Some of the lessons that Stanford learned in an October loss at Utah helped the Cardinal win the Pac-12 championship.
But the Cardinal’s late-game failings in that 27-21 defeat at Rice-Eccles Stadium may have negatively affected Stanford’s play-calling in a 24-20 loss to Michigan State in the Rose Bowl.
Coach David Shaw was criticized after the game at Utah, where quarterback Kevin Hogan threw two incompletions after Stanford faced a third-and-2 situation at the Ute 6-yard line in the last minute. He was offended by questions about why the Cardinal didn’t run the ball.
So, of course, Stanford ran on two fourth-down plays in the second half of the Rose Bowl and was stuffed both times. Tyler Gaffney lost 3 yards on a fourth-and-3 play from the Michigan State 36 in a tie game. And on its last possession, Stanford tried to sneak fullback Ryan Hewitt into the middle, and he was stopped for no gain on a fourth-and-1 play.
Afterward, Shaw almost sounded as if he made those calls to pre-empt criticism, when asked if he was trying to play to his strengths.
“Absolutely,” he said, “because when I don’t do that, everybody goes crazy — ‘We should have done this, we should have done that’ — so I don’t worry about any of that stuff. I’m going to put it in the hands of our guys and put it on the offensive line.”
That’s the opposite of his approach at Utah, which didn’t work either. Short-yardage shortcomings hurt the Cardinals in all three of their losses, to Utah, USC and Michigan State. In any case, the Utes won’t be able to say they beat the Rose Bowl winners — only the Pac-12 champions.
Other locally oriented bowl conclusions:
• While staying home for a second consecutive bowl season, Utah watched 10 of its 12 opponents play.
Those teams went 6-4 in bowl games. Utah State was the only team that lost to Utah and won a bowl game, as BYU and Stanford lost. Among teams that beat the Utes, Oregon State, UCLA, Arizona, USC and Oregon were winners and Arizona State and Washington State were losers.
• One more of BYU’s opponents (Houston) will play in a bowl game Saturday. So far, the Cougars’ opponents are not making them look good. As is the case with Utah, USU is the only team that lost to BYU and has won a bowl game. Texas, Middle Tennessee, Georgia Tech and Boise State lost. Of the four teams that beat BYU, only Notre Dame and Wisconsin qualified. The Fighting Irish won their bowl game and the Badgers lost theirs.
• Central Florida became the most intriguing opponent on BYU’s 2014 schedule, thanks to a Fiesta Bowl win over Baylor. But if quarterback Blake Bortles enters the NFL draft, UCF will lose considerable cachet.
• The combination of Utah State’s bowl win and Colorado State’s victory over Washington State makes the Aggies the state’s December champions. USU also beat UNLV, which lost its bowl game. USC is the only team that beat USU and won a bowl game, as BYU, Boise State and Fresno State lost.