Stanford faces future with roses at their feet

Stanford faces future with roses at their feet
December 1, 2012, 6:37 am
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David Shaw will wake up Saturday morning. He will see roses in vases scattered about his kitchen. He will stroll through his house the conquering hero, awash in adulation and safe from the mundane cares of family life.

David Shaw will think how best to position himself and the snack table for the Big 10 championship game Saturday evening.

What I will do is put up the Christmas tree, he said with a wry smile.

He knows his Christmas will be spent in a hotel in Southern California preparing for either Nebraska or Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, so pre-holiday chores are not his to avoid. Not every day is a parade, and Saturday belongs to Kori Shaw and the kids. The Christmas tree? Hell be lucky if he isnt on the roof stringing lights, too.

He loses his Saturday because his Friday Stanfords Friday was so rewarding. In beating UCLA, 27-24, in the Pacific 12 Conference championship, the Cardinal cleared the electrified wire they could not in 2010 or 2011. They lost to Oregon twice, perceived both times to be the inferior team, so they were intent on not being the inferior team thrice.

And though UCLA came close (the Bruins got ginormous games from running back Johnathan Franklin and quarterback Brett Hundley, which they hadnt a week ago, and they even held a touchdown lead with 11 minutes to play), the Cardinal dealt swift, sure blows to make yet another close game their own.

They won the way they won the other 10 times the way an anaconda eats. Slowly, methodically, but comprehensively. They never dominated the Bruins as they had the week before, but they controlled them when it mattered so they could strike when it really mattered.

I had told them this morning that they had played every kind of game this year, Shaw said in the dark of the landing area outside his team's locker room. We won big, we won small, we won ahead late, we won behind late. I told them there wasnt anything we hadnt seen, and anything we hadnt done. So nothing was going to surprise us.

So, down 24-17, they commenced to eat. First, on a grinders march of 63 yards in which quarterback Kevin Hogan converted three third downs, including a third-and-15 from the UCLA 26 by finding Drew Terrell open and carefree on a fade in the right corner of the end zone.

We ran four verticals and Zach (Ertz) on a shallow route, Shaw said, and when the play started I was saying to myself, Hit the shallow, hit the shallow, hit the shallow. And then I saw the safety (Andrew Abbott) go with Zach and I started to open my mouth to say, Hit the fade, but Kevin already saw it.

The score, with 11:21 left, allowed Stanford to play a slightly less aggressive defensive posture. He could play for a winning field goal, which required less in the way of field position, and Jordan Williamsons foot would not have to be challenged as UCLAs Kaimi Fairbairns would at games end.

If he hadnt gotten Drew, we were going to kick the field goal there, so it really was the safe play, Shaw explained with that gentle professors tone he is mastering.

But the defense was sufficiently inspired to shut down the Bruins for the night. They were buried deep with the ensuing kickoff and holding penalty, and Stanford got the field position it needed for Williamsons 36-yarder with 6:49.

With UCLAs next life, it got three quick first downs then stopped dead again. And one exchange later, the Bruins got to the Stanford 34 before stalling. Fairbairns 52-yard attempt from inside the left hash fell maybe two yards short.

The Bruins were close enough to believe, but as Shaw said, the Cardinal had been here before. They played an unspectacular but methodical game, never letting the Bruins get enough ahead to think it had Stanford cornered, and Stanford with room to maneuver is Stanford standing on your sternum while you writhe and think of the good old days when you could breathe.

So now, Rose Bowl invitees for the first time in 13 years, beyond the one hurdle that had hooked their laces the previous two seasons, the Cardinal face a future this school has not known since 1972. A future with roses in their teeth, and perhaps if they show what they have done so many times this year, at their feet.

And David Shaw? Hell be the one on the step ladder trying to make the angel that sits at the top of the tree not lean over like a drunken pinecone. Hey, youve got your day of well-earned rest, and hes got his.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

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