Pasadena, Calif.–It wasn’t pretty, but Stanford proved yet again that its “Blue Collar” style of play is as efficient as ever with a grinding 20-14 win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl on Tuesday.
After racing out to an early 14-point lead in the first quarter thanks to some creative play calling from head coach David Shaw and two outstanding receptions, Stanford was all but shut down on offense for the rest of the game. But two Jordan Williamson field goals were all the Cardinal would need, as the 99th edition of “The Grandaddy of Them All” wound up a defensive struggle that the Badgers had a chance to win until the very end.
Only when redshirt junior nose tackle Josh Mauro reached up and tipped Curt Phillips’ pass into the hands of sprawling senior nickleback Usua Amanam with the Badgers driving into Cardinal territory did the large Stanford contingent of fans begin to celebrate with little over two minutes to play.
“I read pass,” Amanam said, “so I got into my drop and then I felt the quarterback coming back towards the middle of the field. He went to unwind, I think someone got a hand on it and I just saw the ball fluttering into my hands.
“I mean I can’t even tell you what I was thinking. I was thinking about my mom, about my family, about this team. Coach Mason always talks about don’t count the plays make the plays count, and that’s what I lived by today.”
Early on it didn’t seem like Stanford would need Amanam’s interception, the game’s lone turnover, or any kind of late-game heroics to cement its first Rose Bowl victory since 1972. A rushing touchdown by Kelsey Young on the game’s first possession was quickly followed by another score on the ground for senior running back Stepfan Taylor and a 14-0 lead before some fans had even reached their seats.
But the Badgers’ defense clamped down hard with Hall of Fame coach Barry Alvarez back on the sideline for a one-game stint seven year’s after retiring from head coaching with Wisconsin and 13 after taking down Stanford on the same field at the 2000 Rose Bowl.
“This group of kids has been through a lot, and they competed extremely hard against a very high-quality team,” Alvarez said. “We’ve played three very good football games (at the Rose Bowl). These guys played hard. In fact, most people would like to get here once. But we just didn’t get it done.”
They certainly came close, however.
Stanford stopped James White inside the 1-yard line on fourth down early in the second quarter after a touchdown run by Ball was wiped out by a holding penalty, but Ball scored on the next drive. The Badgers then mounted an 85-yard drive just before halftime, with a 38-yard scamper from Phillips setting up a short TD catch that trimmed Stanford’s halftime lead to 17-14.
“We knew coming in, it was going to be a physical game,” Taylor said. “We knew they know how to play against power as well as us. They did a great job. It was our defense keeping us in the game that enabled us to get this win.”
Linebackers AJ Tarpley and Shayne Skov led the team with nine tackles, and safety Jordan Richards had two tackles for a loss and a bone-crunching hit to force an incompletion late. With senior nose tackle Terrence Stephens ineligible due to a secondary NCAA violation, Mauro and junior David Parry stepped up and filled the gaps inside with 10 total tackles, repeatedly forcing Wisconsin’s big front line out of its blocking assignments.
Ball, the NCAA career-leader in rushing touchdowns managed to claw his way to 100 yards on 24 carries, and the Badgers managed 218 yards total on the ground, but it wasn’t enough.
“This stings just as much, because we fell extremely short when we had the opportunity to win,” Ball said. “We had numerous opportunities to capitalize on big plays, and we fell short. … This is not the way we want to be remembered. Speaking for the entire senior group, this is not the way we wanted to go out.”
But it was exactly what Amanam and the rest of Stanford’s senior class had in mind.
“This has been our No. 1 goal coming in as freshmen,” Amanam said. “We came in and always heard the older guys talk about ‘Rose Bowl this, Rose Bowl that.’ To see it finally materialize and to be in this moment is an amazing feeling and I honestly can’t even describe it.”