STANFORD, Calif. - It’s hard to fathom the frenzy at West Point over Stanford’s senior reserve strong safety John Flacco, who quickly became a crowd favorite last week at Michie Stadium and returned home to discover 1,000 Facebook friend requests from West Point cadets.
Teammate Trent Murphy, who had a closeup view of Flacco doing the Army ‘Rocket’ cheer during the fourth quarter of the Stanford’s 34-20 victory, offered his perspective of upstate New York’s newest celebrity.
“I think it started as heckling for Flacco,” Murphy said. “But he kind of showed them love in return for their heckling, with a fist pump or something. They were entertained by it and it spread like wildfire.
“I didn’t really let myself notice it until the last 4-5 minutes of the fourth quarter. He did their Rocket chant. It was kind of hard not to notice at that point.”
Murphy also set the record straight.
“He didn’t know the Rocket chant,” Murphy said. “There’s a picture of him holding both his fists up and, if you see, I was cracking up on the side of the picture because everyone was going at it and Flacco’s hands are completely … he could have been doing the YMCA! It wasn’t right at all, but it was pretty funny.”
Like many, Murphy seemed slightly befuddled by it all.
“They’re going crazy over him,” Murphy said. “He’ll probably be the honorary captain for the Army-Navy game.”
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Stanford and Wisconsin are similar in styles. Both favor a power running game and use fullbacks and tight ends, as opposed to the spread offenses that rarely use either.
With that in mind, does Arizona State’s defense have an advantage for Saturday’s Pac-12 opener at Stanford Stadium (4 p.m. PT) because it has played teams with similar styles in consecutive weeks? The Sun Devils beat Wisconsin, 32-20, on Saturday night in a game most notable for its controversial finish.
“It helps both teams,” said David Shaw, Stanford’s Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football.
Shaw pointed out that, yes, Arizona State may have an edge in familiarity, but Stanford also can get a clue by seeing how the Sun Devils react in situations that Stanford may also present. It’s quite an opportunity, because film rarely shows how an opposing defense will react to formations with tight ends and fullbacks.
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Defensive end Kevin Anderson will be out for a few weeks after injuring a knee against Army. Shaw was not specific about Anderson’s injury, but said he expected the fifth-year senior to return this season.
Anderson’s loss frees up more time for Josh Mauro, who already was in the defensive line rotation but now will step in as a starter. Mauro, another fifth-year senior, had six tackles against Army and was Stanford’s defensive player of the game.
“He’s 285 pounds. He’s quick. He’s strong. He’s nasty,” Shaw said. “There were multiple times during the game when he beat the center, hit the fullback, and tackled the quarterback. That’s really hard to do.
All of the coaches believe he can be playing in the NFL,” Shaw said. “The fact that he ‘wasn’t a starter’ is crap, because he has played a lot. The fact that he’s on the field for the first play doesn’t mean anything to us and it doesn’t mean anything to the NFL guys either.”
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Sophomore defensive end Aziz Shittu should roll into the line rotation, which should remain strong.
“Thank goodness we have some depth,” Shaw said.
Shittu, a five-star recruit by Rivals.com, played sparingly last season, but seems prepared to make a bigger impact.
“We’re starting to see the quickness that he showed when he was in high school,” Shaw said. “It’s just getting used to playing college football. We still think he’s got a bright future ahead of him, but it’s just the difference of being able to play and being able make an impact. Hopefully, soon that’s coming.”
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Murphy, a fifth-year outside linebacker and a native of Mesa, Ariz., chose Stanford over Arizona State despite close connections between his family and his local school. His sister, Kayli, played basketball for the Sun Devils and Murphy had to mount the courage to reject an offer in hand by then-Arizona State head coach Dennis Erickson in person.
The Murphys were won over by then-Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh, even though the visit took an unusual twist.
It so happens that on the night Harbaugh and assistant D.J. Durkin were to arrive, Trent’s parents, Jerry and Laurie, were in the hospital. Laurie, pregnant with their fifth daughter, Maddie, was having abdominal pains. From the hospital, they convinced Laurie’s sister, Amy, to get to the house and entertain the coaches and buy some time before the Murphys could get home.
Amy, originally from Chicago, had no idea who Harbaugh was, and asked the former Chicago Bears quarterback, "Have you ever been to Chicago?"
Harbaugh never let on, and charmed Amy and the entire Murphy family.
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Shaw paid the ultimate compliment to Arizona State’s Will Sutton last year by showing film of the all-conference defensive tackle to the Stanford linemen as an example of how to play the position.
“This is what a guy who changes games looks like,” Shaw told them. “He’s relentless, great with his hands, gets blocked initially and gets unblocked, pursues from the back side, and is great against the pass and the run.”
Shaw said he had no problem using an opponent as an example.
“That’s been the standard for the defensive line for our conference,” Shaw said Tuesday. “We’re trying to get our guys to understand that and try to play to that level.”
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The emergence of sophomore Andrus Peat as the starting left tackle is not surprising considering his status as the top-ranked prospect in the 2012 recruiting class by The Sporting News. Peat worked into the lineup as a situational player last season, but has become a regular this year.
“He understands the game,” Shaw said. “The communication between him and (left guard) David Yankey is phenomenal. They see things at the same time. They talk to each other.
“Watching film, last year he’d look at Yankey and ask ‘What are we trying to do here?’ Now, they get that nod like they both see it and they know what they’re doing. That’s a great comfort.”
Peat, even at 6-7, 312, is so agile that coaches can ask him to pull around the right tackle because they know he’ll still get there before the running back.
“It’s a rarity,” Shaw said. “And he’s still not close to his ceiling. He’s still got a lot to learn, he’s still pushing himself. I’m very pleased with where he is right now.”
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On the play of the offensive line: “They’ve been awesome,” Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan said. “The way they’ve been passing off stunts has been great. They’ve been keeping me clean and that allows me to be comfortable back there and keep my eyes downfield.”
Shaw rated Hogan’s performance against Army thusly: “He’s riding at a B,” Shaw said.
Hogan threw three touchdown passes and completed 11 of 18 passes for 188 yards. However, he also had an interception and fumble.
“The turnovers, those things can’t happen,” Shaw said. “I can’t say he made up for those, but he made some unbelievable plays, both as a scrambler and as a passer. He got us into some great plays, and out of some bad plays, which saved us. That’s what’s kept him up to a B.
“He wants to be an ‘A’ student, he’s really hard on himself. So, opportunity No. 3 is coming up.”
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Murphy, who at 6-6 was described as a “rangy intellectual” by a local newspaper when he starred at Brophy College Prep in Phoenix, arrived at Stanford weighing 217 pounds. He’s up to 261, but it hasn’t been easy.
“I still have to eat a ton to maintain my weight,” Murphy said. “Training camp was hard to keep my weight on. If I were trying to get to 280, it would be a little bit of a struggle still. I don’t know when that’s going to slow down for me.”
Performance coach Shannon Turley weighs each player twice a week. He has a diet plan that they follow, and they record everything they consume in a journal that is reviewed on a regular basis.
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Mauro described the differences between the two running attacks, of Army and Arizona State:
“One of the biggest differences that might be get overlooked is Army checked their plays a lot and used their play clock,” Mauro said. “Although they ran a lot, we had a lot more time on defense to get our wind.
“ASU, I think they run a play every 11 or 15 seconds. Last game, they ran 103 plays. You note that and get ready for that. It’s a more up-tempo game. It’s not the triple-option attack. They’ve a good football team at running and throwing the ball. It will be a challenge.”
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Saturday marks the beginning of Pac-12 play, beginning a stretch of nine conference games in as many weeks without a bye, and where every opponent has the power to knock the Cardinal from its postseason goals.
“It’s a gantlet,” Shaw said. “That’s the way we look at it. You’ve got to be able to rise to the occasion, every seven days from now to the end of the season. It’s about realizing that every game is important, no one is bigger than another one.
“You can’t slight any opponent. You can’t look past any opponent. You live a seven-day existence. Once that game is over, you get rid of that last week and you live in the next week.
“You have to be strong mentally to come back from a great win, by knowing the season is not over. If you get too excited about the last one, you lose the next one. If you did lose a game, you’re going to have to come back and be resilient, because you’re not going to get cut any slack by your next opponent. It’s a gantlet that you’re trying to survive.”
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