Stanford continues to thrive despite departures
JAN 01, 2013 6:18p ET
There were significant doubts that Stanford would be the same without him, but on a cool, brisk afternoon, the Cardinal finished off its season with an emphatic statement.
No Luck needed.
“Our program is here to stay,” said Stanford defensive back Usua Amanam, whose fourth-quarter interception in the final two-plus minutes — the game’s only turnover — secured the win.
Luck is a year removed from Stanford, but his departure was seen as the end of good times for the Cardinal. He was the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft last spring and now works for the Indianapolis Colts, but even in Tuesday night’s afterglow, his name couldn’t help but be invoked.
That’s not a bad thing. Luck put the football program on solid ground. The question was whether coach David Shaw could keep it there without his unquestioned star.
All without Luck.
“Andrew Luck deserved and deserves a lot of credit and a lot of attention for what he’s done with us and what he’s doing now in the NFL,” Shaw said. “But the thing we knew is that we had a good team. Andrew knew he had a good team around him. He was as excited about this year coming up as anybody we have.”
The Rose Bowl was Stanford’s opportunity to show a national TV audience that it was more than just one player, even as good as that player was. And although the game started as an offensive show, it turned on critical defensive plays.
The Cardinal scored the first two times it had the ball, driving 80 and 79 yards on the Badgers’ formidable defense for touchdown runs by Kelsey Young and Stepfan Taylor. But as it turned out, those were the Cardinal’s only touchdowns of the game. Any thought it had that it could run wild on Wisconsin was unfounded.
“Wisconsin’s a very good team, a very good offense, very tough defensively,” Stanford tight end Zach Ertz said. “I thought it was going to be a battle all along.”
True enough. But if the Badgers were unmovable on defense, so was Stanford. That was never more apparent than in the second quarter when Wisconsin crossed the goal line twice but never actually scored.
The first time, an apparent 8-yard touchdown run by Montee Ball was nullified by a holding call on left tackle Rick Wagner. The second time, a 9-yard TD pass from Curt Phillips to Jacob Pederson was subjected to a video review, which showed Pederson had a knee down inches before the goal line.
“I picked up a tendency from their wildcat package and their short-yardage (look) during film study,” Gardner said. “I had a hunch where the ball was going, so I kind of tightened down my alignment and shot the gap, and I was able to make the play.”
Asked if he was sure he stopped White from reaching the end zone, Gardner said, “Oh yeah, I stopped him.”
Stanford relied on field goals of 47 and 22 yards by Jordan Williamson to pad its lead, and a 12-play drive preceding the second kick ate up almost 6½ minutes, leaving the Badgers with just 4:23 for their final drive. But Wisconsin’s comeback hopes failed abruptly.
On a second-and-5 at the Cardinals 49, Phillips’ pass was intercepted by Amanam to put away the game.
“I don’t think one play wins any game,” Amanam said. “I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and we were able to kind of seal the game with that one.”
But the Cardinal readily conceded it came with a physical price.
“I’m beat up right now,” said Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan, who was 12-of-19 passing for 123 yards. “I think Stepfan (Taylor) probably is too. They’re a very good team, hard-nosed.”
Taylor finished with 88 yards and the first-quarter touchdown on 20 carries.
“We knew this was going to be a battle,” Shaw said. “For us, we wouldn’t expect it any other way. This is the way we’ve played all year. We know it’s going to be tight, and we know it’s going to be close. At the end of the game, we’re going to find a way to win.”
The fact Stanford did it without Luck made it even more gratifying. As Amanam pointed out, this is a team that endured the loss of gritty running back Toby Gerhart after the 2009 season, lost coach Jim Harbaugh to the NFL after 2010 and saw the departure of Luck after 2011.
So it was motivation to prove the Cardinal could stay strong and remain prominent among college football’s powers ... and that’s what they did.
“It’s always difficult to replace an unbelievable player like Andrew,” Hogan said, “but when you have great guys around you that keep you level-headed, everyone comes together for one cause.”
In this case, the reward was roses.