PASADENA, Calif. -- Beauty is in the eye of whichever team has more points at the end of the game. Beholder be damned.
This is 2012 Stanford football -- white knuckles and all. If you want pretty, the Getty Museum is on the other side of the 405.
Anyone expecting anything different in the 99th Rose Bowl Game Presented by Vizio probably hasn’t watched much Cardinal ball this season. Stanford did what it does best: get a lead, hold a lead and win the game in the fourth quarter. It was what guided Stanford (12-2) to a Pac-12 championship, and it’s what enabled the Cardinal to beat Wisconsin 20-14 on Tuesday night.
“We’re not built for style points and we don’t blow teams out,” said Stanford defensive end Ben Gardner, who tallied six tackles, including a critical stop on a Wisconsin fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line. “It’s going to be a knock-down, drag-out fight and this one was no different. It’s going to be a four-quarter game with us. Wisconsin played very hard. They didn’t make it easy on us. It’s one of those things where at each pivotal moment someone new stepped up and made a play.”
After jumping out to a 14-0 lead and a 17-14 halftime lead, the Cardinal defense pitched a second-half shutout -- holding the Badgers (8-6) to 82 total yards in the second half. Running back Montee Ball, the Doak Walker Award winner, rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown, but was held to just 13 yards in the second half.
“We pride ourselves on being able to drag teams into the deep water in the fourth quarter,” linebacker Chase Thomas said. “We’ve been there plenty of times. We’re used to making the big stops when we have to. That’s how we’re built.”
Indeed. This is the 10th time this year Stanford has been involved in a game that was decided by a touchdown or less. And they’ve won eight of those.
“We were prepared for this,” said running back Stepfan Taylor, who rushed for 88 yards and a touchdown. “We were ready for this kind of game. We’ve seen it before and we’re a mature enough team to be able to handle the close games.”
But it’s the Notre Dame game -- a 20-13 loss in overtime in South Bend on Oct. 13 (the last time Stanford lost) -- that head coach David Shaw singled out as the turning point for the season. You may remember a critical instant replay involving Taylor that didn’t go Stanford’s way at the end of that game.
“We could sit, sulk and think about what could have been,” Shaw said, recalling how he addressed the team. “Or we can say, 'From now on, we’re going to finish games. Don’t leave it up to officials. Finish games.' That was kind of a galvanizing moment for us. We lost that game and it was so heartfelt and so devastating. It was right in front of us. We made a collective decision that we were not going to let games slip away from us. So we went on a tear. Eight games in a row. We kept the same mentality. We never got too high, we never got too low. That game really propelled us to this one.”
And now the Cardinal have their first Rose Bowl title since 1972 and their second victory in a BCS bowl game in the past three years. It would be three in a row except for a loss in overtime last year to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. Don’t think this win doesn’t wash a bit of the bad taste out of their mouths from last season.
“Oh yeah, more than a little bit,” Gardner said. “This is pretty darn sweet. We know what it’s like to be in tight games and we never had a doubt.”
Stanford has drawn comparisons to a Big Ten team for its physical style of play and run-first, stop-the-run mentality. And it was on full display Tuesday night -- much as it’s been all season.
“It’s football,” Shaw said. “It’s really, really physical football. There were guys that were tired. Every play you could hear the pads popping. It’s the kind of football that I grew up watching. And I’m proud that our guys played that style of football.”
Anything less wouldn’t be Stanford.