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December 1, 2012

An elite program

As Stanford coach David Shaw sat at the podium answering questions after the Cardinal punched its ticket to the Rose Bowl, his seven-year-old daughter, Keegan, sat to his right, his older son, nine-year-old Carter, to his left.

The little one, two-year-old Gavin, walked around among a crowd of reporters, taking it all in.

For Shaw's kids, this is all they know.

This, of course, being a Stanford celebration prompted by a trip a Bowl Championship Series football game. That 1-11 season in 2006? It literally isn't even a memory.

It was a scene Shaw wouldn't mind reliving year-after-year and it's at a point now where that should be the expectation.

When Stanford went to the Orange Bowl in 2010, the credit went to Jim Harbaugh. When it backed that up with a trip to the Fiesta Bowl, it was Andrew Luck's team.

Now, the credit goes to Stanford. The program is officially elite.

"We play with a chip on our shoulder," Shaw said. "Kind of our mantra throughout the year was to be loose, to be focused and play with a chip on our shoulders, and our guys have done that."

It's that mantra that allowed the Cardinal eek out the win against UCLA, even on a night where it didn't play its best football.

That speaks volumes. UCLA gashed Stanford over and over and each time the Cardinal had an answer. It wasn't pretty, but it didn't need to be.

"They did a good job. Give UCLA all the credit in the world," Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason said. "Coach (Jim) Mora and their staff did a great job."

UCLA consistently ran inside zone run plays with a bubble screen to the outside and it worked again and again. And again.

Mason said the Bruins had shown the before, but added the quarterback draw with Hundley to really make things difficult. Johnathan Franklin ran for 194 yards on 19 carries and quarterback Hundley added 83 on 16. All of this against the nation's No. 1 rushing defense.

"We did a better job late, but give them credit," Mason said. "They did a great job, but we finished. We gave ourselves a chance with some critical stops to get off the field and it ended up being that type of game."

Stanford had its share of big plays. Two stood out.

The first was an 80-yard interception return by Ed Reynolds that probably should have went for 81 and touchdown.

"I know he was in. You could show it 1,000 times, but you know, it really doesn't matter," Mason said. "We wound up getting it (on a 1-yard run from Stepfan Taylor on the next play), but it would have been nice for him."

If the Pac-12 replay official had overturned the call on the field and credited Reynolds with a touchdown, it would have equaled Reynolds with Cal's Deltha O'Neal with the most interception returns for a touchdown in one season. That same yard would have equaled Reynolds with the NCAA single-season record for interception return yards.

Big play No. 2 was redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan's 26-yard touchdown pass to Drew Terrell on third-and-15 early in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 24.

"There were four verticals. Four guys going deep, and one guy coming underneath on the shuttle cross. If they all dropped out and everybody was covering, he was going to check it down, and kick a field goal," Shaw said. "But he saw the safety. That's what Zach Ertz does. He makes a lot of plays. But the safety jumped Zach on the inside, and Drew got a great release."

Hogan was named the game's MVP after completing 16 of 22 passes for 155 yards without an interception.

About five minutes after Hogan's pass to Terrell, Jordan Williamson kicked the Cardinal to the Rose Bowl with a 36-yard field goal. One yard further than the kick he missed in last year's Fiesta Bowl.

Redemption already came for Williamson at Autzen Stadium a few weeks ago, so Friday was the cherry on top. He also nailed a 37-yarder at the end of the first half - both kicks on a slick field at Stanford Stadium.

"He's been really good. He's got his routine down, he's confident, he's consistent, and that's all I ever say to him," Shaw said. "He's got a strong enough leg to kick it from 60. I just need him to be smooth and consistent, and that's where he is right now."

As for Taylor, Stanford's big name NFL prospect, all he did was break Darrin Nelson's career Stanford rushing record. He finished with 78 yards on 24 carries and was Stanford's leading receiver with six catches.

John Elway didn't do it. Harbaugh or Luck either. Stanford is headed to the Rose Bowl, and you know what? It did it the right way.


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