Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out.
Don’t worry, Stanford fans. The scariest Halloween night of your lives is over now, and Stanford was somehow still able to emerge from the spooktacular Pullman unscathed and with the Pac-12 North title effectively sealed away.
Here’s the thing: For as bad as Stanford looked during the first half of the game, this was a game that the team sorely needed after a long stretch of dominant victories.
I’d actually addressed this concern in the last few podcasts when I whimsically made a comment along the lines of, “You know, I wonder if this team has been winning by too much over these last few games.” (I guess this is what it must feel like to be an Oregon fan.)
I was afraid that when it met adversity for the first time in over a month, the team wouldn’t be mentally prepared — especially in a hostile road environment like Pullman on Halloween. And the pieces were really all there in the making for your classic Stanford upset on Saturday — I didn’t say it out loud, but for the first half of that game, it really did feel like that Utah upset in 2013.
But in the end, I think Kevin Hogan said it best: “We needed this game. We needed to look adversity in the face and punch it in the mouth.”
Unlike Stanford teams of old, this team adjusted at the half and came out as a completely new squad in the second half. David Shaw’s group battled back, putting to rest any of my concerns that this team wouldn’t be able to cope with pressure and adversity after a long stretch of victories.
The 2013 and 2014 teams would not have won this game. That I’m sure of.
As I saw on Twitter after the game, I’ve never seen a Stanford team so utterly and thoroughly abandon its original game plan during a game in the entire David Shaw era.
The team diagnosed that the Washington State defense was going all-in on Christian McCaffrey, and in the second half, the coaching staff dialed up more read-option looks and designed quarterback keepers for Hogan that — no question — won the game for the Cardinal.
After being limited to just 85 yards of total offense and 3 points in an abysmal first half, the team came out on fire in the second half, scoring on each of its first four possessions (including three touchdowns) and doing just barely enough on defense to hold on.
And that’s exactly what even the most elite teams need to do at times to preserve seasons of destiny. This game, for Stanford, was like Ohio State last year needing double overtime to beat an unranked Penn State on the road. Or Auburn in 2013 needing both the “Miracle at Jordan Hare” to beat Georgia and the “Kick Six” at the Iron Bowl to set up an eventual national title berth.
There are precious few teams that can tear through an entire 13-game schedule like 2013 Florida State did. For most teams, it’s a matter of being dominant for much of the season, and even on an off day, still somehow finding a way to win at all costs.
That’s exactly what Stanford did, and at the end of the day, all this game becomes is another “W” in the rearview mirror as the Cardinal look ahead to another tough road duel with Colorado on Saturday.
And they’re all the better for it, having proven that they can overcome adversity even after a month where literally nothing went wrong for the team. They overcame the largest second-half deficit of the David Shaw era (12 points), played a bad game and got away with it.
This was a classic 2012 Stanford nitty-gritty win — play horribly on offense for most of the game, but do just barely enough late to support a solid defensive effort.
So far this season, we’ve seen Stanford play like the worst of the 2014 team, but now it’s looking more and more like the best of the 2010, 2011 and 2012 teams.
You could do plenty worse than looking like an Orange Bowl and Rose Bowl Champion and Fiesta Bowl loser, no?
Do-Hyoung Park predicted last week that Stanford would easily win out following its victory over Washington. Remind him that one Erik Powell missed kick made all the difference on Saturday at dhpark ‘at’ stanford.edu.