A Comeback for the Ages; Penix, Huskies Shine; College Football Booms; Baseball Speeds Things Up
I know it's old news by now, but Stanford's double overtime win over Colorado on Friday night was one of the most incredible football games I've ever seen.
It was the greatest comeback in Stanford football history.
The Cardinal was down 29-0 at halftime and, honestly, most of the fans in attendance and those watching on TV expected it to end up something like 55-6.
But Elic Ayomanor, a receiver no one had heard of, and quarterback Ashton Daniels, who didn't even start the game, had other ideas.
The two combined for a 97-yard touchdown pass and then another 60-yard TD pass, and suddenly Stanford was back in the game. The Cardinal scored 26 straight points to start the second half.
On the final play of regulation Joshua Karty kicked a 46-yard field goal to tie it at 36 and send the game into overtime. Then Ayomanor caught a 30-yard TD pass in the first OT by somehow reaching back and taking the ball off the back of the helmet of Colorado's two-way star, Travis Hunter.
In the second OT, after an interception by Alaka'i Gilman, Karty kicked the game-winner from 31 yards to give Stanford a stunning 46-43 win.
Some interesting factoids:
* After completing only four of his first 14 passes, Daniels ended the night with 27 of 45 for 399 yards and 4 TDs. He rushed for an additional 39 yards. Coach Troy Taylor has been alternating Daniels and transfer Justin Lamson, but don't be surprised if Daniels gets the lion's share of the playing time from now on.
* Ayomanor caught 13 passes for a school record 294 yards, all in the second half. If he's not the national Offensive Player of the Week, they should retire the award.
* The sophomore from Medicine Hat in Alberta, Canada, missed all of last season with an ACL injury. He attended high school at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts, where he also was a track star in the 100 and 200 meters. He showed off that speed on the 97 and 60 yarders.
* Ayomanor caught slant after slant against the Buffaloes. After he repeatedly torched defensive back Carter Stoutmire, Colorado switched Hunter on him. He had no better luck.
* Hunter, who "Coach Prime," Deion Sanders, has called a Heisman Trophy candidate, was coming back from a lacerated liver suffered three weeks ago on a late hit in the Colorado State game. He was visibly tired in the fourth quarter and overtime, yet Sanders continued to play him every down on offense and defense. He must've played 150 of the 171 snaps in the game.
* Colorado was penalized 17 times for 127 yards. The coaching staff deserves a large share of the blame, not only for the tean's undisciplined play, but also because of four penalties for illegal substitution, having 12 men on the field. That's inexcusable.
* Something you don't see too often. In the second quarter, the officials stopped play to admonish the Folsom Field PA announcer for playing music while Stanford was approaching the line of scrimmage. He warned the PA crew that if they continued to play music while the Cardinal was on offense, he'd penalize Colorado 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct. That stopped the music.
* This is a huge win for Coach Taylor and his program. One that will never be forgotten by anyone who witnessed it. And one that will reverberate nationally and certainly boost recruiting.
* Here's what Taylor said after the game: "It's a great win for Stanford and our alumni because they care so much about Stanford athletics and Stanford football. We have great alumni and we want to make them proud. And you know, we're gonna get it done here..there's no question. I think tonight we got a chance to see a little bit of what we can do here. The things that are really important: the resolve, the tenacity, the courage, the willingness and the need to be great at something...we have all that now. We just have to continue to improve and get better."
* As my old friend Glenn Schwarz, the former sports editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, says, "Taylor should send a tape of the second half to every recruit in the land."
* At his press conference last week I asked Taylor what he thought of what Sanders has done at Colorado, noting that a lot of his colleagues have criticized Sanders, perhaps out of jealousy for the attention he's received, or their disapproval of his reliance on the transfer portal. Not Taylor:
“With all the changes in college football, we're all trying to figure out how to adapt and be successful. I’m not critical at all of what Coach Sanders is doing. He’s doing what everybody else is trying to do in terms of adjusting and finding some sort of a competitive advantage.
“At the end of the day, our job is to graduate players, hope they have a great experience and win football games. There are different ways of doing that.
“We are not a transfer-portal university. We’re just not. We’re going to do it with high school players. So, it’s going to be a little different. It’s going to be kind of a longer build because you can’t flip your roster.”
Friday night, the old-time, high-school based approach ruled the day.
And it was nice to hear a coach talk about "graduating players."
Huskies Prevail: Another instant classic took place in Seattle, where No. 7 Washington outlasted No. 8 Oregon, 36-33. We've been saying Husky quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is our choice for the Heisman Trophy, and he showed why once again on Saturday, passing for four touchdowns, including the game-winner to Rome Odunze with 1:38 to go.
The Huskies went 53 yards in two plays after Oregon coach Dan Lanning, with a four-point lead, inexplicably went for it on fourth-and-three from the 47 with two minutes remaining, instead of pinning the Huskies deep and forcing them to go the length of the field for a touchdown. The Ducks' Bo Nix threw an incompletion and the table was set for Washington to score the winning TD.
Lanning should be known as "fourth down Dan" after his team went oh-for-three on fourth downs. They had similar lack of success last year in losses to Washington, failing from their own 34 with the game tied late in the fourth quarter, and Oregon State, coming up short while ahead of OSU at the end of the game from their own 29.
You think maybe he'd learn it's better to punt in those situations.
Pac-12 at a Glance: Washington and USC are the only two unbeatens in conference play, but the Trojans were dismantled by Notre Dame, 48-20, and have four tough games coming up against Utah, Washington, Oregon and UCLA. I'd predicted they would lose three out of five (including Notre Dame), and that's still the way it looks. The defense is below average, and Notre Dame provided a blueprint on how to defense defending Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams, who was pressured into three interceptions.
It looks like a Washington-Oregon rematch in the conference championship game, but Utah and Oregon State (both with one loss) could factor in.
College Football Booming: Last week Fox executive Mike Mulvihill tweeted an interesting fact. College football viewing is up 12 percent this season and 28 percent over the past five years.
The Pac-12 upswing, NIL, and the plethora of transfer quarterbacks who are thriving have made this a very exciting year for the college game.
One unexpected bonus of NIL is that players are sticking around longer. Washington's Penix, a transfer from Indiana who's in his sixth college year, and Oregon's Nix, a transfer from Auburn in his fifth, almost certainly would've gone pro this year, but both are making in excess of a million dollars from NIL deals.
So while many of us understandably bemoan the professionalization of college football, we can't help but enjoy how NIL and the transfer portal have improved the overall quality and increased excitement across the nation.
Baseball Booming Too: Thanks to the 15-second pitch clock that prevents players from re-attaching their batting gloves 10 times or rubbing up the ball for several minutes between pitches, the average game lasted just two hours and 40 minutes this season, down an amazing 24 minutes from last season.
Fans seem to have noticed. Attendance rose 10 percent, to its highest level in six years.