stanford 2It was a game of tipped passes, tough defenses and missed opportunities. What began looking like a shootout in the making with Stanford scoring on its first two offense drives and Wisconsin answering quickly, seemed to slow to a crawl in the second half. Both teams traded punches and punts for nearly all of the second half. It was a three-point game until Stanford finally broke through, embarking on a 12-play, 51-yard drive ending in a Jordan Williamson field goal.

Up by only six, it looked as if the Badgers would respond, with Curt Phillips hitting his receivers downfield on the next drive; that is, until Usua Amanam intercepted a tipped Phillips pass with under two minutes left in the fourth quarter. Afterwards, a few tough runs from Stepfan Taylor sealed a first down, and victory formation found Stanford enjoying their sixth Rose Bowl victory in school history.

It’s only appropriate that the fate-deciding interception came on a tipped pass. The Cardinal’s front four did a fantastic job getting in the passing lanes, putting pressure on the Badger quarterbacks and getting hands on the ball all game. Every tipped pass seemed to end up in Badgers’ hands. On Wisconsin’s second scoring drive late in the second quarter, one tipped pass ended up doing big damage to the Cardinal, flipping dubiously into the waiting hands of Jared Abbrederis. Inside Stanford’s red zone, Phillips dimed a pass right through the hands of AJ Tarpley, finding Sam Arneson for a nine yard gain. Just three plays later, Wisconsin scored to cut the Cardinal’s lead to three.

It seemed many of the 12-2 Stanford Cardinal’s strengths weren’t always with them today, and yet they still found a way to win. Head coach David Shaw reiterated as much in his post game comments, telling the Rose Bowl crowd, “It’s not always pretty, it’s not always perfect, but we never stop, we always keep going, and you know what, we finish what we start.”

Montee Balled, but not hard enough

It may not be the way the Badgers’ running back wanted to end his career at Wisconsin, but if Ball was auditioning himself for some NFL teams in the Rose Bowl, he could have done worse. Ball finished his day with 24 carries for 99 yards and a touchdown, running hard on an NFL-sized Cardinal defense.

He missed out on the offensive player of the game honors in lieu of Stepfan Taylor, who’s performance can be summed up with the same word many would use to describe his entire career: dependable. His stats aren’t spectacular — 20 carries for 88 yards and a score, but when the Cardinal needed him, he showed up.

Taylor isn’t flashy like his offensive counterparts; Anthony Wilkerson is going to be fun to watch play in Taylor’s role next season, along with Barry Sanders Jr. Kelsey Young continued to show what he’s capable of on his 16-yard reverse for a score. What Taylor has translates into the NFL. However, he rarely goes down after first contact, he enjoys fantastic field vision and possesses an unstoppable motor. A Rose Bowl win is a fitting end to a great Cardinal’s career, and now a team in need of a running back will get a steal in Taylor come draft time this April.

Naturally, when Taylor spoke it was all about Kevin Hogan, the quarterback who he said was “carrying this team.” Hogan’s passing numbers weren’t flashy, but he played impressively for a redshirt freshman in only his fifth career start. In hindsight, Shaw’s decision to move on from Josh Nunes to Hogan went as seamlessly as it possibly could have and Stanford was no worse for the wear. In the process, the Cardinal’s young quarterback certainly emerged battle-tested after beating four straight ranked opponents and securing a Bowl victory in his first NCAA action.

When the 2012 season opened, many wondered how Stanford would survive life after Luck. Instead, the Cardinal did what they never did with him, and showed us that in a team sport like football, one player doesn’t always make or break a unit.