Oct. 10, 2012
STANFORD, Calif. - The mullet that once graced the head of defensive end Ben Gardner has returned.
“I didn’t want to bring it back, to be honest,” Gardner said. “I cut it last year after the final game of the regular season, and then we ended up losing the Fiesta Bowl. You wouldn’t believe all the crap I took from teammates blaming the loss on my lack of mullet.
“At the end of the day, they kind of convinced me they needed it. I brought it back for one more final hurrah. I’m going to keep it to the end of the bowl. Maybe we’ll cut it in the locker room after the game.”
So, just so we’re straight, the mullet was to blame for the 41-38 overtime loss to Oklahoma State and not Cowboys’ receiver Justin Blackmon?
“According to the other 100 guys in the locker room, it was my mullet,” Gardner contested.
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A Stanford coaching meeting Sunday was postponed 30 minutes because the coaches couldn’t pry themselves away from the television as they watched former Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck rally the Indianapolis Colts to a dramatic 30-27 upset victory over the Green Bay Packers.
“It felt like our USC game from a year ago,” said David Shaw, Stanford’s Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football, of the 56-48 overtime victory at the Los Angeles Coliseum. “He put us on his shoulders. He runs, he throws, and when the game’s on the line, he makes unbelievable throws.
“And he had one more year of eligibility. I think about that often.”
Gardner, a native of Mequon, Wis., is a lifelong Packers fan, but saw the game from a different perspective.
“I was happy for Andrew,” Gardner said. “I’ve been a Green Bay fan my entire life, but as you get older and know more guys in the league, your allegiances tend to stick with your buddies. I was proud of Andrew and I texted him after the game. I asked him, ‘Why did you have to do my Packers like that?”
“The older guys a lot of times watch the NFL games, seeing the guys you played with for three or four years. They’re some of your best friends. And it’s exciting to see that what we do at Stanford translates to the NFL level. It’s good for us to see what we could potentially be doing down the road.”
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Defensive end Henry Anderson was honored at a team meeting as the coaches’ choice for defensive player of the week for his performance Saturday in the 54-48 overtime victory against Arizona. The announcement was met by whooping teammates, yelling “GOOSE!” and pretending to flap their wings in tribute.
“All my friends call me that now,” he said. “I don’t really like the nickname because the story behind it is kind of embarrassing.”
Anderson has picked up the nickname not because of any resemblance to a bird, but because of his futility in the “Madden Football” video game.
“I would go play a game and not score a point,” Anderson said. “Then they’d yell, ‘Goose’ a lot.
As in “goose egg.”
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A question Tuesday during Shaw’s weekly press conference about the starting lineup struck a nerve with the coach about the accuracy of recording the players in on the opening play as starters.
Stanford uses a variety of personnel packages, and if an unusual scheme is used on the opening play, those players would be recorded as the starters. Shaw would rather see a non-specific list of starting players, regardless of who took the first snap.
For instance, if Stanford came out in the Wildcat formation on the opening play, the player taking the direct snap – running back Stepfan Taylor – would be recorded as the starting quarterback, though Josh Nunes would be the true “starter.”
This situation may have hurt Stanford last year when tight end Coby Fleener officially was a starter in only five of 13 games, but still made 34 catches for 667 yards and had a team-high 10 receiving touchdowns – leading the nation’s tight ends in each of those categories. The eventual second-round NFL draft choice was passed over for many postseason honors though he was regarded by many as the nation’s best at his position.
“I’m in the midst of composing a little e-mail,” Shaw said. “I don’t know who to send it to yet, the NCAA or whatever. Counting starts is the most useless thing in the world. The guy’s not in for the first play, but he could play the next 79 plays, and he’s not a starter?
“I think every team should be able to designate who their starters are. It doesn’t matter who’s on the field for the first play. It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever in today’s football.”
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Nunes had what might be considered a breakthrough game in leading the Cardinal to a 54-48 overtime victory over Arizona on Saturday. He completed 21 of 34 passes for 360 yards and accounted for five touchdowns – three running, two passing – without throwing an interception.
How will that performance help Nunes?
“He was confident before,” Shaw said. “But now the confidence is backed up by some more tangible production.”
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The sample size is small – one game. But thus far, Stanford has played poorly on the road, as shown in its 17-13 loss to Washington on Sept. 27, in contrast to its 4-0 record at home.
“That’s going to be the big test,” Shaw said of the challenge of changing playing at Notre Dame Stadium. “I told that to the team yesterday. That’s our gauntlet. The gauntlet that’s thrown down in front of us is, can we play our best game on the road.
“We’ve gone on the road one time this year and we did not play well. Defensively, we did a solid job against Washington, but we still allowed a 100-yard rusher and a 100-yard receiver. We’ve done that two games in a row. We need our defense to play their best game this week.”
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There are many similarities between the two schools, as Shaw explained.
“We have something in common with Notre Dame, and that’s playing tough, physical defense, loving our linebackers, and running the ball on offense, and have the quarterbacks do what they need to do to win the game,” he said.
But the coach stopped short of following that common thought that Notre Dame is the closest of major-college programs to Stanford in terms of the academic-oriented players that Stanford recruits.
“We’re still in our own universe,” Shaw said. “We don’t even send a letter of intent to anyone unless they are admitted to the school.”
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Stanford receiver Ty Montgomery likely will not play against Notre Dame because of an injury he suffered late against Arizona, Shaw said. Senior Jamal-Rashad Patterson will start in Montgomery’s place.
Cornerback Terrence Brown, however, could see action. Brown is listed first on the depth chart.
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“Both guys did some good things,” Shaw said. “And both guys did some young-guy things, which you live with when you have great athletes because you’ve got to play them. You can’t afford not to. They’ll have to fight through some things, but both guys have a really really high ceiling.”
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Notre Dame senior inside linebacker Manti Te’o may be the best defensive player in the country, if not the best overall player in college football.
“He’s got as good of instincts as anybody I’ve seen on this level,” Shaw said. “He reads the quarterback so well. He’ll get a jump on a pass, and he’ll get a jump on a run play.
“There was a run play where as soon as the ball’s snapped and the guard starts to pull, he actually passes the linebacker and beats him to the play. It’s uncanny. He’s a special football player.”
However, when asked if he would vote for Te’o if he could vote for the Heisman Trophy, Shaw shook his head. His campaign for Luck last year could not prevent his quarterback from a runner-up finish.
“I’ve learned that I don’t vote for Heisman Trophies, and people who vote for Heisman Trophies don’t listen to me,” Shaw said. “I stay out of the conversation. It was a tough lesson for me, but I’ve learned it.”
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Stanford has allowed only five sacks this season. The Notre Dame defense has 14.
“This will be our biggest challenge,” Shaw said. “These guys are big and they are physical. When the linebacker’s blitz, they hit it hard. This is going to be a big test.
“We’ve done well, but the thing that helps our pass pro is our running back. We’ve got to be able to run the ball and have our play action, which helps slow down the pass rush, hopefully.”
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True freshman defensive end Aziz Shittu got his first action of the season on Saturday, rotating in during the Arizona game, thereby ensuring that he will not redshirt this season.
Shittu has been ready to play the past two games, but the situations didn’t call for it. Against Arizona’s hurry-up spread, however, Shaw knew he would need more players in the rotation to keep everyone fresh.
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Six-foot-6 Anderson deflected the overtime pass that teammate Chase Thomas intercepted to end Arizona’s offensive chance. He has three pass deflections this season, and has “altered a lot of throws,” Shaw said.
“Coach (Randy) Hart will teach us, if you’re coming off the block on a pass rush move, if you know you’re not going to be able to get there, try to get your hands up and deflect any balls,” Anderson said.
“With the combination of Anderson and (6-6 outside linebacker) Trent Murphy at the same time, we’ve got some big long guys who can get their hands up. It can affect the quarterback.”
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The emergence of Patterson, who caught two passes for 71 yards against Arizona, was a reward for a player who used track and field to get himself into better shape.
Patterson ran the 110-meter high hurdles and 400-meter relay for the Cardinal track team last spring.
“He got his speed back and his weight down,” Shaw said. “He’s been awesome since last spring. It was about him getting opportunities and taking advantage of those opportunities.”
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The performance of Arizona’s Scott (45 of 69 for 491 yards) against Stanford last week was one of the most impressive of the college football season, Shaw said.
“Outside of (West Virginia’s) Geno Smith’s game against Baylor, I don’t think that I’ve seen a quarterback performance better than what that kid did against us,” Shaw said. “The ball came out quick, it was accurate. He had all the trajectories -- the fastball, the touch pass. The guy put on a show.
“There are a lot of things we could have done better, but I have to give that kid credit. He was on fire. He is as good as anybody out there throwing the ball.”
Nunes, the other half of the QB duel, appreciated Scott’s performance as well.
“I sent Matt Scott a text after the game,” Nunes said. “I knew him from different camps -- we spent a weekend together at the Super Seven camp in Santa Barbara. It was nice to get to know him on that level, and room with him. He played a heck of a game.”
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The vision of Khalil Wilkes springing Taylor for the winning 21-yard touchdown run in overtime with a downfield block illustrated the talents of the left guard and the offensive line as a whole.
“I believe mobility is one of my strengths and the offensive line’s strengths,” Wilkes said. “We have big guys that can play physical, but also have great feet and are able to go up to a safety if need be, especially on that play.”
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Defensive line coach Hart has been in the coaching profession since 1970, starting out under his college coach at Ohio State, Woody Hayes.
“He’s definitely an old-school guy,” Anderson said. “We’ll do a lot of old-school drills and wonder why sometimes. But he definitely pushes us really hard in practice and tries to get the most out of us.
“We always argue with the other position guys that we work the hardest. He does a good job of making us go when we don’t really want to. If, like, if it’s midseason and we’re at Tuesday practice and we don’t want to be out there, he’ll be out there and try to get the adrenaline flowing.”
Hart will sometimes even invoke the legendary Hayes himself.
“He used to bring up some of his stories from his days at Ohio State,” Anderson said, “and we realize how good we have it now compared to when he played.”
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After chasing players around the field in facing Arizona’s spread offense last week, Gardner is looking forward playing against a team that approaches the game much like Stanford.
“They want to run the ball and hit people,” Gardner said of the No. 7 Irish (5-0). “That’s our style of football. That’s what we signed up for when we came to play here. We’re looking forward to a physical matchup where we can really play to our strengths and hopefully flex our muscles a little bit up front.”
Having grown up in the Midwest, Gardner appreciates the Notre Dame tradition.
“The guys on our team don’t really understand it,” Gardner said. “I’m one of the few guys that grew up watching Notre Dame and know about the history.
“I love playing them, and I love going to Notre Dame Stadium because it’s a beautiful place to play and the fans are into it, and you’ve got the little leprechaun running around. But, in terms of most our team, they could care less. We’re just about what we do, about playing big, physical football.”
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics