PASADENA, Calif. — Andrew Luck, Toby Gerhart and coach Jim Harbaugh started Stanford’s improbable football renaissance, yet they never stood in the center of the Rose Bowl with the West Coast’s most coveted trophy raised above their heads.
In fact, the last Stanford team to do what the Cardinal did Tuesday night had a defense known as the Thunderchickens.
Forty years after Stanford’s last Rose Bowl victory, the favored Cardinal lived up to the legacy created by Luck, Harbaugh and every Thunderchicken that came before them by winning the bowl game that matters most to any Pac-12 team.
Stepfan Taylor rushed for an early touchdown, Kevin Hogan passed for 123 yards and No. 8 Stanford’s defense shut out the Badgers in the second half of a 20-14 victory in the 99th Rose Bowl.
“I had heard that 1972 was our last win,” said Hogan, the freshman quarterback who won Stanford’s last five games. “It’s been too long since we’ve had one at The Farm. It’s a great feeling.”
Instead of slipping back off the college football map when their biggest names graduate to NFL glory, the Cardinal (12-2) have just kept getting better under coach David Shaw. After winning the Orange Bowl two years ago and losing the Fiesta Bowl in overtime last season, Stanford followed up with its first conference title and its first trip to the Granddaddy of Them All in 13 years.
Stanford’s unique combination of brains and brawn was too much for its opponents during eight straight wins to close the season.
“We’ve been in BCS games the past two years, but neither of those mean as much as this one did,” said Zach Ertz, the tight end who had three catches for 61 yards. “This is the one we play for every year. It shows Stanford is here to stay.”
Usua Amanam capped the defensive performance with an interception that stopped Wisconsin’s final drive at midfield with 2:30 to play in a grind-it-out game. Stanford allowed the Badgers just 82 yards and four first downs after halftime.
“There’s a sense of accomplishment, because we got somewhere we hadn’t been yet,” said linebacker Shayne Skov, who made eight tackles while leading Stanford’s second-half shutout. “If you looked at our goals at the beginning of the season, this was on top of the list, and we got it done. We’re extremely satisfied.”
The Cardinal finished with 12 victories for just the second time in school history — and the second time in the last three years.
Stanford clamped down on the Big Ten champion Badgers (8-6), who lost the Rose Bowl in heartbreaking fashion for the third consecutive season. Montee Ball rushed for 100 yards and his FBS-record 83rd touchdown, but Wisconsin couldn’t score after the final seconds of the first half.
With an impressive defense of its own, Wisconsin stayed in position for an upset in the one-game return of Hall of Fame coach Barry Alvarez, who was back on the Badgers’ sideline in his red sweater-vest seven years after hanging up his whistle.
“This group of kids has been through a lot, and they competed extremely hard against a very high-quality team,” said Alvarez, who nearly pulled off a stunner while bridging the gap between coaches Bret Bielema and Gary Andersen. “We’ve played three very good football games (at the Rose Bowl). These guys played hard. In fact, most people would like to get here once. But we just didn’t get it done.”
Kelsey Young took his only carry 16 yards for a score on Stanford’s opening possession, and Taylor scored on the second drive after a big catch by Ertz. Wisconsin kept the Cardinal out of the end zone for the final 51 minutes, holding them to three points in the second half, but Stanford’s defense didn’t need any more help.
When Bielema abruptly left Wisconsin for Arkansas after winning the Big Ten title game, Alvarez agreed to coach his fourth Rose Bowl before handing off his program to Andersen, who met with Alvarez on the field before the game. But the Badgers’ third consecutive January in Pasadena ended in much the same way as the last two: With the offense failing to get the late score the Badgers desperately needed.
“This stings just as much, because we fell extremely short when we had the opportunity to win,” Ball said. “We had numerous opportunities to capitalize on big plays, and we fell short. … This is not the way we want to be remembered. Speaking for the entire senior group, this is not the way we wanted to go out.”
Curt Phillips went 10 for 16 for 83 yards passing and that crucial interception for Wisconsin, doing more with 64 yards on the ground. Jordan Fredrick caught his first career TD pass right before halftime, but no Badgers receiver had more than Jared Abbrederis’ three catches.
And though Ball became the first player to score touchdowns in three Rose Bowls, the powerful back fell short of Ron Dayne’s career Rose Bowl rushing record, swarmed under by waves of tacklers from one of the toughest defenses in the nation — a defense that shut down the top-ranked Ducks in mid-November to pave Stanford’s path to Pasadena.
Wisconsin became the first five-loss team to make the Rose Bowl by steamrolling Nebraska in the conference title game, becoming the first Big Ten team in three straight Rose Bowls since Michigan in the late 1970s.
With the Rose Bowl filled with fans wearing the schools’ near-identical cardinal-and-white gear, Stanford went up 14-0 on Taylor’s 3-yard TD run just 8½ minutes in. Wisconsin briefly got rolling behind Ball, who rushed for 296 yards in his first two Rose Bowls.
Stanford stopped James White inside the 1 on fourth down early in the second quarter, but Ball scored on the next drive. The Badgers then mounted an 85-yard drive in the waning minutes of the first half ending with Fredrick’s short TD catch.
After a scoreless third quarter, Wisconsin’s personal foul on a fair-catch punt return finally sparked the Cardinal early in the fourth. Stanford got inside the Wisconsin 5 before stalling, and Jordan Williamson’s short field goal put the Cardinal up by six points with 4:23 to go.
The Badgers got to midfield, but Phillips threw behind Jacob Pedersen, and Amanam easily made the pick.
“I just happened to be at the right place at the right time,” Amanam said. “We were able to kind of seal the game on that one.”