fter 60 minutes of football largely controlled by the Card, Stanford dropped a 41-38 overtime decision to the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the 2012 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Without further ado, here are your final Quick Reads of the 2011 season:
- The game will rightfully be remembered by Stanford fans more as the finale of the Andrew Luck Era than as a loss. The redshirt junior, who has made clear his intention to leave the Farm for the NFL this spring, repeatedly put Stanford in positions to win while putting together a nearly flawless performance. Luck completed 27 of his 31 passes (87%) for 347 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. Luck’s most impressive play came on a 20-yard pass that hit the improvising Griff Whalen in time to record an undefended completion and convert a 3rd-and-14 in the 4th quarter–a throw that few, if any, other college quarterbacks could make. Oklahoma State certainly isn’t the stingiest of defenses, but Luck played what came awfully close to a perfect game for a quarterback, and his best playing came under pressure in the second half.
- Luck’s partner in the starting backfield, tailback Stepfan Taylor, turned in the best game of his collegiate career. The junior and presumptive star of next season’s team took 35 carries for 177 yards and 2 touchdowns and chipped in another 21 yards receiving. Taylor had long stretches, particularly early in the evening, when virtually every carry was good for at least 6 yards. That, in turn, opened up the play action passing game for Luck; Luck’s 1st-quarter touchdown toss to Ty Montgomery came after a play fake to Taylor.
- Now to the ugly. The obvious scapegoat–and the one that’s already gotten plenty of mentions among the national college football media on Twitter–is freshman kicker Jordan Williamson. But the more legitimate and kinder target for blame is the Stanford coaching staff. Why head coach David Shaw would choose to play for a game-winning field goal on the final drive remains an open question. Luck had the hot hand and was effectively moving the ball down the field in the 4th quarter. He’s also one of the finest players in the history of the school and the history of college football. Williamson, on the other hand, is young, had already missed a field goal during the game, has battled nagging injuries throughout the 2011 season and looked terrified before taking the kick. Better to hand the reins to the All-Everything veteran than to the green kicker.
- And so, despite his virtuoso performance, this was a tough way for Luck to leave and for Stanford fans to see him go.
- Similarly conservative play-calling at other points in the game put a dent in Stanford’s chance to preserve the win. Shaw’s decision to call the Wildcat formation twice–the same Wildcat that backfired during the USC game–gave away downs. The call to go with a fullback run when backed up against Stanford’s endzone resulted in a fumble that OSU recovered. Although the hypotheticals game is a dangerous one, it’s not hard to imagine a slightly more aggressive game plan yielding a Stanford victory.
- Oklahoma State did its share to win, too. Star wide receiver Justin Blackmon won Offensive Player of the Game honors for his stand-out performance: 8 catches, 186 yards and 3 touchdowns (tying a Fiesta Bowl record). Once OSU quarterback Brandon Weeden and Blackmon found their rhythm, the junior receiver nestled into big gaps and exploited the Cardinal secondary.
- Weeden posted a relatively quiet 399 yards and 3 touchdowns on 69% passing. While the surprisingly effective Colton Chelf and Josh Cooper gave Weeden reliable targets for keeping possession and moving the chains, getting the ball to Blackmon and allowing him to run was the Cowboys’ chief offensive weapon. Stanford had no consistent solution for negating Blackmon’s speed and strength.
- It’s worth stating that defense–which came to mean very little by game’s end–dominated the opening quarter. The teams combined to score just 7 points in the game’s first 15 minutes; Oklahoma State’s vaunted offense earned only 27 yards in that time.
- The final stat sheet tells a different story. Luck and Weeden were sacked a total of 3 times (Trent Murphy recorded Stanford’s lone sack, while Jamie Blatnick and Richetti Jones each got one for OSU) and University of Phoenix Stadium witnessed 1002 yards of offense on the night.
- Other notable performers for Stanford include true freshman wide receiver Ty Montgomery, who took his share of hard hits before racking up 120 receiving yards and 1 touchdown on 7 catches; and senior running back Jeremy Stewart, who turned 3 carries into 65 yards and a score.
- The one thing left for Stanford this season is the final ranking in the polls. We can safely expect a drop from #4, but a finish somewhere in the top 10.
- We’ll have more on Luck–both his Stanford career and his transition to playing on Sundays–and coverage of the 2011 football season in retrospect in the coming days and weeks. Stay tuned for more, and thanks for making The Daily Axe a destination for Stanford coverage this football season.
(Headline image courtesy of Daylife)