Just had an impassioned discussion with my esteemed colleague Steve Bitker about Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh's decision to go for a 2-point conversion with the Cardinal leading USC 48-21 midway through the 4th quarter.
Full disclosure of my loyalties: my family has always leaned toward Cal and away from Stanford, and most definitely away from USC. But I like 'SC coach Pete Carroll and respect his program. I'm also thrilled about Harbaugh's resurrection of the Stanford program, and I'm a big fan of tailback/outfielder Toby Gerhart. Freshman QB Andrew Luck is another Cardinal worth watching.
Anyway, I thought it was entirely appropriate that Harbaugh shoot for two with that 48-21 lead. After all, 50 looks so much nicer than 48 on the scoreboard. But seriously, Stanford entered that game as the underdog, and USC is the 700-pound gorilla of the Pac-10. It's not like Stanford was pulling this stunt on an overmatched opponent.
What Harbaugh did has obvious downside potential. You don't tug on Superman's cape, you don't spit into the wind. But what Harbaugh was doing, I believe, was telling his players (and potential recruits), "We fear no one. So what if USC doesn't like it? Let 'em come and get us."
Steve says it was a bush-league decision. He says it was an attempt to "run up the score". He might be right about the former, and for sure he's right about the latter. If successful, Stanford would have widened its lead by an entire point. Hoo-boy.
"Running up the score" is leaving your first-team defense in against the other guys when you have a big late lead. Oh, like USC did at Stanford last year, when Carroll sent the big dogs back in and called blitzes against a Stanford team trying to save some face in a 45-23 whipping.
Look, it's obvious there's no love lost between these two coaches or their programs. But it's pretty clear that Stanford is the little dog and 'SC's the big one. That extra point (which, by the way, Stanford didn't get--perhaps the only big stop USC's defense made all day) had no bearing on the final score. But the willingness to go for it in front of 90,000 fans at the Coliseum was a statement by Harbaugh. It was his own way of sticking the Stanford Axe in the turf, the way Tommy Trojan shoves that sword in the ground before every USC game.
And while they won't say it out loud, I'll bet several other Pac-10 coaches got a nice warm feeling when they heard about it.