Oct. 5, 2011
STANFORD, Calif. - When David Shaw looks at the numbers for Stanford's next football opponent, Colorado, it's not 1-4, that stands out. It's 17.
That's the number of sacks the Buffaloes' defense has this season, a figure that is tied for fourth in the country.
"That's the thing that jumps off the film and the thing that jumps off the stat sheet," said Shaw, Stanford's Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football/Head Coach.
Colorado, in its first year in the Pac-12, has beaten only Colorado State, and last week suffered a late loss to visiting Washington State in its conference opener. But the Buffaloes come after teams hard and that's something Stanford is aware of.
"They do more stuff on defense than probably anybody we've played in four years," Shaw said. "It's the variety of fronts, blitzes, and coverage looks."
Said Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, "Even when they don't get a sack, they'll make you throw it away, or force a bad throw. We'll have to be on our game."
Being a new conference team, Colorado brings a lack of familiarity to Stanford, which also could create problems.
"Trying to get familiar with their personnel, like who plays what position. They've got a lot of bodies that are very similar, so when the guy's in the game, is it a safety, a nickelback? Is he blitzing or dropping? It's very impressive. It's going to be a big challenge for us."
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The last time Stanford played Colorado, at Stanford Stadium in 1993, the Cardinal pulled out a controversial 41-37 victory over the No. 7 Buffs.
Steve Stenstrom's short pass over the middle to tight end Tony Cline in the end zone with eight seconds left won the game. Or did it? Cline was smacked as he caught the pass, sending the ball flying. The officials ruled he had possession long enough to be credited with the grab.
Colorado folks thought, and still think, otherwise.
As for Stanford?
"It was a touchdown," said Shaw, who played in that game. "I remember that play vividly."
Are you sure Stanford didn't get away with anything?
"Absolutely not," Shaw said. "Great call."
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Defensive tackle Terrence Stephens felt the Cardinal defense felt disrespected when visiting UCLA went for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line on the opening drive of Saturday's 45-19 Stanford victory.
"I think they were trying to prove a point," Stephens said. "You looked to your left and you looked to your right, and everybody kind of had that look in their eyes. We're not going to sit up here and let them do this. This is embarrassing."
The Stanford defense indeed held and the Cardinal offense followed with a 99-yard drive that put it in the lead for good.
The challenge became, "Who's tougher? Who's going to step up to the plate?" Stephens said. "But we dug in and were not going to let them come away with the momentum of the game again. That was a definite momentum swing."
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Luck downplayed the importance of calling his own plays when Stanford went into a no-huddle offense for the first time this season, against UCLA on Saturday.
"The whole calling-plays thing has been overblown," Luck said. "We're given a short list for the week of what formation we're going to be in, and the number of plays we're going to be using. It's not that special.
"All of our quarterbacks could do it. I'm sure all of our linemen could call what I'm calling right now. The running backs could do it. I know because when I mess up, they tell me."
Expect Stanford to use the no-huddle with more frequency from now on, despite not using it at all for the first three games.
Shaw said the team didn't want to use it in the opener, and didn't use it at Duke or Arizona because of concerns about how the team could run that tempo in potentially hot or humid environments.
However, it has been in the Cardinal arsenal since spring ball, and Luck worked with his teammates on the fast tempo during informal summer workouts.
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Stanford is one of three teams in the country that hasn't fumbled the ball, along with Auburn and Florida State.
"To be a team that runs the ball as much as we do, every back we have has to have great ball security," Shaw said. "It's something that's always on our guy's minds, and it's something we work on daily."
Running backs coach Mike Sanford stresses ball security at every practice, and certainly during games. Scout team players are told to try to rip the ball out on every play, even after the whistle. And as a player carries the ball, there must be at least two players yelling, "Tuck it, tuck it," during the play.
After games, players get graded on how they hold the ball. Sanford reviews photos.
Running back Stepfan Taylor said even if the ball droops in the open field, Sanford will notice and drop a grade to, say, a B-minus.
"He wants the ball high and tight, and he wants the pictures to be high and tight," Taylor said "So, we'll keep the ball high and tight for him."
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The Andrew Luck one-handed catch play is headed back to the closet, probably never to be used again this year.
"It's a great that everyone saw it a million times," Shaw said. "But we don't need to expose him to anything. That was kind of a one-time deal because of how they played on the weak side. We thought we might have had a chance to score a touchdown."
Should Stanford have held on the play - a double reverse that ended with a pass from receiver Drew Terrell to Luck down the sideline - for perhaps a more opportune time, like the fourth quarter of the Oregon game?
"Never," Shaw said. "We don't hold on to anything. If it looks good, we call it. The flip side of it, if it looks good, run it, because that's another thing on film that somebody else has to watch and be careful of as opposed to holding things to certain games. In the game that you're holding it for, the situation may never present itself."
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But Hewitt, a 6-foot-4, 238-pound third-year sophomore, has quickly become Stanford's most reliable short-yardage ballcarrier.
Each of his six carries has resulted in a first down, and seven of his 10 receptions have resulted in first downs or a touchdown.
The total: 13 of his 16 touches have resulted in first downs or a touchdown.
"He's always been great with the ball in his hands," Shaw said. "He's very versatile. A big part of that package is (fullback) Geoff Meinken. Those are two big thick human beings going `A' gap to `B' gap, typically behind right guard David DeCastro. That's been a big part of our short yardage and goal."
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics