Saturday was Senior Day on The Farm, and as the defense forced their final turnover-on-downs and quarterback Kevin Hogan assumed victory formation, several of the outgoing players were visibly shaken on the sidelines. In the final seconds I found defensive tackle Terrence Stephens in tears, embracing fellow senior Shayne Skov for several moments. Stephens lived up to the magnitude of what may be his final game at Stanford Stadium, with five tackles — two for a loss — and a sack.
Head coach David Shaw credited not only this win, but the entire reconstruction of the football program to those outgoing seniors.
“I got emotional in (the locker room),” Shaw said. “Everybody thanked the seniors. To go through their careers – the state that Stanford football was in four-plus years ago, these guys came in with a great attitude and worked extremely hard to make this a great place for football.”
Shaw called the win “Shakespearean” when discussing the redemption from two of the team’s most integral players — tight end Zach Ertz and running back Stepfan Taylor.
It was a fumble on the opening drive of the game that haunted Ertz, but he more than made up for his mistake with nine catches for 75 yards and a touchdown. His trip to the end zone was huge — a 13-yard pass-and-catch for the go-ahead score with 5:07 left in the game.
Taylor’s renaissance, however, may have been much more significant. On a day where he rushed for 119 yards and a touchdown, he reached 1,000 yards rushing for the third consecutive season. That marks the first time that a running back has accomplished that in Stanford’s history. His fumble late in the second quarter was one of four turnovers Stanford overcame in the win, but he played a huge role in surviving them by delivering perhaps the most spectacular play of Stanford’s season: a check-down pass that he turned into a 40-yard score at the end of the third quarter.
Quarterback Kevin Hogan certainly had a hand in the play, because he threw the outlet to Taylor as he was tackled by multiple Oregon State defenders. But beyond that five-yard pass, the rest was on Taylor, who beat several Beavers on his way to the end zone.
The redshirt freshman quarterback may have taken a step back today by throwing two interceptions, but the offense looked more dynamic overall with Hogan in the game. He completed 22-of-29 passes for 254 yards and three touchdowns, while adding 60 yards rushing. It’s hard not to make comparisons to a right-handed Steve Young when watching Hogan, primarily because of his ability to improvise and throw on the move. Shaw cited his ability to make those “awkward throws” when praising the Cardinal passer.
Shaw also pointed out that Hogan has already started taking the offense into his own hands.
“He’s earned our trust,” Shaw said. “By the end of the week we know we could give him the ability to change protections, change runs to passes, passes to runs. For him to be able to check to that, step up in the pocket, and throw a laser in the back of the end zone — and most importantly move the safety with his eyes. That’s a veteran move.”
— Stanford has only lost two home games in the last four years, an accomplishment Shaw called “really special.”
— Fullback Ryan Hewitt has been a huge part of the offense since Hogan took over at quarterback. He had four catches for 52 yards and a touchdown Saturday, by far his best performance of the season.
— The players insisted that they would be celebrating this win for the rest of the night, but coach Shaw seemed to already be looking ahead to next week’s battle in Eugene. “I say the 24-hour rule and I give myself about six hours,” Shaw said. “I’ll be on the computer tonight, sitting on my couch, trying to relax a little bit, but I’ll be watching those guys, getting ready.”