Sept. 28, 2011
STANFORD, Calif. - Stanford has scored every time it's advanced inside the opponents' 20-yard line this season - a 16 for 16 output. You can't improve upon 100 percent, but that's what the Cardinal is striving to do.
David Shaw, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football/Head Coach, graded his team's red-zone offense at a B-minus.
"We've scored 100 percent of the time in the red zone, but that's now how we gauge it," Shaw said. "We kick way too many field goals. Scoring in the red zone is not as important as touchdowns in the red zone."
Stanford has settled for field goals on four of those trips, scoring touchdowns 75 percent of the time. Shaw would like that figure to grow to 80-85 percent, which is typically what great teams of the past, such as the San Francisco 49ers in the 1980s and USC during its recent dynasty, have done.
The key, Shaw said, is the running game. It's a lesson he learned from Super Bowl winning coach Jon Gruden when they were with the Oakland Raiders.
"The teams that get in the red zone and throw it every single time, they're hit and miss," Shaw said. "They turn the ball over too much, they take too many sacks, they take too many field goals.
"The teams that run the ball efficiently end up second and goal at the 3, and make you defend both the run and the pass, so play action works, so the fullback in the flat works."
The ideal results for Shaw? A second-and-goal at the 3 or a 15-yard touchdown run, signs that the running game is effective when it needs to be most.
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The bye week may have given the Stanford football team some needed physical rest heading into Saturday's home game against UCLA.
However, relaxing on the couch while enjoying a game on TV isn't the same as it is for most fans.
"I can't help but watch it like film," linebacker Max Bergen said. "I'm waiting for Coach Tarver to yell at me or something, even in my own place by myself."
Visions of position coaches notwithstanding, quarterback Andrew Luck said he couldn't really enjoy the LSU-West Virginia game on his television.
"It's interesting to be able watch college football all day, and the next day the NFL," Luck said. "I'm sort of sick of watching football, to be honest, being glued to the couch for 10 hours.
"The more you play college football, the less fun it is to watch football on TV."
Stanford coach David Shaw made a leisurely breakfast of cream of wheat and bacon for his kids, watched his daughter's soccer game, scouted a potential recruit in a high school game, took his wife out to dinner, and served as a guest on a local television highlight show. And, all the while, he watched gamefilm on his iPad.
Not exactly a relaxing vacation.
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Tight end Zach Ertz has caught touchdown passes in Stanford's past six games. A coincidence?
"Purely accidental," Shaw said, to the laughs of reporters at Tuesday's weekly press luncheon.
"I view it as a sense of opportunity when we need a big play," Ertz said. "I like to get open all the time, but especially in the red zone. There's a huge reward at that part of the field. I don't think it's just me, the other tight ends feel the same way."
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In 2009, Toby Gerhart took 21 academic units during his final season at Stanford. Andrew Luck is taking a lighter academic load, with three academic classes: Archaic Greek art, an art history class on architecture since 1900, and urban sustainability.
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The evolution of Luck continues, Shaw said.
"He'll be the first to admit he hasn't played a great game yet," Shaw said. "He's played well. But, for me, he's gotten better on the things he needs to improve on. He's taking less chances.
"He forced the ball a few times last year. At the end of the year, I said there are three plays a game you'd like to take back. We can't have those anymore."
Shaw would like to see Luck use his scrambling whenever possible to run for first downs. He held back against San Jose State in the opener, but has begun to use his feet more in the past two games.
"That's part of his game," Shaw said. "It keeps him in rhythm and helps train the receivers. If they get open in time, he won't pull down and run. So it forces the receivers to be on time as well."
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How has Stanford's Orange Bowl victory aided recruiting this year?
"Being on that stage, that day, the only game on, with the Monday Night Football crew, it was great exposure and we played about our best game of the season," Shaw said. "All that has helped, but again, all you're doing is bait and hook.
"The way we've played this year and the way our guys speak about this school and this team and our aspirations on and off the field ... our players a lot of times are our best salesmen."
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Stanford, ranked No. 6 in the country, has embraced the proverbial "bullseye" on its back.
"We like to have that target on our back," offensive tackle Jonathan Martin. "It keeps us motivated every day. We can't take a day off, because every team's gunning for us and Oregon. It's definitely a burden we like and use as motivation."
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics