Oct. 16, 2012
STANFORD, Calif. - With the perspective of having seen the video of the disputed final play, Stanford coach David Shaw refused to criticize the officiating at the end of Notre Dame's 20-13 overtime victory on Saturday.
The one-yard Stepfan Taylor second-effort fourth-down plunge was called short after a replay review.
"I don't want to get in trouble," said Shaw, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. "I've been told explicitly by my wife that I'm not allowed to get fined. So, I have to be very careful.
"I'm not going to comment on the officiating. We didn't make enough plays at the end. I've said from the beginning that we believe we have a good enough team to battle anybody in the nation. I still believe that. The question now is: Can we finish those games, in particular, on the road?"
However, Shaw did acknowledge that the play is among many that the coaching staff has sent to the Pac-12 office for explanation.
"It's hard to look at it completely objective," Shaw said. "I applaud my guy's effort to keep fighting. It's a tough call when it goes upstairs to the booth. It's out of our hands and we have to deal with whatever the decision is.
Of the play call, "It's hard for me to say I'd take the call back," Shaw said. "It didn't work, so of course you'd say let's call something else that would have worked. But at the same time, I think Stepfan's effort is emblematic of what we want our guys to play with every single play. And he plays that way every single play."
Did Shaw hear a whistle that may have stopped the play dead while Taylor continued to push for the goal-line?
"There was no whistle," Shaw said.
* * *
If Big Game week doesn't feel like Big Game week that's certainly understandable.
Until now, every Big Game since 1892 has been played no earlier than November. And the only other time it was played in mid-season was 1893, when it was the fourth of nine games, but that was only because Stanford finished the season off with a four-game tour of the Pacific Northwest.
"I don't like it," Shaw said of the early date. "I think it's weird, I think it's different."
There's no chill in the air for one thing.
"It's still warm outside," linebacker Chase Thomas said. "But the same energy level will be there come gametime."
* * *
Asked for his fondest Big Game memories as a player, Shaw recounted a game in which he didn't even play - as a true freshman during Stanford's dramatic 27-25 victory in Berkeley.
With 12 seconds left, Stanford closed to within 25-24 on a touchdown catch by Ed McCaffrey, but the two-point conversion try failed. Cal fans stormed the field, but there was still time on the clock and the Bears were assessed a 15-yard penalty on the kickoff.
Stanford's John Hopkins tried an onsides kick, that worked. With the ball back, Jason Palumbis fired a Hail Mary pass that fell incomplete, but Cal was called for roughing the passer. Given a final opportunity, Stanford made it count when Hopkins kicked a 39-yard field goal as time expired to win the game.
"It was phenomenal game, one of the best games I've ever seen," Shaw said. "(Stanford back) Glyn Milburn was unbelievable. (Cal back) Russell White was unbelievable."
But Shaw also recalls a strange scene on the sideline after Stanford got the ball back in the final seconds.
"While all this is going on, John Hopkins is kicking balls in the stands because they've taken away his net," Shaw said. "They thought the game was over so they took his net away, so he's warming up kicking balls in the stands.
"Put yourself in his shoes. It took a couple of minutes to clear the field, make the announcement, get the 15-yard penalty. But we've got to kick a field goal to win the game, and he goes back over there after the onsides kick, and there's no net.
"I'm just standing there and I look over at him and he shrugs his shoulders and starts putting balls down and starts nailing them. He starts kicking them into the stands, just to get his timing down and his rhythm down. Then he goes back in there and nails a game-winner."
* * *
Cal offers its own set of difficulties. Quarterback Zach Maynard is inconsistent, but has great running ability and has a good arm.
"We've got to keep him in the pocket," Shaw said.
Maynard's brother, Keenan Allen, is 6-foot-4, can make the big play, and is a punt-return threat. Shaw calls him "one of the best receivers in the country."
"He can get to speed quickly, he runs strong, he runs great routes, and he can catch the ball in traffic," Shaw said.
Thomas said one advantage has been Stanford's experience playing against mobile quarterbacks, players such as Washington's Keith Price, and Notre Dame's Everett Golson.
"It definitely helps that we've faced some fast guys," Thomas said. "It's definitely good preparation for what we'll see from Cal's quarterback."
Cal's defense is unpredictable. The Golden Bears could line up with anywhere from 2-5 down linemen, and use a combination of blitz packages along with nickel and dime alignments.
"This is very unique," Shaw said. "It reminds me of stuff you see every week in the NFL.
"For us, it's about where are the defenders located, not just who they are, but where they are, so we can block in the running game and in pass protection."
* * *
There may not have been a whistle on the final play at Notre Dame, but many Stanford players say they heard one late in the fourth quarter on a third-and-2 from the Irish 3-yard line. Taylor and others eased up on the play and the running back was tackled for a seven-yard loss.
"I just wanted to know what the rule was," Shaw said. "There's audio, I've heard it. I didn't hear it at the time, but people on the sidelines said they heard it. The players obviously heard it, not all the players, but a good number of players heard it.
"It also happened at the Michigan game at Notre Dame, probably same area of the field, and they replayed the down. Once again, I wanted to know what the procedure was. What can we do better next time?"
* * *
Another play that Stanford sent to the Pac-12 involved a Usua Amanam's hit on Irish quarterback Golson. Amanam was flagged for helmet-to-helmet contact, but the nickelback disputed that judgment.
"I've watched it a million times," Amanam, said. "I made contact with my shoulder, it wasn't helmet to helmet. Unfortunately, he did get hurt and that may have been one of the reasons they threw the flag. One of their main obligations is to minimize injuries."
* * *
Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes struggled at Notre Dame, and the offense was unable to score a touchdown - the second time that's happened in as many road games.
"We still hold him accountable on what we expect, like a high completion percentage," Shaw said. "For the throws that we believe he can make, he's got to make them.
"It goes back to footwork, being balanced. That's what young quarterbacks need to work on a lot. It doesn't help when a quarterback hasn't played for three years. When he stays loaded, as Pep says, and stays balanced - everything mechanically is great. Everything is about being balanced all the time."
If Nunes hasn't performed well on the road, how concerned is Shaw with the team headed to Berkeley?
"I'm concerned," Shaw said. "We have to play better, not just him. We haven't played well on offense on the road. We can play much better and we're going to need to play much better."
* * *
The fumble that Thomas recovered in the end zone was his first since his senior year at Walton High School in Marietta, Ga. While playing defensive end, he tipped a pass, caught the ball, and returned it for a score. He also played tight end, but never scored.
"I was tackled at the 1 about four times," he said.
* * *
The Notre Dame loss has been described by some players as on par with January's 41-38 overtime Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State as the toughest they've experienced at Stanford.
But can the Cardinal put that frustration aside and prepare properly for Cal? "Definitely, yesterday (Monday) it wasn't gone," Thomas said. "But once we start focusing on Cal, I'm hoping everyone can forget about it. It's definitely a tough one to let go of. For the Big Game we've got to refocus and regroup as a team and make sure everyone's attention is on this game."
Said Amanam, "We can't really sit here and think about Notre Dame anymore. We lost. The game is over. Move on to Cal."
* * *
A few weeks ago, Zach Ertz disparaged the goalkeeping abilities of fellow tight end Levine Toilolo during the football's team's annual spring soccer showdown with the Stanford women's team.
This week, Toilolo was given the opportunity to respond.
"I like to think I'm a better goalie," Toilolo said. "I think that the goals they scored on me were better shots than they were against him. One of them was a diving header that I don't think Zach could have stopped either. I was kind of surprised by her effort on that.
"Another one was a breakaway - I don't know where my defense was at. Yeah, I like to think I'm a better goalie than Zach."
* * *
Regardless of near-misses against Washington and Notre Dame - Shaw said a 4-2 record at this point is not disappointing.
"It's a good place for us right now," Shaw said. "I'm pleased with a lot of things I've seen so far from our team. We're still in the conference race and we've got a chance to finish the year strong."
* * *
Linebacker A.J. Tarpley said the defense has no grounds to be frustrated with the offense, despite a strong performance against Notre Dame during which the defense accounted for the Cardinal's only touchdown - much as in Stanford's earlier 17-13 loss at Washington.
"It's a team game," Tarpley said. "We have scored twice on the road, but we haven't come up with stops. We could have stopped them in overtime, but we weren't able to accomplish that. We never try and let four quarters dictate how good we played if we can't get that last stop. We should be frustrated with ourselves, not anyone else."
* * *
Tarpley, a starter last season, now rotates with sophomore James Vaughters at inside linebacker.
"It's not harder, it's just different," Tarpley said. "You get used to it.
"In the past, you used to be out there every play and you could see every play that they're doing. This year, if one of us is off a series, we're not going to see every play that they're running. We have to listen to the other guys communicate to us: What should we expect? Things like that. We trust each other to let us know what's going on."
* * *
This year marks the 30th anniversary of The Play, the multi-lateral, band-bullying kickoff return that gave Cal a 25-20 victory as time expired at Memorial Stadium.
"I was young and I remember being in disbelief," Shaw said. "It happens on the schoolyard, it doesn't happen in a major-college football game. So many plays have happened since then that are similar, but none are in the category of that play. It's iconic for college football."
With that said, the years haven't made the result any easier to accept for many longtime Stanford fans.
"There's a significant portion of us here at Stanford that don't believe that play should have continued, that there was a knee that was down, that one of the laterals was forward not back," Shaw said. "That's never going to change. I think it only adds to the lore of that play."
Would instant replay have helped?
"You're going to ask me about replays? Are you serious?"
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics