Fiesta Bowl 2012: Final Grades for Andrew Luck and Stanford
Remember when you took an exam in high school or college, only to have the teacher or professor delay grading it? After you had spent all that time studying, the teacher was slow in posting the grades?
That was just plain wrong.
Well, no excuses, but here are the slightly belated final grades for Stanford after its excruciating 41-38, come-from-ahead, last-play loss to Oklahoma State in Monday night's Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
Read on for the As, Bs and...
Stanford's offense did to the Cowboys what it had done to every other 2011 opponent.
Led by the All-American—and soon-to-be first-round draft picks offensive linemen David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin—the Cardinal power running game pulverized OSU for 243 yards on 50 carries. RB Stepfan Taylor had a career game with 177 yards on 35 carries and two touchdowns.
Andrew Luck was his usual magnificent self, completing 27-of-31 passes—27 of 31!—for 347 yards (10.1 yards per attempt) and two touchdowns. He did throw an early pick—which means he had only three other incompletions all game long against a darn good Cowboys secondary.
Freshman WR Ty Montgomery had a breakout game with a career-best seven catches for 120 yards and a 53-yard first-quarter touchdown reception.
Senior WR and former walk-on Griff Whalen closed out his rags-to-riches Stanford career with another Wes Welker-esque performance, hauling in seven tough catches in heavy traffic for 85 yards.
The three TEs—Fleener, Ertz and Toilolo—chipped in with seven more receptions for another 75 yards and the Ertz touchdown.
All of that added up to 590 yards of total offense and a dominating 41:47 time of possession.
Oklahoma State scored 41 points. Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon torched the Stanford defense.
So surely the Cardinal defense deserves a failing grade, right?
Not so fast.
The defense forced five punts and shut down the dynamic duo of Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith. The Cowboys' vaunted rushing attack totaled a measly 13 net yards on 15 carries.
You do the math.
Thanks to the tremendous rush-defense, OSU totaled only 412 yards—a season low—and was held scoreless in the first quarter for the first time all season.
And after Stanford fumbled away the ball at its 2-yard line in the third quarter, the defense—led by Matt Masifilo and Delano Howell—held OSU to a field goal, preserving Stanford's 28-24 lead.
Still, the lack of a credible pass-rush (only one sack) and the secondary’s inability to handle Blackmon were glaring deficiencies throughout the game. The Cowboys scored on their final four possessions, including the winning drive in overtime.
Stop me if you haven't heard this already—Stanford’s special teams were not impressive.
Jordan Williamson, who had been lights-out earlier in the season, had his worst game ever. He missed three field goals, including an early 41-yarder, the potential 35-yard game-winner as regulation expired and a 43-yarder in overtime.
Williamson also had no touchbacks on his kickoffs. He bounced a fourth-quarter kickoff out of bounds for the automatic penalty to the OSU 40-yard line, and none of his other kickoffs reached the end zone.
Williamson looked good during pregame warmups, splitting the uprights from beyond 45 yards, but he had not played a full game (extra points, field goals and kickoffs) since October. With seven kickoffs, five extra points and two field goal attempts, Williamson's leg may have been weary when he lined up for the straight-on 35-yard field goal for the win.
Stanford's special teams tackling was not crisp, as the Cowboys averaged nearly 29 yards on kick returns.
Thanks to the typically unstoppable Cardinal offense, David Green punted only twice, averaging 34.5 net yards.
In November 2009, Stanford played arch-rival Cal with a Rose Bowl berth on the line.
Cal led 34-28 in the last minute. All four of Stanford's touchdowns had been scored by Toby Gerhart, who then bowled over half the Bears' defense on a 29-yard catch and run. The ball was on the Cal 2.
Then, coach Jim Harbaugh decided to let a young, first-year, redshirt freshman QB named Andrew Luck pass for the win. Luck was not playing his best, and wound up completing just 10-of-30 passes.
Luck's first attempt was incomplete. His second was intercepted in the end zone. Cal ran out the clock for the win, and with that went any Rose Bowl chances for Stanford—and perhaps, Toby Gerhart's Heisman Trophy as well. He would finish second to Mark Ingram, in the closest Heisman vote ever.
Why did I just bore you with something from 2009?
Because history repeats itself, and at the Fiesta Bowl, on a night where the same Andrew Luck was as unstoppable as Gerhart had been in the 2009 Cal game, the Stanford coaches took the ball out of Luck's hands.
You guessed it—they decided to let a young, first-year, redshirt freshman kicker who was having a bad game try a field goal for the win.
Luck was a near-perfect 16-of-17 in the second half. Had coach Shaw used one or both of Stanford's timeouts, allowing Luck to throw one or two more passes, Stanford could've scored a TD and won 45-38.
On the other hand, coach Shaw set up the field goal in textbook fashion. He ran the clock down, ensured that OSU would not regain possession, called a running play to place the ball right in the middle of the field and gave his kicker a straight-on, eminently make-able 35-yard kick for the win.
I've never coached football, but that sure seems to be a decent strategy—one that's worked countless other times in other games.
And so the debate rages on.
The offensive game plan certainly worked to perfection, as Stanford rolled up 590 yards of offense on the Cowboys.
The defense was good against the run. And who has ever stopped Blackmon anyways?
In 2006, Stanford went 1-11.
By 2009, Stanford had a winning record for the first time in eight years.
In 2010-2011, Stanford was a combined 23-3 and one of the best teams in the nation.
If we were grading on the overall body of work, the Cardinal would earn an A+.
But this grade is for only the Fiesta Bowl—a game where Stanford lit up the scoreboard and easily could have emerged the victor, but did not.
Final Grade: B