Stanford regroups after tough Big Game loss to Cal
STANFORD – Football players at almost every level subscribe to the 24-hour rule. The celebration of any win or dejection over a loss needs to be out of the system within a day so a team can move on to its next task.
That proved to be a little harder than usual for Stanford, whose crushing Big Game loss to rival California that cost the Cardinal a chance at a Pac-10 title lingered all the way into Monday morning.
“This one was tough,” star running back Toby Gerhart said Tuesday. “We really wanted this one. We had big wins against USC and Oregon, but I feel like this would have meant more than those wins. Everybody wanted the Axe back. We wanted the Axe back. Not to get it, hurts. It’s disappointing but we have to move on. We have a big game this week against Notre Dame on national television. We can remake a name for ourselves again after last week and move on.”
What made the 34-28 loss to Cal so painful was that it had so much meaning and that it so easily could have gone Stanford’s way. The Cardinal (7-4, 6-3 Pac-10) led 14-0 early before falling behind by 10 points in the fourth quarter. But they had the ball at the Golden Bears 13 in the closing minutes with a chance at the go-ahead touchdown when Andrew Luck threw an interception that sealed the game.
It was a rough ending to a disappointing day for Luck, who went 10 for 30 for 157 yards and looked like a redshirt freshman for the first time all season.
“I was very disappointed, upset and a little angry,” he said. “I’m glad it wasn’t the last game of the season. … I did need a little more time to be angry than normal but the team was very supportive.”
While much of the focus after the game was on Luck’s struggles and the interception that ultimately decided the contest, Stanford’s defense struggled to stop Cal for most of the game, receivers dropped a few passes and coach Jim Harbaugh made a few questionable calls that also contributed to the loss.
“We all took turns in the game of missing a play here, missing a throw, dropping the ball, assignment errors, getting beat physically on a play, calling wrong plays as a coach,” Harbaugh said. “We all kind of took our turn to drop the ball. That really added up and we couldn’t overcome it.”
Harbaugh blamed himself for two key decisions in the closing stretch. While he stuck by his decision to go for it on fourth-and-8 from his own 23 with about 3 1/2 minutes left and three timeouts in a 31-28 game, he said he called a bad play.
The Cardinal almost overcame that when the defense held Cal to a field goal and the Cardinal drove down to the 13 with less than 2 minutes left. But despite having one of the top running backs in the nation in Gerhart, Harbaugh called two straight passes with Luck throwing his interception on second down.
“I would have liked to call a running play on first down,” Harbaugh said. “That’s what I’m kicking myself about.”
The Cardinal want to make sure that loss doesn’t define their season. They know the best way to make that happen is to bounce back this week against the Fighting Irish (6-5) and then follow that up with a win in a bowl game.
Stanford has lost seven straight games to Notre Dame, putting a little extra significance on this week’s game.
“We lost a game, we didn’t lose our integrity,” Harbaugh said. “We didn’t lose our confidence as a football team. We didn’t lose who we are as a team. Tough loss, no question about that – Big Game, Cal, you prepare all year round for that kind of football game. They played better than us. We have to man up and move on.”
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After a period of dry, warm weather, winter returns this week to Lake Tahoe.