Stanford Football 10 Years Ago: Rose Bowl Bound
By John Platz
STANFORD, Calif. - This year marks the 10th anniversary of a special Stanford football season. In 1999, for only the fourth time in the post-World War II era, Stanford won a conference championship and earned a trip to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
In 1999, Stanford's offense produced 409 points in 12 games, an average of more than 33 per game. No Stanford football team has ever scored more in a single season.
If there was a primary theme in 1999, it was certainly was the 'O', as in Offense.
If there was a secondary theme, it was injury, and particularly affecting starters on offense. The reserves, or backups, had a larger-than-usual opportunity to get onto the field and affect Stanford's chances of winning in 1999.
In some games in 1999, the backups on offense were simply scintillating. In other games, the talent difference between an offensive starter lost to injury and his backup was enormous and, in at least one key game, proved to be the difference between victory and defeat.
It is not a stretch to say that when a Stanford starter on offense was forced to the sideline in 1999, the 'O' could also stand for -- depending on the game -- 'Oh wow!' or 'Oh no!'
The first real test of Stanford's backup talent on offense came in the fourth game, against UCLA. The Cardinal's potency on offense by then had become clear. After losing the season opener at Texas, Stanford bounced back with wins over Washington State and Arizona, scoring 50 or more points in each game.
Todd Husak returned as Stanford's starting quarterback. Calm and confident, Husak could complete both deep throws and short passes with pinpoint accuracy. As a junior during the 1998 season, Husak had set the Stanford single-game record for passing yardage, with 450 against Oregon State.
Husak's ability to complete a high percentage not only allowed Stanford to move the ball through the air, it also opened up lanes for the Cardinal running game as defenses had to station players farther from the line of scrimmage. It was hardly a surprise when the Husak-quarterbacked Cardinal served notice early in the 1999 campaign that it had the capability to put up big numbers.
But in Game 4 that year, against UCLA at Stanford Stadium, injury suddenly struck the Cardinal 'O.' Husak suffered bruised ribs in the second quarter and had to leave the game. The senior already had thrown for more than 100 yards in the game, so his loss seemed to be an ominous sign.
Enter backup Joe Borchard. A 6-foot-5 junior, Borchard was a two-sport athlete at Stanford, a starting outfielder on the baseball team in addition to his backup quarterback duties.
In football, Borchard had received only sporadic playing time in a reserve role, and when he got on the field he tended to make more plays with his feet than with his arm. In a 1998 home game against North Carolina, with the score tied in the final minute, Borchard replaced an injured Husak and ripped off a 41-yard run that set up the winning field goal by Kevin Miller with no time left.
What did Borchard do in his sudden relief appearance this day against UCLA? Borchard merely turned in one of the great backup performances in Stanford football history -- with his arm.
Entering the game in the second quarter, Borchard completed two passes for touchdowns before the end of the half, one covering 30 yards to Troy Walters and the other an eight-yard strike to DeRonnie Pitts. The two scores helped Stanford take a 21-3 lead into halftime against a solid UCLA team with future NFL starters Drew Bennett and DeShaun Foster in its starting lineup.
Early in the third quarter, Stanford got possession of the ball but was pinned at its 2-yard line. On its first play from scrimmage of the half, Borchard hit Troy Walters in stride with a short pass over the middle and Walters never stopped running until he reached the north end zone. The 98-yard scoring play was the longest reception in Stanford and Pac-10 Conference history, and it gave Stanford a 28-3 lead.
Borchard would complete two more touchdown passes in the game, giving him five in fewer than three quarters of play. Only five quarterbacks in Cardinal history have thrown as many in a game: John Elway, Steve Stenstrom, Steve Dils, Mike Boryla, and Joe Borchard. Of those, only Borchard did it in a backup role.Borchard had not only come off the bench to lead Stanford to a 42-32 victory, he had thrown for 324 yards and five touchdowns. Including Husak's pre-injury 141 yards passing, the Stanford quarterback position produced 465 passing yards in that game, the second highest single-game total in school history.
The win was a major step for Stanford winning the Pac-10 title and a spot in the 2000 Rose Bowl. It also proved that Stanford's depth at quarterback -- which also included 1999 reserve and future NFL quarterback Randy Fasani as the third quarterback -- was exceptional and perhaps the best in the school's storied quarterback history.
As for other backups on offense, Borchard-level talent was harder to find. Multiple injuries would strike in the days prior to the 2000 Rose Bowl game and the Cardinal offense - particularly backups who would be pressed into service on relatively short notice - faced a nearly impossible task.
Two pre-Rose Bowl injuries were particularly devastating. Walters, winner of the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's outstanding wide receiver in 1999, dislocated his right wrist in practice four days before the Rose Bowl game. And senior center Mike McLaughlin, a first-team all-conference selection and a starter in every game he suited up for in his four years on The Farm, learned in the week prior to the game that he had a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Both Walters and McLaughlin asked to play in the game and started against Big 10 champion Wisconsin, but neither lasted very long on the field. Without (understandably) backups even close to Walters or McLaughlin in skill or experience, Stanford's advantage on offense was effectively neutralized.
Wisconsin's defensive line profited from McLaughlin's absence, not only shutting down Stanford's running attack but also putting enough pressure on Husak to force a number of hurried and errant throws. And without the explosive and acrobatic Walters to outwit and outrun Badger defensive backs on passing plays, Stanford's big-play capability was gone.
Little wonder that a Stanford team that had averaged a stunning 40 points in its eight Pac-10 games could only muster a single touchdown on Jan. 1, 2000, in Pasadena, losing to Wisconsin in a tight game, 17-9.
Surprisingly, an injury to the most important position on offense -- the quarterback - did not hinder Stanford in its run for the roses during the fall of 1999. But injuries to other positions on offense, specifically at center and at wide receiver, ultimately were the thorns thwarting the Cardinal's bid for a sixth Rose Bowl crown.