STANFORD, Calif. – David Shaw wondered why it took so long.
Moments into his weekly Tuesday press conference at the Arrillaga Family Sports Center, Shaw was asked the inevitable: “When will Barry Sanders be unleashed?”
The Cardinal’s sophomore running back and the son of the Hall of Famer of the same name, had a scintillating 16-yard reception and had three carries for 34 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown run in limited action during Stanford’s 55-17 victory over Washington State on Saturday.
“I’ve been waiting for this question from Week One,” said Shaw, Stanford’s Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. “Forget about Tyler Gaffney, and Anthony Wilkerson, and Remound Wright playing great, it’s just about Barry Sanders’ name, which is completely unfair to Barry. He knows he’s not ready to take over the offense.”
Shaw has tried to shield young Barry as much as possible. Interviews were off-limits last year as a freshman, because to do so would have invited a great deal attention to a player who had not yet earned it.
The biggest adjustment for young backs is pass protection, Shaw said. And though Sanders was spectacular in faking a defender to the ground and breaking a tackle on his catch, Shaw was most pleased with a play in which Sanders recognized a safety blitz and made the block.
With other backs doing well, there’s no need for Sanders to take on a huge role, but that doesn’t mean his playing time won’t increase.
“He’s going to have a role in each gameplan,” Shaw said. “We’re going to continue to spoonfeed him and continue to give him a little bit more each week, and get him used to playing college football.”
Shaw said he doesn’t have an issue with the attention Sanders has received -- Sanders was spotlighted during game highlights on ESPN’s SportsCenter, though his touches were not crucial parts of the game.
“It’s Barry’s name,” Shaw said. “We don’t have an issue with that. We knew it was coming. We talked about it the day after signing day. We knew the moment the kid makes a play, we’re going to be answering questions about him for the rest of the year.”
There’s nothing wrong with that and nothing has been unexpected, including Sanders’ potential. But, meanwhile, Sanders will continue to receive perhaps an undue share of attention.
“He understands it,” Shaw said. “His dad understands it. We understand it.
“Is he going to be special? Absolutely. Is he ready yet? No.”
* * *
As Washington, Stanford’s undefeated opponent Saturday in a 7:30 p.m. (PT) game at Stanford Stadium, regains prominence, Shaw recalled the greatness of the Huskies’ teams of the early 1990’s.
Washington won Rose Bowls after the 1990 and 1991 seasons and claimed a share of national championships each time.
“That was the best defense I’d seen in my entire life until I was with the Oakland Raiders and saw them play the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens,” Shaw said. “That was the next great defense I’d seen with my own eyes.”
The Huskies, which included current Stanford assistant Randy Hart as the Huskies’ defensive line coach, had a front seven that was relentless. As Shaw recounted, the Husky cornerbacks lined up seven yards off the line of scrimmage and never backpedaled. They didn’t have to.
“They had seven guys up front that you couldn’t block,” Shaw said. “First and foremost was Steve Emtman. We double-teamed him on three-step drops and he still hit the quarterback.
“I felt bad for our guys, there were no answers. You try to throw the ball quick, but the corners aren’t backing up. They’re tipping up balls and intercepting passes because they know you can’t take a five-step drop, let alone a seven-step drop and throw the ball deep. It’s impossible.
"That team, those images were burned in my brain. It was a phenomenal aggressive physical in-your-face defense. I don’t know what they did on offense, because the defense scared us so bad.
“Don James, one of the all-time greats. I have all the respect for what he built up in Washington. It was truly special.”
* * *
Stanford receiver Ty Montgomery admittedly struggled during Washington’s 17-13 upset victory over the Cardinal in Seattle last season. It was a difficult performance for the entire offense, but one that hit hard for him.
However, this season, the junior has become a true deep threat and one of Stanford’s most trusted weapons. He has 20 catches – 10 more than any teammate – for 327 yards and four touchdowns. His performance will be vital to the Cardinal’s efforts against the Huskies.
As for last year, Montgomery recalls the “disappointment and frustration” of a game in which the offense was held to 238 yards and Montgomery had several drops.
“I feel like I didn’t do my part and let everybody down,” he said. “I don’t remember the plays, I choose not to. I just remember how I felt, and I don’t want to feel that way again.”
* * *
An adjustment for sophomore cornerback Alex Carter coming out of high school was how to fight off blockers and become a more reliable tackler.
This year, Carter and fellow corner Wayne Lyons have put an emphasis on their ability to help in run support, by making a hard edge on the outside and forcing plays inside. The key is knowing how to get off blocks.
“Coming from high school to college, it’s a different game,” Carter said. “In high school, you could try and use your athleticism to around a receiver. But, in college, they know how to block.”
Carter and Lyons learned by having to take on an assortment of big receivers in training camp – guys like Devon Cajuste, Jordan Pratt, and Ty Montgomery. It’s helped make each of them a better all-around defenders.
* * *
Sophomore left tackle Andrus Peat was too young to remember watching his father Todd’s NFL career. Todd played for the Cardinals and Raiders from 1987-93.
Last summer, Andrus watched films of his father for the first time. It served as a chance to see his father from a different perspective, and to learn something new as well.
“He always talked about being a dominant run blocker,” Peat said. “He would always say he was one of the strongest guys out there. I play left tackle, but I try to be physical as well. A lot of left tackles are known for their pass blocking. I try to do both.”
* * *
For four years, walk-on quarterback David Olson has worked hard as a scout-team quarterback and never gotten into a real game – until Saturday.
Olson, a star at Irmo High in Columbia, S.C., got his first collegiate game action on the final play of Saturday’s blowout victory over Washington State.
Olson relieved backup Evan Crower to take a knee from the Victory formation in the final seconds.
“David passed on opportunities where he probably could have played at smaller colleges, and has grown and matured so much,” Shaw said. “He’s a great practice player. On top of that, he knows the gameplan inside and out.
“He asks great questions. He answers questions before the other guys. To have a guy like that and just to give him a snap on gameday, I think that is what we as college coaches need to always recognize. We’ve got guys on our team who work so hard and don’t get to play on game day.
“He earned that right to go on the field.”
-- #GoStanford --