Dec. 28, 2012
LOS ANGELES - Stanford's defense has some difficult challenges in stopping the Wisconsin offense, and they mostly have to do with stopping Wisconsin superstar running back Montee Ball.
Defensive coordinator Derek Mason, simplifies Stanford's three biggest defensive challenges as this:
"Stop the run.
"Stop the run.
"Watch the play action."
The following is a Stanford primer to defensive success:
1) Hold the edges.
To combat Wisconsin's big-play potential, outside linebackers Trent Murphy and Chase Thomas will attempt "create havoc on the edges," Murphy said, to funnel the running game into the middle of the Cardinal line.
"If me and Chase can funnel the offense into the `hot gates,' as we call it, then there's nine guys sitting there to make the play," Murphy said.
"As long as everyone does their job, they won't move our defense laterally or crease us straight downhill running. So, as long as we do our jobs, we'll be pretty sound against what they're trying to do."
2) Be aware of Wisconsin's other backs.
The Badgers' offense includes James White (802 yards) and Melvin Gordon (53-570), running backs with higher per-carry averages than Ball (1,809). By focusing constantly on Ball, there is the danger of falling victim to a big play by someone else.
"You have to be aware of what each guy is capable of and potentially how the offense is trying to use them," inside linebacker Shayne Skov said. "No matter who's back there, you have to play your defense. That doesn't change your alignment, your ability or scheme."
3) Earn the right to rush the passer.
"You have to stop the run first," defensive end Ben Gardner said. "Then, you have to earn the right to rush the passer. In order to have a chance to rush this guy, we have to play well on first and second down and get him into third-and-longs. They're going to pound the football until they have to throw it, because otherwise we're not going to be able to rush, which is what we do best probably."
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One of the Rose Bowl staples is the Beef Bowl at Lawry's Prime Rib restaurant in Beverly Hills. Each year, there is an unofficial contest of who can eat the most cuts of meat. For Stanford, the early favorite was 6-foot-5, 325-pound Joshua Garnett.
The freshman guard did not disappoint. He gobbled down seven pieces of 24-ounce prime rib, and reportedly was ready for an eighth, but had to cut his meal short because the team was leaving.
If second-hand lore can be trusted, Garnett tied the number of steaks eaten by defensive lineman Willie Howard heading into Stanford's most recent Rose Bowl appearance, in 2000.
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"When Toby Gerhart left, it was, `Oh, there goes Stanford,'" Murphy recalled in reference to the Cardinal's 2009 Heisman Trophy runner-up running back. "When Andrew Luck left, it was like, `Oh, there they go again.' But, I mean, we haven't gone anywhere yet. Our success is a combination of hard work, and good players and coaches. I think we'll still be a good football team."
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The Cardinal held its first practice since arriving in Southern California. Stanford held a light training session in the face of a stiff breeze at the Home Depot Center in Carson. The field, which was outside the stadium, normally is used by the U.S. national soccer team.
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Murphy recounted the pivotal team meeting at a team practice following Stanford's overtime loss to Notre Dame that dropped the team to 6-2.
"We had a sloppy practice after a loss, which, I think was scary for the seniors, especially because Stanford, had never responded to a loss that way, to come out of practice and go through the motions. That wasn't a good sign."
Thomas led the meeting.
"That was kind of what it was about, explaining to the young guys what it has to be and where we had to move from that point on," Murphy said.
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The overtime loss to Notre Dame still haunts the Cardinal, especially in seeing Notre Dame in the BCS Championship Game.
"That could have been us," Murphy said. "We were that close. It's definitely bitter, but there's no changing it now. We just kind of learn from it and know that we were that close. Let's not be that close in the Rose Bowl. Let's get it done this time."
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Ben Gardner felt responsible for last season's Fiesta Bowl loss because he shaved off his trademark mullet. Bad luck.
Though he swore he would not do it again, Gardner nearly considered another trip to the barber. But peer pressure, especially from Skov, prevented a recurrence.
"I was actually getting close to cutting it, because I wanted to prove it was an aberration last year and wasn't actually my fault," Gardner said. "But they wouldn't let me do it. An uprising would have started in the locker room if I had done it."
"We weren't going to let him cut it. It's his hair and his free will, but he would have faced the wrath of the other 110 guys on the team. He made a wise decision."
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Gardner, a native of Mequon, Wis., grew up a University of Wisconsin fan and was recruited by his homestate Badgers, but only as a preferred walk-on.
"I didn't necessarily feel disrespected," Gardner said. "But I wasn't interested in being a walk-on."
While contemplating an offer from Northern Iowa, Gardner had a happenstance meeting with Jack Harbaugh, a Wisconsin resident at the time and the father of then-Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, in the weight room. Jack Harbaugh was friends with Gardner's coach at Homestead High.
Gardner gave Harbaugh a highlight tape, but never expected to hear back. But two weeks later, Jim Harbaugh called, offering a Stanford scholarship.
Now, he gets to face the Badgers in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.
"I'm excited, because I know I'll have so many friends and family that will be watching," Gardner said. "I'm excited to show what I can do and what this team can do, because this team is really special and I think not a lot of people outside of the West Coast have really seen what we can do."
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Did Gardner hold a grudge against Wisconin after that?
"I think it may have motivated me early on, but it doesn't motivate me anymore," Gardner said. "You're definitely looking to prove yourself, but once you're there a year or two and integrated into the team, and you're so immersed in team goals, it changes. I think the motivating factor each year has been to get to this game - the Rose Bowl."
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Stanford will today hold its second Rose Bowl Game football practice at the Home Depot Center, open to the public and free for all to attend from 1:15 to 3 p.m. No photography or video is allowed after 1:30 p.m.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics