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Westhem: Stanford thoroughly outcoached in Rose Bowl loss to MSU

It was the perfect day, with a buzz and excitement filling the Stanford sections throughout the Rose Bowl. Alas, it quickly fizzled along with all hope of a repeat Rose Bowl victory as Stanford came up short on its most crucial fourth-and-1 of the season. Of course, the fizzle didn’t start and end with that play. There was a tangible shift in confidence and certainty of a Stanford victory as the Cardinal ended the third quarter without having produced any points.

Analysts can speculate all they want about why head coach David Shaw called the game as conservatively as he did, but we’ll never really know. That doesn’t mean we have to stop questioning and debating it, though, because it truly was baffling.

Honestly, it was a coaching debacle and there was an apparent crisis of confidence in his team leaders. Why was Shaw seemingly afraid to pass in the second half and if he was so adamant to not pass, why wouldn’t he rely on the seventh-ranked rusher in the country, Tyler Gaffney, to make or break the Card’s most decisive play of the season?

Stanford used three straight running plays to set up the critical fourth-and-1 and then saw Ryan Hewitt stuffed running down the middle after Gaffney was stopped on the previous third-and-short. Shaw took the game out of the hands of his quarterback and his best running back.

Michigan State is statistically one of the best defensive teams in the nation for limiting its opponents’ rushing and passing yards to just over 86 and 165 yards per game, respectively. So when the mix of passing and rushing was working so well for the Card in the first half, why did it stop and rely so heavily on the run game for the remainder of the game? Stanford just didn’t adjust well to the Spartans’ defensive pressure.

When Ty Montgomery got hurt at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the passing game was completely halted. It seemed as if Shaw was having a change of heart and losing faith in Kevin Hogan. Even if he was afraid of a turnover during that crucial fourth quarter, he certainly chose a bad time to lose faith in his quarterback. It was evident that for whatever reason, Shaw was not willing to put the game in Hogan’s hands when everything was on the line.

You could blame the lack of passing on the absence of Montgomery, but is Stanford so lacking in depth that with Montgomery hurt, the offense falls apart? No. Shaw could have utilized Devon Cajuste, Michael Rector or Kodi Whitfield.

Overall, Stanford didn’t play physically or assertively. It was almost as if the Card was playing not to lose, rather than playing to win. It would have been worth taking more chances with passing, even if they didn’t come to fruition, as long as Stanford was making adjustments and putting it all on the line. Instead, it chose the conservative route. I’m not doubting that the players put their heart and soul into that game — especially the seniors in their fourth and final BCS bowl — but didn’t the coaches owe it to their players to mix it up a bit and stop the fruitless running game?

In the end, the lowly three points managed in the final three quarters of the game and penalty flags flying often were not representative of Cardinal football. The seniors deserved to go out with a bang, but unfortunately, Stanford didn’t demonstrate the “intellectual brutality” that those seniors helped foster.

All that being said, the season can’t be disregarded, as the Cardinal did pull off huge victories against Oregon and Arizona State to win the Pac-12 title. The seniors and fifth-year seniors — Gaffney, Shayne Skov, Trent Murphy and Ben Gardner, to name a few — are a testament to the success of Stanford football with and without Andrew Luck. And when the program was in question, they didn’t skip a beat but just continued to play their game and develop into the leaders that the Card needed. So while they deserved a better send-off than the Rose Bowl game offered, they leave Stanford at its high point at height that they created and that will hopefully be sustained by the classes that follow.

Ashley Westhem has been unable to get a good night’s sleep since the Rose Bowl, continually questioning what could have been. Suggest some insomnia cures at awesthem ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Ashley Westhem

Ashley Westhem is the voice of Stanford women’s basketball for KZSU as well as The Daily’s beat writer for the team and aids in KZSU’s coverage of football. She has been a desk editor for three volumes and now serves as Managing Editor of Sports. She is an American Studies major from Lake Tahoe, Calif., and aspires to work in sports administration, to positively affect the lives of student-athletes and the relationship between the athletic and academic spheres of universities.
  • ADPATERSON, HBio79 [Daily ’78]

    LA Headline: “ROSES ARE GREEN” — Stanford 20, MSU 24

    At the Rose Bowl in the sunshine, I lost my voice yelling at Shaw to
    pass the ball — “Hey, wake up! WE are the team trailing !”, as Shaw
    called run plays 4 times with less than 3min to play and no timeouts….
    !!??#@*! because “that’s Stanford football”… ? Against the best and
    most complete defense we faced all year, hands down; even with star LB
    Bullough out, their depth prevailed.
    We won the first 20min, up 17-7. First series went right as planned for the TD, good mix of throws and runs… and then Shaw refused to mix it up from there. FAIL.

    Lesson 1: If the other teams knows you are going to run, it is easier
    to stop, especially when it’s coming between the tackles and they are
    the #1 rush defense in the country… ! Against MSU, we needed to pass
    to setup the run, and we did that on the first series just fine, and
    then abandoned a winning formula.
    MSU made adjustments and stuffed
    us the rest of the game. Just 60 yards rushing in the second half. We
    played right into their strength and THEIR game plan. Lose.
    Lesson
    2: At the BCS level, what worked in the regular season (even in a Pac12
    champ game) won’t work [a] at a BCS level, and [b] when the other team
    has three weeks to watch tape and prepare. I did not see a single new
    play called in the Rose Bowl. Shaw & Co just focused on execution —
    No creativity; resting on laurels. And, maybe we are missing Pep
    Hamilton at OffCoord (from last year; grabbed by Andrew Luck and Colts
    this year). Losing Ty Montgomery at the start of Q4 didn’t help, but we
    have a good receiving corp lying fallow.
    And, with three weeks, MSU
    went to work on a passing game and Cook had a career high ! Our
    secondary played soft, waiting for sacks that rarely came… guess what
    — MSU has a pretty good O-line also (!) But we knew that. Dropping
    picks hurt also.
    Lesson 3: Relying on a great punter and superb
    defense does not score points. Shaw went to the same fall-back WAY TOO
    many times. And, MSU turned the tables on us several times: leaving us
    in worse field position !
    Every alum around me, after the game, and
    on the game thread was FURIOUS with Shaw’s stubborn play-calling after
    the break. None felt it was the players.
    Still, he/we won two Pac-12
    titles in a row WITHOUT Andrew Luck. This level of griping shows how
    high the expectations have now climbed.
    The pipeline is loaded, we regroup to DEFEND OUR Pac-12 Title… again ! — at Rose Bowl.