STANFORD, Calif. - Stanford against USC: One of the nation’s fiercest and most competitive rivalries in recent years is renewed once again.
“This is one of those games where I don’t need to motivate them,” said David Shaw, Stanford’s Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. “I just get out of the way.
“They’re going to feel it in the stadium as soon as they walk in. The biggest thing for us is controlling our emotion, being smart, and doing things that win while playing an emotional football game. I don’t need to give a speech for this game. I just need to open the doors and let them go out and play.”
* * *
Ty Montgomery does a bit of everything for Stanford, but had never returned punts before last Saturday’s 45-0 season-opening rout of UC Davis. Of course, Montgomery’s first punt return resulted in a 60-yard touchdown for the opening score.
The thought process went something like this:
“We’ve seen it on kickoffs, we’ve seen it on screens, you’ve seen it every time we’ve given him the ball,” Shaw said. “He’s dynamic with the ball in his hands. Imagine what he can do with a punt return … in space. He’s got great vision, he’s got great body control. He’s got great pace and tempo. He’s got to get those opportunities.”
Stanford didn’t necessarily need him on punt returns with the likes of Drew Terrell two seasons ago and with Barry Sanders and Kodi Whitfield last year. And Montgomery “loves kickoff return,” Shaw said. “I can’t state that enough.”
The idea was proposed late last season and Montgomery was willing to try, but it never happened. However, Montgomery began working at receiving punts in the summer and has made a smooth transformation.
“We need to get him more opportunities with the ball,” Shaw said. “It’s another opportunity to get a great athlete in space.”
Montgomery also turned a screen pass into a 44-yard touchdown against UC Davis and had a carry for eight yards while taking the snap in the Wildcat formation. He finished with five receptions for 77 yards. Shaw said there is only one reason he would need to come off the field.
“When his tongue is dragging, he’s coming out,” Shaw said. “If it’s not dragging, he’s in.”
* * *
Steve Sarkisian’s move from Washington to head coach at USC may have doubled the scouting hours that the Stanford staff has put into preparing for Saturday’s game against the visiting Trojans. Not only are the Cardinal coaches looking at USC film, but they’re watching Sarkisian-era footage of the Huskies as well.
“You get a little dizzy sometimes,” Shaw said. “When you’re looking at Washington, you’re looking at scheme, not personnel. When you’re looking at USC, you’re looking at personnel, but you’re not looking at scheme.
“The bottom line is, we’ve played this combination of coaches a bunch of times the past couple of years. They kind of know who we are, we know who they are.”
The preparation for USC began last spring, Shaw said. While his assistants traveled on recruiting trips, Shaw spent a full day looking at film of each of Stanford’s opponents for the upcoming season. In the case of Washington, Shaw watched film of new Huskies’ coach Chris Peterson’s Boise State teams.
* * *
The Stanford offensive line has quite a tradition to uphold, and with four new starters, there is a commitment to continue it.
“One thing we talk about here is the Stanford standard,” said one of those new starters, center Graham Shuler.
One day last spring, the offensive linemen were visited, without any advance notice, by some of Stanford’s recent offensive line line stars – Jonathan Martin, Sam Schwartzstein, and David Yankey.
“They challenged us,” Shuler said. “They told us they had laid the ground work for us, but we had the opportunity to take the next step and keep it moving forward.”
The message was definitely received.
“We want to blow people off the ball,” Shuler said. “We want to be dominant, be physical. That’s our creed. Be relentless.”
Said quarterback Kevin Hogan of the offensive line, “We want to prove they’re the next elite group, which I think they are. I’ve seen them go against our front seven and I know our front seven is one of the best in college football.”
* * *
There are different theories as to how to build a defense to play against spread offense teams, such as USC. Some use lighter outside linebackers who can defend the pass. However, Stanford prefers big linebackers to control the running game.
This also allows Stanford to remain prepared for whatever style of offense they face, rather than be at a disadvantage when playing against a more power-oriented scheme.
“A fact of life in being in the Pac-12 is that every time you look up, someone’s going to be over 100 plays,” Shaw said. “It’s making sure our backups are ready to play and keeping our starters fresh.
"It also depends on what we’re doing on offense. If we’re not moving the ball, the opponent is going to have a ton of plays. If we’re getting the ball and scoring, you’re limiting the number of plays the other team is going to have. If you’re going three-and-out, they’ll be over 100 plays, there’s no question about it.”
* * *
Stanford coaches chose Wayne Lyons as team’s defensive player of the game against UC Davis. Lyons, a cornerback, had three tackles, forced a fumble, and broke up two passes, including one that was intercepted.
* * *
Much was made of differences between Shaw and Sarkisian after Stanford’s 31-28 victory over Washington last year. Shaw said the two are fine.
“No hatchet to bury,” Shaw said. “That situation, we’ve both moved on. We sat next to each other at the Pac-12 meetings. We talked about all kinds of stuff, football, family. The wives get together down in Los Angeles There’s no animosity whatsoever between me and Steve. We’ve moved on.”
* * *
True freshman running back Christian McCaffrey began earning respect among his older teammates long before training camp began. It began with his effort and work ethic in the weight room, even when tested by the regimen of Shannon Turley, the Kissick Family Director of Football Sports Performance.
“This summer, he came in with an attitude, I’m just going to work,” Shaw said. “He’s not a big talker. Christian came in and didn’t say a word, and just worked his tail off and competed. He won a lot of competitions, he was close in a lot of competitions. Quickness, explosion, mentality. Guys just took to him.”
* * *
McCaffrey is fast, and Shaw said his father, 6-foot-5 Stanford Hall of Fame receiver Ed McCaffrey, was deceptively fast. But McCaffrey’s speed may well come from his mother’s side. The former Lisa Sime, a former Stanford soccer forward, is the daughter of Dave Sime, the 1960 Olympic silver medalist in the 100 meters.
* * *
Stanford defensive end Henry Anderson will get plenty of attention from offensive linemen, especially considering last year’s national sack leader, Trent Murphy, and Shayne Skov have moved on to the NFL. The trick, Shaw said, will be how Anderson handles double teams.
“For great players, it doesn’t matter,” Shaw said. “The great players handle everything thrown against them. The thing for Henry is to continue to work and not be frustrated when he does get double teamed, and to keep working. Once it’s his turn to make a play … hey, beat a guy and make a play.”
Anderson doesn’t think double-teaming him is the answer.
“We’ve still got playmakers,” Anderson said. “If you try to double me, you still have James Vaughters, or Kevin Anderson or Aziz Shittu on the other side. I don’t know if it would be a smart thing to do.”
* * *
Throughout the 2013 season, Stanford was called for holding only twice. In the 2014 opener against UC Davis, the Cardinal equaled that total.
“It’s all about positioning,” said Shuler, who was flagged for one of those calls. “You should never have to hold when you’re in the right position. You should never be in a position that’s ever going to expose you to that. A lot of our scheme is designed so we don’t have to do those things.”
* * *
Shuler, a native of Franklin, Tenn., has a history with USC, dating back long before he first took the field against the Trojans.
Graham’s father, Rob Shuler, was a tackle at Auburn from 1982-85, and Graham grew up a huge Tiger fan. He recalls being at Jordan-Hare Stadium for the 2003 season opener when USC crushed Auburn, 23-0.
“I sat there as a kid, just furious,” Shuler said. “How did we lose to USC? I come from SEC nation -- you’ve got to beat the West Coast schools. Ever since then, I’ve had this hunger in my mouth. I’m ecstatic about this week.”
* * *
Hogan said he has improved the most in these areas: “just getting through my progessions, better understanding of defensive structure and what the defensive scheme is trying to do.
“I need to protect the ball better. That’s something I really want to eliminate, turning the ball over.”
* * *
There is no plan to hold Hogan back as a runner, an area in which Hogan was especially effective in 2012.
“They don’t want me to go run over a cornerback or a safety, but I don’t think they’re going to hold me back as far as running the ball,” Hogan said. “That’s something that could be good for us. But I’m going to be smart, and not go for those extra yards. We’re going to have all those quarterback read runs up, and we’re going to run a little bit.”
* * *
The key to playing an up-tempo offense is to slow them down. Henry Anderson has an idea how.
“It’s going to big this week to stop the offense before it gets started,” he said. “Try to get those three-and-outs early, so their offense can’t get into their up-tempo offense. If we stop them early, get them off the field, we’ll be good.
* * *
Playing USC in a pivotal game in the second week of the season is fine with Stanford.
“You’ve got to play them sometime,” Anderson said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”