So much has been made of Andrew Luck calling his own plays. If Luck was the one making every decision during the Fiesta Bowl, one has to figure he would’ve done things differently than David Shaw at the end of regulation.
Trusting a college kicker with a game-winning kick is always dicey, let alone a BCS bowl game — even if the game has no bearing on the National Championship. Then you have the case of Stanford’s Jordan Williamson. Williamson made 11 of his first 12 FG attempts this season, then pulled a muscle in his leg and missed three games. Since coming back for the Big Game, Williamson hasn’t seemed the same. He made a 35-yard field goal and missed a 33-yard attempt against Cal, then missed his only try against Notre Dame, a 49-yarder.
Williamson had over a month of time to heal between the win over the Irish and the Fiesta Bowl, but still missed his first attempt of the night against Oklahoma State, a 41-yarder. He made a 30-yard FG in the beginning of the fourth quarter, which was enough for Shaw to entrust him with a 35-yard try to clinch the game, even though Williamson had only made 2 of his previous 5 field goal tries.
Shaw will never forgive himself for that decision. Not with Luck leaving for the NFL, not after how well Luck dissected the Cowboys’ defense and how in control Luck looked of the entire game, including those final minutes of regulation.
Shaw will also never forgive himself because Williamson will never forgive himself. The world can’t second guess Stanford’s coach enough to get the memories of those three missed field goals out of Williamson’s brain.
Luck completed 27-of-31 passes to nine different receivers. He had only one poor throw, when he rolled out to his right early on and fired a pass that cornerback Justin Gilbert anticipated and picked off. Other than that INT and a botched handoff to Geoff Meinken, the Cowboys had no answer for Stanford’s offense. But when the Cardinal got to the Cowboys’ 19-yard-line with 52 seconds left and three timeouts, Shaw ran Stepfan Taylor — who had a tremendous game, with 197 total yards and 2 TD — up the middle for a couple yards and let the clock run down.
It’s almost as if Shaw thought, “If I let Andrew take a couple shots at the end zone he’ll score too quick, give Oklahoma State too much time and Blackmon will take it to the house again.” Or maybe Shaw’s seen too much of David Akers and Sebastian Janikowski. And Shaw’s play-calling stayed conservative in overtime, which burned him as a Taylor carry on 2nd-and-10 lost three yards two plays before Williamson missed yet another field goal attempt.
Shaw had the ultimate college quarterback. His team outplayed the Oklahoma State Cowboys the majority of the time that Justin Blackmon didn’t have the ball in his hands. His squad was playing in a game that receives much hype and a prime spot in ESPN’s schedule, but it’s still a game that exists in a BCS-created vacuum.
That’s the good thing for Stanford, and the bad. They’ll always be remembered as a great college team, even though they lost this National Championship Consolation Game, or whatever you want to call it. Luck completed his last nine passes. He was the calmest player on the field, and proved once and for all what we all knew from watching him grow in our backyard for three years: like Joe Montana, Luck is a quarterback who’s so great when he absolutely needs to be, his so-called weaknesses are rendered meaningless.
Luck’s collegiate talent will probably go unmatched in the Bay Area for the next 50 years, and how he performed in the Fiesta Bowl was a perfect representation of the quarterback he was during his Stanford career. It’s just too bad Luck wasn’t given a chance to win his last game before starting his NFL adventure.