Zemek Rose Thought: Cardinal win close. Again

Posted Jan 2, 2013

Matt Zemek Thoughts on Stanford's 2013 Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin

By Matt Zemek
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Stanford won an eighth game this season by only one possession.

Winning close games with great regularity speaks to a rich storehouse of mental toughness. Teams that pull close wins out of the fire on a consistent basis are made of a certain amount of steel. Such results don't occur solely by accident. A lot of physical, psychological and tactical virtues form the larger mosaic of a Rose Bowl championship campaign. Stanford, through the work of David Shaw, has cultivated the competitive attributes of a winner. The Cardinal sustained what Jim Harbaugh initially brought to them a few seasons ago, capturing the Pac-12 and now the Granddaddy Of Them All without the services of Andrew Luck. This Rose Bowl is no fluke. Standing and delivering in the cauldron of New Year's Day pressure is no small feat.


... while winning a series of close games speaks to substantial fortitude and genuine superiority, it must also be said that close games, by their very nature, remain tenuous. Winning a close game in a sport contested by 20-year-old performers is invariably the product of a certain degree of fortune. There are many flavors of elite teams, and it's proper to call Stanford an elite team for the 2012 season, but the Cardinal showed in this game that their lofty status will never be linked to a tendency to dominate.

Stanford did dominate Wisconsin in the first half of the first quarter, but after that, the Cardinal became a very ordinary team that was outplayed, on balance, through the first three quarters. Moreover, if Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez had tried to go for a first down on fourth and one from the Stanford 46 late in the third quarter, the trajectory of this Granddaddy might have been different.

Here is the complexity of postgame analysis in a nutshell: One can look at Stanford's inelegant but flinty six-point victory and hold competing truths together in tension with each other. One can marvel at Stanford's ability to stand firm in the face of a resolute opponent's sledgehammer challenge, yet lament how poorly Kevin Hogan threw the football on Tuesday. One can note that Stanford held its nerve when Wisconsin was carrying the run of play late in the third quarter, yet point out that Stanford's offense is, on balance, a very average one.

Speaking of holding competing truths in tension with each other, there is enough space in which to hold these two truths as well: On one hand, Wisconsin did not deserve to be in this bowl game today – not with five losses in a regular season that is supposed to count for something – and yet at the same time, one can say that Wisconsin deserved to be on the same field as Stanford, proving itself to be the relative equal of the team it lost to.

Here are two more competing truths that have to be held in balance, not cancelling each other out yet not being ignored, either: Wisconsin has, on one hand, failed the Big Ten by losing three straight Rose Bowls. Yet, the Badgers haven't lost any of those games by more than one possession, going toe-to-toe with three elite teams (TCU, Oregon and Stanford) and falling just short. By competing so valiantly, Wisconsin has brought great honor to the Big Ten.

If your view of Stanford or Wisconsin is a view defined or dominated by skepticism, your views and the emotions underlying them are perfectly understandable. Those views come from a place of reason. Yet, while being quick to critique these two teams, you also need to realize – and, moreover, acknowledge – how many noble competitive qualities the Badgers and the winning Cardinal possess.