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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Football: Stanford’s early trickery, Taylor’s late push too much for Badger defense

PASADENA, Calif.—In the end, Stanford senior running back Stepfan Taylor made just a couple more clutch plays than the Wisconsin defense.

The Badger defense was admittedly surprised by Stanford’s trickery early on. The only times the Cardinal found the end zone were within the first nine minutes of the game; the Stanford O-line seemed to be dominating in the trenches.

But then the second quarter rolled around, and the Badger defensive line found life. Cardinal redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan seemed baffled, as well as Taylor at times.

The Cardinal had 105 yards through the air in the first quarter, 34 of which came from senior wide receiver Drew Terrell on a trick play to senior wideout Jamal-Rashad Patterson. Stanford also had 54 yards on the ground.

“We did some things early in the game to loosen them up a little bit,” Stanford head coach David Shaw said. “But we want to play our style of football.”

It turned out that the Wisconsin defense was perfectly adept at stopping Stanford's style of football. That is, until the fourth quarter, when Taylor grinded out a few tough carries that ran out the clock on the adversity-ridden Badgers.

Still, the Badgers didn’t allow Taylor to rack up a carry that went longer than 10 yards, despite averaging 4.4 yards per carry.

“We knew it was going to be just grinding it out, grinding it out,” Taylor said. “[Wisconsin] did a great job. We knew they were a great defense coming into this game.”

Stanford had only 19 yards through the air in the second quarter but gave up 27 yards on only two carries to junior running back Anthony Wilkerson.

“Once we settled down, we started playing like the defense we have been all year,” fifth-year senior cornerback Devin Smith said.

The Cardinal had multiple wildcat-type plays with Taylor in the backfield and also hit star tight end Zach Ertz, a junior, on a play-action pass for 43 yards with 6:35 left in the first. Taylor ran one in from three yards out on the next play.

“Obviously they’re going to have their scripted plays in the beginning and the plays that they scheme throughout the whole season,” senior cornerback Marcus Cromartie said. “So we knew that we were going to see some tricks and gadgets.”

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But the Badgers weren’t expecting all of them to come within the first 15 minutes of the game. Stanford reverted to its powerful run game more often after that point, which Wisconsin’s defense is more tailored to stop.

The Cardinal offense faltered and racked up only 22 yards on the ground in the third quarter. Wisconsin appeared to have a much-improved push on the stout Stanford offensive line.

“We adjusted at halftime and we played a solid second half,” Cromartie said. “It kind of has been a story of the whole season. We’re just a possession short or a play here or a play there.”

Then it was Taylor’s time to shine in the fourth and close out the victory in the 99th Rose Bowl. He carried the ball eight times for 40 yards in the quarter.

He picked up two key first downs on third-and-1 in the last half of the fourth quarter. The first came on a misdirection back to Taylor that was faked to the fullback. He ran for eight yards around the corner to the Wisconsin 11 with just over six minutes left.

The next came after Wisconsin’s last timeout with 1:02 remaining on the clock. The Cardinal were just one yard into Wisconsin territory faced with another third-and-1, but Taylor went for five tough yards to clinch the game.

“We knew it would be hard to bring [Taylor] down, but we just had to make the plays we needed to,” Smith said. “But in the end we weren’t able to.

“[Taylor] ran with his knees pretty high and was pretty shifty.”

Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez said the game was a microcosm of the entire year for the Badgers. The way they fought back from an early deficit more than pleased the Rose Bowl Hall of Famer.

Smith agreed with Alvarez’s assessment, as well. 

“We’ve gone through a lot of adversity through this season,” he said. “Starting with new coaches coming in at the end of the season last year to the end of the season this year. And our head coach leaving after the Big Ten Championship game, to other assistant coaches leaving and a new head coach being announced, I think there’s been a lot of things going on throughout the season.

"But I think we’ve always fought and kept our heads high and I think that just proves what kind of character we have as a team.”

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