Oct. 26, 2011
And each week, Shaw provides thoughtful and original answers, often to out-of-town media asking these types of questions for the first time.
But on Tuesday, Shaw announced, "I'm running out of words. I'm running out of things to say."
He then proceeded to provide perhaps his most original soliloquy of all.
"He's like a vitamin," said Shaw, Stanford's Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football/Head Coach. "Once A Day. Once a day, he does something that makes you say `Wow.' And it's been `once a day' for four years.
"You look at the film that night and say, `Oh my God.' Moving to his left, throwing 30 yards across his body. It's just stuff that other human beings can't do. And he just comes back to the huddle and says, `What's the next play?'"
Shaw said he's trying to tone down his praise.
"It's just, you get tired of saying, `Nice throw,'" Shaw said. "You get tired of saying, `Good read.' You get tired of saying, `Nice job in the pocket.' `Nice job escaping.' `Good decision.' You know, he gets tired of hearing it.
"We get to the point where I try not to compliment him too much. The problem is, there are not a lot of flaws."
* * *
The offensive line -- the self-described Tunnelworker's Union -- has its own pregame ritual before every game. The linemen gather on the sideline and make a sound like a train whistle ("Woo-Hoo"), followed by "Union!" It was taught by then-teammate Chris Marinelli, whose father actually was in a tunnelworkers' union in New Jersey.
But the chant had never ocurred during a game until Anthony Wilkerson broke off a 38-yard touchdown run with 4:23 left to enable Stanford (7-0, 5-0) to break its single-game rushing record with 446 yards.
The line's performance Saturday certainly was a high point, but its' development has been a process. The line, remember, had to indoctrinate three new starters, including two redshirt freshmen.
"I've been really proud how they've been able to mature and grasp our offense from early in the season when we all had trouble with communication," veteran left tackle Jonathan Martin said.
"As well as anything, they play very well as a unit," Shaw said. "They hold each other accountable."
Center Sam Schwartzstein has been vital in that "our offense doesn't work if the center doesn't play well," Shaw said.
On left guard David Yankey, "I can't say enough about his progress," Shaw said. "He's athletic enough to pull and big enough to create running lanes."
When Stepfan Taylor bolted through the line for a 70-yard touchdown run against Washington, Shaw felt a greater sense of satisfaction than merely one touchdown play.
"You love when you're a coach and you see on film something that you've been telling them could happen, and it does happen," Shaw said. "We talk all the time about what coach (Mike) Bloomgren calls `The Swab in the Hole.' (Lineman Kevin Danser) is pulling around and his guy's not there, but he sees some leakage and he seals the leakage.
"Stepfan hit it full speed and the rest is history. It's one of those things you work on, you work on, you work on, and you're not sure when it's going to show up. And it showed up and he did the right thing."
As for Wilkerson's record-breaking touchdown run, which made the score 65-21, Shaw was hoping Wilkerson would pick up the first down and the Cardinal would kneel down from there and run as much clock as possible. He didn't want the perception of running up the score.
Instead, he got a touchdown. When players came to `high-five' him, Shaw, though impressed with Wilkerson's run, declined.
* * *
Stanford strong safety Delano Howell will likely miss his second consecutive game because of a hand injury, though Shaw said he could return for the Nov. 5 contest at Oregon State.
So, how did the Stanford secondary do without their hardest hitter? It missed definitely missed him, particularly given the missed tackles that contributed to Washington back Chris Polk's 46- and 61-yard touchdown runs.
"It's a product of poor decision making by everybody on that defense," free safety Michael Thomas said. "It's not one man's fault. But, yeah, missed tackles, not being physical at the point of attack, and that's something we have to clean up."
"I remember playing in my first game as a defender in a big time role, it's different," Thomas said. "You get nervous, but those guys definitely settled down in the second half. I talked to them, and I think they realized, Hey, I'm not out there by myself. I just need to do my job and focus on that. And that's what got them settled down and got them doing their job better."
USC (6-1, 4-1) will present a new set of challenges for the newcomers.
"Just from the practice yesterday, we've already started communicating a little better," Thomas said. "That's going to be key to this game because USC does a lot of different looks, a lot of different motions. It's going to be key for us to get lined up properly for our defense to play well."
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Into the You-can't-stop-him, you-can-only-hope-to-contain-him department, comes USC receiver Robert Woods.
"You don't think about stopping him or taking him away necessarily," Shaw said, looking to Saturday's game against the Trojans at the Los Angeles Coliseum. "You're thinking about corralling him.
"We're going to try not to let him make too many big plays. They have enough talent that if you devote too much of your talent on one guy, other guys can hurt you."
The sophomore is second in the nation in receptions (72) and receiving yards (902). Last year in Stanford's 37-35 victory over the Trojans at Stanford Stadium, Woods torched the Cardinal for 12 catches, 224 yards, and three touchdowns.
"Robert Woods is about the best route running receiver I've seen in college football in 10 years," Shaw said. "The guy can run every single route and he makes it look easy."
Thomas saw his fill of Woods last year and says, "That No. 2 is going to be the best receiver we've played all year, and probably will be the best receiver we'll play all year. He's the real deal."
* * *
Getting excited about moving up to No. 6 in the BCS rankings because of losses by undefeated Oklahoma and Wisconsin, is not in Stanford's DNA.
"We talked about it as a team," Shaw said. "Getting giddy or getting upset about what's happening in the BCS in the middle of October is a waste of time. It's a waste of effort. It's a waste of emotion. It doesn't matter until the end of November.
"You can't worry about Alabama, LSU, and Oklahoma State, because if we don't take care of business, it's not going to matter."
* * *
Several former Stanford coaches now with the NFL's San Francisco 49ers, including head coach Jim Harbaugh, came to the Washington game during the 49ers' bye week.
"It's good that those guys are back," Shaw said. "They take a lot of pride in what happened. A lot of those guys helped recruit the guys on the team, helped train the guys on the team."
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A few weeks ago, Luck said the importance placed on his new task of calling plays was "overblown" and said his linemen could do just as good of a job.
Martin said that is partially true.
"The more you're in this offense, the more you see what the quarterback sees," he said. "At this point, we're ready to recognize a lot of plays."
However, Martin said, there is one caveat: "He pays attention to a lot of things we don't pay attention to."
* * *
Shaw, on his reaction to Stanford's winning 10 consecutive games, all by 25 points or more - a feat unreached in college football in 75 years.
"I didn't realize it until Sunday and got some e-mails," he said. "Great. That's nice. Delete."
* * *
Stanford's signature play is undeniably "Power," a running play that may be altered with different personnel and formations, but always is run steadfastly with a We-dare-you-to-stop-us mentality.
"There are two schools of thought," Shaw said. "There's zone blocking and gap blocking. In order to be good, you've got to dive into one and live in it. We've decided to live in the gap blocking world. And there are teams that live in the zone blocking world.
"Neither one is easier or harder. Both take a lot of time for guys up front to block all those combinations and all those looks, and for the running backs to be consistent on how to read those plays."
Taylor's 70-yarder was an example of a power "read-play," where he had a choice of which gap to run through based on the defense.
"We live off power," Taylor said.
* * *
Shaw said he understands the difficult jobs officials face in having to make split-second decisions on high-speed collisions. Still, he has some questions in his mind after games in which his tight end Coby Fleener and receiver Chris Owusu were victims of unpenalized helmet-to-helmet hits and linebacker Chase Thomas was flagged for one.
"We've gotten two players laid out with hits to the head that didn't get penalized and then got one on Saturday that was penalized against us," Shaw said. "I have no answer for it."
* * *
Asked for an explanation on how his kicker, Jordan Williamson, got penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, Shaw, a former Oakland Raiders' assistant, replied:
"First of my career. And I spent four years with Sebastian Janikowski."
* * *
The coach provided an insight into how Stanford calls certain plays on the line:
"It has nothing to do with how great we are as game planners," Shaw said. "It has to do with the quarterback. When in doubt, if the looks aren't clean, get us to a play that we know well that we're efficient at.
"You learn which plays don't do well against which defense. That's where you start. Before you get the point of the advantage-check, which is the perfect play against a perfect look, you've got to keep us out of a bad play."
* * *
An important aspect of continuing to improve as a team is continuing to practice hard and play physically in training.
"It definitely starts in practice, but it's not how many plays that you do, it's a mindset and the way you approach every play," Thomas said. "And it starts in practice and how you approach every tackle -- don't shy away from contact. Late in the season, guys' bodies are wearing and tearing, but you can't allow that to take away from the game. You still have to go hard in practice."
* * *
In the midst of preparing for USC, Taylor has a midterm in economic sociology. Just typical day for a Stanford student-athlete.
"I knew what was coming when I signed my letter to come here," he said.
* * *
Martin, on the way he believes Stanford continues to be perceived by opponents:
"Everybody just thinks we're a bunch of nerds up here. We like that, being under the radar a little bit."
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics