As I took in the final moments of Stanford football’s win over USC, it was hard for me to determine which part of the victory was the sweetest: the deafening silence of the USC fans, the joy emanating from the Stanford sideline, the ability to proudly proclaim the Cardinal as kings of California, the trash talk I previously made now being validated or the pure schematic beauty of Stanford’s performance.
There was just so much that seemed right about that victory. The Cardinal’s immaculate execution rivaled that of Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible. David Shaw and Mike Bloomgren’s play-calling turned from Mr. Hyde to Dr. Jekyll. The USC fan base became quieter than Marshawn Lynch at a press conference.
Admittedly, I grew up rooting for USC, and the last time I had been in the Coliseum, which was in 2010 to watch USC play Oregon, I was wearing a No. 10 Trojans jersey and a USC hat. Thus, you can imagine how this win was particularly special for me – and to loyal readers of The Daily who now desire my excommunication, I’ll reference you to Taylor Swift, who sang about how my mad love quickly changed to bad blood.
Even as the week moved on, I couldn’t stop watching highlights from the game or bothering my friends – particularly those from USC – with my ramble about how fantastic the game was.
I hadn’t felt this good about Stanford football since Nov. 7, 2013, right after Stanford beat Oregon.
We all remember what happened after that monumental victory: Stanford went on the road to face a conference rival that it should have beaten and fell flat, earning its second loss and moving out of the national championship picture. We all also remember how that week was possibly the biggest emotional swing in recent Stanford football memory.
I’m not saying that 2015 Oregon State is 2013 USC – on paper, the former is certainly inferior to the latter – but I am of the opinion that this week’s matchup against the Beavers has “trap game” written all over it.
Like my inability to move past the glory of last week’s victory against USC, the Cardinal have historically struggled to move past emotional upset wins over top-ranked opponents to take on teams they should theoretically beat.
Since 2009, the Cardinal have been double-digit underdogs only four times and have won all four games, quite an outstanding feat. A lesser-known stat is that in the weeks immediately following the three upsets prior to this weekend’s win against USC, Stanford lost twice, to Cal in 2009 after beating USC and to USC in 2013 after beating Oregon – both games that Stanford entered as the favorite.
Moving past an emotional win in a game you weren’t even supposed to be competing in is no easy task, especially when the next opponent doesn’t have the same allure. When you add in the fact that Stanford could be missing its quarterback in Kevin Hogan, is playing the game a day earlier than normal, is dealing with the first week of class and is traveling on the road to play in a feisty environment, it becomes significantly harder.
It’s hard to blame the Cardinal for reflecting on a big win. Who doesn’t want to think more about that game against USC? No offense to the Beavers, but it’s hard to mention them in the same breath as USC this season, which is expected to be a rebuilding year for Oregon State. A primetime game against USC certainly garners more excitement than a Friday-night matchup against a team that went 5-7 last season.
From the Beavers’ perspective, though, this is a chance for a young team with a brand-new coach to announce itself to the nation with a statement win against a rival. You can bet it’ll be fired up and ready to go.
But will Stanford? That’s the question that will ultimately determine the game’s outcome.
Stanford heads on the road to a raucous atmosphere to face a probably-overmatched-on-paper rival while coming off of an emotional, taxing win and dealing with injuries to key players.
Sure sounds like a trap game to me.
So far this season, we’ve seen the full range of emotion from the Cardinal. Against Northwestern, the team seemed complacent, lackadaisical and unmotivated. Against USC, those feelings changed to passion, confidence and hunger.
In order to avoid the trap and beat Oregon State, the Cardinal will need every ounce of that passion, confidence and hunger, even as 15.5-point favorites. If the Card can muster that same emotion, there’s no doubt in my mind that Stanford walks off the field as the victor, probably by a wide margin.
But if even a hint of the complacency that showed up on Week 1 is present, this game could prove to be yet another pitfall.
Proceed with caution, Cardinal fans.
Michael Peterson is more than ready to suit up for the Cardinal and play quarterback in case Kevin Hogan, Keller Chryst, Ryan Burns, Dallas Lloyd and Jay Tyler are all unable to do so on Friday. Tell Michael to keep dreaming big at mrpeters ‘at’ stanford.edu.