A most frustrating finish for Stanford football


Jordan Williamson may feel like the loneliest man on the planet after missing two critical field goals, but Stanford's two missed scoring opportunities in the first quarter were just as lethal.

There is plenty of blame and much praise to share among all involved in the Stanford football program following the fourth-ranked Cardinal's 41-38 overtime loss to third-ranked Oklahoma State in Monday night's Fiesta Bowl before 69,927 fans in Glendale, Ariz.

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who received the game's Sportsmanship Award, produced yet another remarkable performance, as did junior running back Stepfan Taylor and freshman receiver Ty Montgomery and so many other Cardinal players.

David Shaw and his coaching staff had a grand game plan that was succeeding. The pieces were all there for a spectacular finish to another fantastic season and Luck was fitting it all together.

"I play the game to win and I think all these guys would say the same thing," Luck said. "Sure I'll review game film to see where I can get better but at the end of the day we lost and I'm just as responsible as anyone else."

Luck and his Stanford teammates didn't much care for the way the season ended, nor for the folks moving on with their lives whether it includes the NFL or otherwise. Then again, let's remember the seven straight losing years between Tyrone Willingham and Jim Harbaugh, the longest such streak in Stanford history.

Things could be worse. Or they could have been just a little bit better. After the disappointment of Monday's loss completes its journey from denial to acceptance, the football program will look a whole lot better.

Every fisherman has his story about the one that got away. For every champion, there's a thousand losers. For every horseshoe that comes close . . . well, no need to harp on what could have been.

The most anticipated postseason game outside of the BCS championship, the Fiesta Bowl was an impressive offensive show, two of the nation's best teams trading big plays and scores.

Oklahoma State (12-1) came up with the last one on Quinn Sharp's 22-yard field goal in overtime to win its first BCS bowl game. Stanford had led the entire game until that final kick.

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said his team dedicated the victory to the four people who died in the Nov. 17 plane crash that killed Cowboys' women's basketball coach Kurt Budke and assistant Miranda Serna.

After getting the ball back with 2:35 left in the fourth quarter and the score tied, Luck drove the Cardinal within field-goal range with 52 seconds to play. Stanford, however, ran two running plays and put the game on the shoulder of Williamson, hooked a 35-yard field goal wide left as time expired. He also missed from 43 yards in overtime. Williamson was in tears in front of his locker after the game and didn't speak with reporters.

Luck hit 27 of 31 passes for 347 yards and two touchdowns in his final game before heading to the NFL. Taylor ran for a career-high 177 yards and a pair of scores, and the Cardinal (11-2) recorded 590 yards but couldn't pull out their second straight BCS bowl victory.

"Our kids played hard," Shaw said. "They just didn't finish the game."

The Cardinal lost to eventual Pac-12 champion Oregon and crushed nearly everyone else with an offense that was top-15 in scoring and yardage. Stanford also has Luck, the two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up and all-but-certain No. 1 overall NFL pick, complemented by a powerful running game that's as good as any anywhere.

Stanford was the only team to live up to the billing in the early going.

Manhandling Oklahoma State's defense up front, the Cardinal had 225 yards by early in the second quarter and led 14-0 after Luck hit Montgomery on a 53-yard touchdown pass and Jeremy Stewart ran for a 24-yard score.

Montgomery caught seven passes for 137 yards, his first career 100-yard plus receiving game.

The Cardinal held Oklahoma State to 15 yards rushing on 13 carries and didn't give up the lead until the final play.

It still wasn't enough, the Cardinal's hopes sailing wide left off the right foot of Williamson, a redshirt freshman who missed three field goals after missing three all season.

The Stanford coaches (Shaw, offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton), however, failed to put the ball on the left hash mark for Williamson on all his misses, failing to give the right-footed, soccer-style kicker the best opportunity for success.

"There's an old saying that adversity reveals character, and that's not just for him, that's for all of us," Shaw said.

Luck said no one was to blame for the loss. He thinks people just want a scapegoat or a hero and, as he put it, "that's just not the case in any football game."

Luck finished his career with a school-record 82 touchdown passes, 22 interceptions, 9,430 passing yards and a 31-7 career record as the starter.

Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon showed why he's considered the best college wide receiver. He caught his first pass by splitting the middle of Stanford's defense for a 43-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter, then showed off his power on the next, brushing off a defender before racing for a 67-yard touchdown that tied it 14-all.

Two big catches, 110 yards and the offensive show was on.

Taylor scored on a 4-yard run and the Cowboys answered, tying it 21-all at halftime on Weeden's first career rushing touchdown, an ugly-but-effective 2-yarder.

Luck hit Zach Ertz on a 6-yard touchdown pass to open the third quarter and, after the teams traded field goals, Weeden found Blackmon for a third time, on a 17-yard crossing pass that tied the game at 31.

Taylor put Stanford up 38-31 with 4 1/2 minutes left, ducking behind Stanford's massive offensive line for a 1-yard touchdown. Oklahoma State answered quickly, moving 67 yards in less than two minutes to tie it on Joseph Randle's 4-yard touchdown run.

The Cowboys left too much time for Luck, but Stanford's luck ran out when Williamson couldn't come through in regulation and again in overtime.

When it comes to losing, there's always more questions than answers. There were a few Stanford offensive plays, for example, that went bust. Tyler Gaffney lined up as the quarterback twice and got nothing.

The defense didn't make every play either, nor did special teams make all the plays. In a game so close, there's always a handful of turning points.

Perhaps it's better to understand what it took to get to the verge of a BCS bowl championship, especially with a first-year coach and expectations that seemed preposterously high.

It took a lot more than just Luck, who leaves the program as decorated as past quarterbacks like John Elway, Jim Plunkett, John Brodie and Frankie Albert.

It may be over for Luck but it's just beginning for Shaw.

— Palo Alto Online Sports/AP


Like this comment
Posted by Ted Newgen
a resident of another community
on Jan 3, 2012 at 1:17 am

David Shaw lost the game for his players! [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Like this comment
Posted by Coach E
a resident of Southgate
on Jan 3, 2012 at 7:22 am

I'm sure David Shaw knows more football than anyone commenting on this page, myself included, but here's how I see it on that final drive in regulation...

I figured that the 35 yard kick was probably about an 80% chance to be successful. Not a bad gamble. But, what do you think the chances were that Stanford might have gotten a TD with 52 seconds left and 2 timeouts, had they decided to not just run out the clock? Maybe another 25% chance at least, right? And, even if they had not made a TD, would they likely have driven to make a shorter field goal? Probably increasing the chances of making a shorter field goal.

Look, they had a guy, Luck, who their coach says is the best player he's ever seen at this level. Why not give him the chance to win the game, rather than a freshman kicker? I know they could have turned the ball over, but that was unlikely the way things were going. And in the end, it wouldn't have been any worse than what happened.

Like this comment
Posted by marty toledo
a resident of another community
on Jan 3, 2012 at 7:48 am

I lost my sister to cancer last month, I cant find work as a carpenter going on two years, no money coming in and a blown head gasket, Jorden W JUST ONLY MISSED A FIELD GOAL ! people get a grip THANKS STANFORD FOR SOME AWESOME FOOTBALL! YES

Like this comment
Posted by Go Bears
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 3, 2012 at 8:26 am

Heartbreaking loss, guys, and believe me, I know all about them. Stanford fans do have reason to worry about the future, though. Unlike, say, Oregon, it hasn't been great coaching and an incredibly innovative system that has led to Stanford's success; it's been having the best college quarterback in the country. Having a stellar talent at that position can mask a lot of deficiencies. Cal fans in the post-Aaron Rodgers era are all too aware of that!

Like this comment
Posted by dragon
a resident of another community
on Jan 3, 2012 at 8:44 am

3 fingers for 3 seconds. That's what Shaw wanted and that's what he got: a time-out with 3 seconds left to win the game, he thought. He was counting on a visibly nervous freshmen kicker to deliver. What a wishful thinking!

I agree with those who think it is Shaw who lost the game because he got too cautious. If nothing else, he should have managed the clock a little better to try to score a touchdown before attempting a not so gimme field goal. He bet on the kicker's luck instead of the real deal Luck.

Stanford survived without Harbaugh. Will it be able to survive without Luck?

Like this comment
Posted by bonnie mendenhall
a resident of another community
on Jan 3, 2012 at 10:15 am

The coach screwed up! Why or why would you let an extremely nervous red-shirted FRESHMAN determine the final score? Luck is a SENIOR. It was his game to win or lose. I feel badly for Luck and the other players who had the game taken away from them by an uncaring coach!
Best wishes to the seniors in the future.
Will the coach be packing his bags? Maybe Urban M. would want him on his staff.

Like this comment
Posted by Ted Newgen
a resident of another community
on Jan 3, 2012 at 11:39 am

Coach E: There was no way that would have been an 80% makeable FG in a game of this magnitude with a redshirt freshman kicker. Stanford's quarterback was perfect 8 for 8 in the 4th qtr. while the kicker had already missed 1 (of 2) from comparable distance earlier, that's 50%. Factoring in kicer's youth, inexperience and nerves in a big game, the chances of him making that FG were far less than 80%. I just had a sinking feeling when there were 52 seconds on the clock with 3 timeouts and the coach elected to run for 8 yards in 2 plays without improving the field position significantly. Shaw retreated to the bunker and played not to lose instead of playing to win (this is what I meant by gutless...just no killer insticnt!), and when you have this mentality, the outcome can't be good in a close game. I think this is what Luck was alluding to in his post-game remarks.

Yes, the coach may know more X's & O's about football, but he doesn't know how to win a big game! It's just sad to see him not let his quarterback finish a storied ending in his final game! Let's see if Shaw is worth his salt without Luck next year.

Like this comment
Posted by Chas from Okie State
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 3, 2012 at 11:55 am

You guys might not realize it but that's exactly how we got to this game in the first place, one loss on a missed field goal in the final seconds of the game. Call it Fate, Karma, or let's just call it Luck. An OSU/LSU match up just wasn't going to happen. The outcome of that game would likely have been disastrous for the Cowboys. You didn't lose the game on a kick. It had to have been frustrating to absolutely control the whole game and look up at the scoreboard and see a tie. You just don't need time of possession. Let me introduce you to the Big 12 (or 10 or 9 or what ever).

Like this comment
Posted by Grad of Both
a resident of another community
on Jan 3, 2012 at 12:35 pm

Although proud of the 'pokes, I feel for Stanford. Sloppy defense all around, and poor poor Williamson. That said, we can all agree that the championship should not be a Bama/LSU rematch.

Like this comment
Posted by Jon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 3, 2012 at 1:01 pm

I agree with Caoch E and others. Can't put all this on the kicker. He did his best. Coach Shaw however did not. You have a quarterback who's 8 of 8 with all 3 time-outs and 52 secs and you're on the 17 yd line. Why not try 2 or 3 passing downs for Luck ? Maybe you make the kick easier, maybe you get to the end zone. The game's on the line and wouldn't it make sense to put the game in the hands of one of the nations best players ??

Like this comment
Posted by Duck1
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 3, 2012 at 1:14 pm

I was pissed that the BCS Championship game was going to be between two scholls from the same conference, same division for that matter. However, after watching that game last night I came to the realization that the BCS got it right. I was pulling for Stanford and was hoping for the upset. OK State is a good team but in no way, shape, fashion or form can they beat an Alabama or LSU on a neutral field (Much less in the SEC SuperDome). Stanford had no speed/size at all and should have won that game by at least 10 points. LSU beat us earlier in the year and I was amazed at how big and fast they were. Sorry, grad of both but they got it right and it hates me to admit it.

Like this comment
Posted by Chas from Okie State
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 3, 2012 at 1:42 pm

Jon the resident... is correct. You don't put the game winning play on the "red shirt freshman". Look at what Gundy did. 4th down and 3. Who do you go to? Your stud.
Final Cardinal drive should have been left totaly up to Andy. You're the stud that got em here, take us home big boy. Instead, they clipped his wings and thought they could do it from the sidelines. No faith...

Like this comment
Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jan 3, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Going for the FG in regulation was ok- that would have been a win 9 out ot 10 times. I agree they might have taken a shot at the end zone - a nice safe pass that could have been thrown away if the defense was not fooled.

The play I had a problem with was the FG attempt in OT - they had to score the TD so they might as well have gone for it.

Like this comment
Posted by Megan Swezey Fogarty
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 3, 2012 at 5:18 pm

Just got back from the Fiesta Bowl and it was amazing. So proud of my University and the team. This is only a game, people, and Stanford stayed in there until the end. Stanford had a great crowd, and an amazing weekend of celebration in the beautiful desert sun. Mostly I am so proud of the team's sportsmanship! Coach Shaw is amazing and the future looks bright for Stanford Football. Go Cardinal!

Like this comment
Posted by daniel
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 4, 2012 at 7:39 am

Some coaches tend to get conservative in similar situations and 8 times out of 10 their team ends up losing the game. Williamson was so visibly nervous on the sidelines that the odds were more like 90 percent that he was going to miss. Shaw had at his disposal the best college qb since Peyton Manning who was playing incredibly well, and he puts the game on the shoulders of a visibly terrified freshman kicker??? Shockingly bad decision.

Like this comment
Posted by Pistol Pete
a resident of another community
on Jan 4, 2012 at 11:23 am

To the Stanford Cardinal:

A tip of my hat to the University of Stanford and your great football team. What an amazing game. I'm sorry for your young kicker - as he will be remembered for the late game misses. Hope you bounce back partner.

As an OSU alum, I feel that we had Luck on our side. That being said, we've lined up against some pretty good QBs over the years, from Elway to Bradford - but this Luck guy is something special. Good luck to you in the NFL.

We'll remember the game as our biggest, so far. Watch out for the Pokes for years to come. Maybe we'll meet up again.


BTW - Your band has no class

Like this comment
Posted by Midtown Guy
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 4, 2012 at 12:28 pm

The band is juvenile.

Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 4, 2012 at 1:42 pm

No loss in a team game can be blamed on one single person, one single play.

Everyone makes mistakes - coaches, players, referees. Just as there are great decisions or plays made by the same people. And those successes/mistakes happen on every play - from the first kick-off until the end of the game.

Sure, you can point to some single events --- but you can just as easily point to a bad pass, a missed block (resulting in a QB sack), a fumble, an interception that happened earlier in the game --- even going all the way back to the first possession in the first quarter.

My guess is that those looking for a scapegoat never played a down of Division 1 football, let alone coached at that level.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Mademoiselle Colette opens second location in Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 8 comments | 5,176 views

By Laura Stec | 16 comments | 1,233 views

Couples: Initiators and Implementors
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 660 views

Are We Really Up To This?
By Aldis Petriceks | 1 comment | 471 views

Joe Simitian talk: Listening to Trump's America: Bridging the Divide
By Douglas Moran | 5 comments | 373 views