Three yards and a cloud of dust. These are words tied to a kind of college football rarely seen in this day and age. It’s a run dominated style of play that relies on passing only on rare occasions and using the running attack to keep the ball for long periods of times. Today inside the Rose Bowl, such football made one of its rare appearances. It just so happened that this style of play made an appearance in “The Grandaddy of Them All”, the most famous bowl game there is, the Rose Bowl Game.
The Stanford Cardinal secured a 20-14 victory over the Wisconsin Badgers through their offensive line constantly winning the battles up front against the Badgers’ defensive line. The Cardinal and the Badgers were locked in a defensive struggle during a scoreless third quarter with the teams exchanging punts. The key difference is that more times than not, the Cardinal cut themselves out at the knees on their possessions with a penalty while the Badgers were three & out because they couldn’t gain the yards. Neither team could convert on third down, the difference was that the Cardinal set themselves up in 3rd & more than 10 to go situations instead of 3rd & five or six to go like the Badgers.
The Cardinal’s 11-play drive in the fourth quarter as well as their two scoring drives to start the game best demonstrated their implementing of the old-school running-based offensive attack.
On the two touchdown drives to start the game, it was Stepfan Taylor mainly getting the ball, but a few others got a carry. Kelsey Young was one of them. On his only carry of the game, Young scored the game’s first touchdown by following his blockers and mowing his way into the end-zone on a 16-yard run. It was also the beginning of the play calling pattern that Stanford would use for basically the entire game: a few running plays followed by a pass, wash, rinse, repeat.
In the fourth quarter, it became apparent that the Badgers were beginning to weaken on defense. The third down stops weren’t there while the costly penalties for the Cardinal weren’t either. This allowed the Cardinal to put a drive together for the only time in the second half. It was time consuming, it was gradual movement down the field, and it worked perfectly. Almost every run on the drive was right up or near the middle, and with the Cardinal subbing in different lineman on each play, the battle of front became lopsided in their favor.
And this wasn’t confined to the Cardinal’s final scoring drive of the game. After Usua Amanam intercepted Badger quarterback Curt Phillips with just over two minutes to play, it was the same play calling and the same great blocking that helped get the Cardinal the necessary first downs to run out the clock and secure the team’s first Rose Bowl win since the 1972 game.
The Cardinal have relied on their running game all season, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone that they ended up relying on it in the Rose Bowl. I sure wasn’t surprised. What I was surprised about was that the Badgers defense forced the Cardinal to rely on smaller gains and that grind it out kind of running game because they never surrendered the big runs to Taylor or any other Cardinal runner. Sadly for the Badgers, they did give up the short important runs, and that ended up costing them the game.