern Cal in a last-minute upset, this year we gifted one back to SoCal. In tribute to the great Wang Chung, one could say the Cardinal, in the span of just over a year, has "lived and died in L.A"
Some of the many reasons we are bitter:
- The post-game state of mind of my own father aka "The Conscience", who basically summed up his feelings thusly. "It was one of the most devastating losses in recent memory". Personally, other than having been subjected to a brutal Bruin broadcasting team on FSN-West, I didn't view this defeat as quite so devastating (after steaming for the past few hours), but is sure hurt....and left me shaking my head.
- Stanford should have won this game...and didn't. Too many penalties, perhaps too much conservatism, and without a doubt a debilitating offensive imbalance. Despite a less-than-stellar third-down defense today, it remains quite clear that our defense is not what is keeping us from winning ballgames. A consistent, balanced attack would help us win more of these game. And for the record, play-calling is not the problem. It isn't that we are unwilling to pass, we just don't seem to be able to.
- In his pre-game analysis on gostanford.com, our pal Todd Husak wrote "Stanford needs to grind out the game on the ground and should limit the passing play calls." He was right, but we think the staff must have read that and taken it just a bit too literally.
- The three turnovers were costly, but at least we did force a few today. On the other hand, there is really no excuse for the rash of morale-killing, drive-extending penalties (10-103), including at least four on the final drive of the half that led to a Bruin field goal.
- 5-13 for 51 net passing yards? 3.9 yards per pass play? Just three first downs by the pass vs. 13 for a far-below-average Bru-Crew? More than twice as many yards in penalties as we generated through the air. That has to be a record! Three completions to wide receivers, all to sure-handed #8 Ryan Whalen. And guys were dropping from their secondary like flies!. People, enduring that level of non-contribution by the QB-led passing game is the equivalent to asking Toby to carry a 50-pound sack of cement while trying to run the football and he still played like the supreme stud football player he is.
- Lanky and large 6'5" Bruin wide receiver Nelson Rosario, whom we wanted very badly to be a Stanford Cardinal, came up with a couple of huge, drive-extending third-down grabs for the Baby Blues.
- If Tavita was affected by the concussion suffered last week, then I guess we have to wonder why he played. If he was unaffected, then we have to wonder why we couldn't generate any offense through the air (actually, we are not wondering, we know). Really like the way Loukas runs the ball (Duh!), but somebody on this team has to complete some passes. Meanwhile, I think we have beaten The Luck Drum™ enough to know that everyone already knows our take on that whole situation. There were some very routine plays out there this afternoon that one has to believe a five-star freshman would be able to execute. (Note: That is by no means a personal attack on the quarterback as a human being! We like him, want him to have success, and may well vote for him to become President of the United States some day!)
- We managed just two field goals in the second half against a UCLA team of that caliber? Inexplicable.
- Sorry, but even though I am by no means a Bruin-hater, I admit I just plain don't like "Neu-weasel" and do not wish him well. I may even attend the UCLA-USC game just to watch the cross-town carnage and delight in Slick Rick's misfortune. I know, I shouldn't be so mean, but it has been a very rough week at The Bootleg.
Some of the good things we already knew:
- Our rumblin' stumblin' #7 Toby Gerhart is without question one of the most talented, most reliable players ever to wear the Cardinal & White. What could he have done today had there been any semblance of a threat to move the ball through the air? With 138 yards on Saturday, he needs to 221 more to get to 1,000 and needs to average just over 55 yards per game to break 1,000 and just about 75 yards per game to surpass Tommy Vardell's 1991 single-season rushing record of 1,084. Barring injury, knock on wood, done deal. In fact, we would not be surprised to see Gerhart threaten Jon Volpe's single-game record of 220, set in 1988 against UW, with career performance against reeling WSU in two weeks. If I were SI's First Team Mid-Season All-American center Alex Fletcher, I would gather up my name-taking OL buddies and put that "221" goal on paper. 221 yards by Toby would set a new single-season record, crack the 1,000-yard barrier for the first time in 17 years, and definitively usher in the dawn of a new era on The Farm: Mash Mouth Football™.
- QB #15 Alex Loukas made some more terrific plays running the ball. We really down know how well he throws yet. May be time to find out.
- Silky smooth freshman KR #81 Chris Owusu is faster than he looks and he will likely break a lot of big returns during his career. Still love freshman #26 Delano Howell too, though!
- We have a good football team, they just don't have all the puzzle pieces together yet.
Some of the observations on the brighter side:
- There is far too much football left to start calling this a disaster. It was a loss. A tough loss. The path just got steeper, but is still a clear path.
- Our man #20 Clinton Snyder finally got off "the Snyd" and was once again a menacing force. I will have to see a different angle to understand what it was he did on the final series. Looked like he pushed the intended receiver, but hey, we had a second personal foul on the play anyway!
- Ok, so maybe #44 Pat Maynor plays a little "dirty". Doubt anyone is going to complain about the personal foul called after Craft's shovel-pass TD in the third quarter. As long as there is not malicious intent to injure, we like a little dose of dirty in our backers!
- Heretofore virtually unknown to any but the most attentive among Booties, redshirt freshman defensive end #94 Thomas Keiser is rapidly becoming one of our most valuable players on either side of the ball.
- We looked stronger and tougher than UCLA - across the board. Starting to like that!
- Our kickers are doing a very fine job this season.
- We seemed to avoid major injuries.
- Arizona just hung 28 on Cal in the third quarter! Arizona 42, Cal 27 with three minutes left in Q3. UofA running back Antolin already has 150 yards on 18 carries with three TDs!
- We get to rest up with a bye week and should be ready to steamroll the struggling Cougs.
Some of the big questions from this game:
- Should Harbaugh have gone for it on fourth & one at the 11 instead of kicking the final field goal? Pretty high percentage roll of the dice given the fact the UCLA had known Toby was getting the ball almost every time and they were rarely able to stop him. You can argue that he should have gone for it since we would have still had the lead, but maybe it was a lot easier to ask the Cardinal defense to hold the Bruins out of the endzone than it would have been to risk having UCLA get in the FG range of their lights-out kicker Kai Forbath. No, in my opinion he should have had more options than to stay on the ground on third and six or seven, but was handicapped by Coach's apparent unwillingness to trust either of our quarterbacks to pick up the first down through the air. Seriously, how many folks stay on the ground on third and seven? It was primarily our inadequate passing game that cost us in crunch time!
- Sure, we mixed it up nicely at time, but I am struggling to recall a single pass we completed from the pocket. 18 yards passing in the first half?
- Did Defensive Co-Coordinator Ron Lynn get a bit too conservative on the final drive? Hard to say. Without the penalties, we probably win. So, no. It should have worked.
- Are we now a "longshot" to become bowl eligible? Hell no. If I am a member of this team, I am now seriously pissed and want a piece of the remaining non-Trojan schedule. No offensive line is going to come off a 249-yard rushing performance without considerable continuing confidence that they can work people over.
This team deserves better. We deserved this game. But now we have to move on. This just means the Cardinal will have to raise its solid level of play to outstanding in order to get to a bowl game. If we had won this game, beaten WSU, and lost the final three, it would have been an acceptable, but pretty "cheap" way to get to the postseason. Now we'll get to do it the old fashioned way, we'll have to earn it.
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