Last week's game wasn't going to repeat itself, UCLA made that much clear from the beginning, but in the end it was the Cardinal that came up Roses as they came back in the 4th quarter and survived a late shot by the Bruins to win 27-24 and claim the Pac-12 title and the Rose Bowl birth that comes with it. Stanford is returning to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 2000 edition where they were beaten by Wisconsin. It's also the Cardinal's 3rd consecutive BCS bowl appearance.
It was a game for the ages as some may say as it truly had it all - big plays, controversial calls, history making plays, crappy weather, and a massive last second drive to go for the tie. The only thing this game was missing was a packed Stanford Stadium, which wasn't exactly full to the brim to put it nicely.
As for the game itself, things didn't exactly start off the way Stanford drew it up when practicing this week following last week's blowout of UCLA. That's because the Bruins came out swinging from the start thanks to a huge 8 play, 85 yard drive that ended in dramatic fashion as Jonathan Franklin (a game high 191 yards on the night) scampered for 65 yards and the opening score of the contest to put the Bruins up 7-0 early on.
But, as would become the theme of the night, the Cardinal would respond right back. It took a huge 2 yard dive by fullback Ryan Hewitt on 4th and 1 to keep the drive going and on the very next play star RB Stepfan Taylor caught a pass from a scrambling Hogan and scampered to the Bruins 2 yard line. Hogan did the rest of the work and with 6:07 left in the 1st the game stood 7-7.
UCLA would retake the lead quickly at 14-7 as freshman QB Rex Hundley ate up the Stanford defense with a 48 yard rush down to the Cardinal 5 yard line. He finished off his handy work with a run off tackle and went untouched for the 5 yard score and another Bruins lead.
The big play trend for the Bruins continued into the 2nd quarter, but momentum and the Cardinal hopes turned a bit when who else but big play safety Ed Reynolds would show up big again. Reynolds baited Hundley into a bad throw and was off to the races, only to be declared just short of the endzone by the officials. After review they confirmed the call on the field despite some pretty clear evidence to the viewers at home that it was indeed his record tying 4th pick-six of the season. Either way the Cardinal found a way into the endzone from just inside the 1 and again the score was tied up.
Get the theme of this one yet?
If not, then fast forward to the 4th quarter for even more drama. UCLA had built up a 24-17 lead late in the 3rd quarter. However, Stanford QB Kevin Hogan came up huge for the Cardinal as he lead his team to on a big time early 4th quarter drive that was capped off by a huge 3rd and 13 pass from Hogan to WR Drew Terrell (4rec, 70yds, 1TD) for a lot more than 13 yards as he found him in the corner of the endzone for the game tying TD at 24-24.
Stanford would then take it's only lead of the 4th quarter thanks to a 36 yard field goal from kicker Jordan Williamson who was a huge 2-2 kicking on the night and allowed the Cardinal to go up 27-24 with just 6:43 left to go in the game.
That's when the fun started as the Cardinal defense had a wild ride to hold on to the lead the rest of the way. UCLA was forced to punt on it's next possession despite getting into Stanford territory and were in turn able to hold the Cardinal to just 1 first down on their ensuing possession, but had to use both of their remaining time outs.
UCLA would get the ball back with 2:18 remaining and star their last attempt at victory from their 20 yard line as the Stanford punt was a touchback. Rex Hundley would come up big, but make it dramatic as possible on the drive and were helped out by a major roughing the passer call on 2nd and 8 at the start of the drive. With that 15 yards the Bruins moved up to their own 41 yard line.
However, the drive looked like it was going to stall out as Hundley missed three straight passes only to find Joshua Fauria on 4th down for a 17 yard gain. Instead of just going down Fauria flipped it to teammate Jordan James in an attempt to break a game winning play. It was nearly a disaster from that point on as Jordan almost didn't receive the flip in time and ended up fumbling and recovering his own fumble.
UCLA got 5 more yards, moving the ball to the Stanford 34 yard line and with 34 seconds remaining kicker Ka'i Fairbairn attempted a 52 yard field goal, one that went wide left from the very start and Stanford escaped victorious and wet.
Lost in the mix of all of this was that Stepfan Taylor became the all-time leading rusher in Stanford history with 4,212 yards after his 78 yard performance in the Pac-12 championship game.
This was a heck of an entertaining football game and if this is how things started we could only hope to be in store for more of that this championship Saturday in the ACC, SEC, and Big Ten championship games. At least one can hope, right?
For more of Andy's musings on college football and college sports in general follow him on Twitter and make sure to also follow Crystal Ball Run on Twitter and Facebook.