STANFORD, Calif. - David Shaw, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football at Stanford, was coaching wide receivers for the Baltimore Ravens in 2005. But the former Cardinal wide receiver was as stunned as anyone that year when Stanford lost to UC Davis, 20-17.
“I just remember I had a pit in my stomach,” Shaw said Tuesday during his weekly media session. “It was a rough day, especially since I had a couple Cal guys on the team.”
No. 11 Stanford is once again a heavy favorite to defeat the Aggies of the Big Sky Conference on Saturday when it returns to Stanford Stadium in the season opener for both teams. A year ago, the Cardinal played in its fourth consecutive BCS game and reached the Rose Bowl for the second straight year, while UC Davis struggled to a 5-7 record.
Shaw was quick to point out that none of his current players were even in high school in 2005. But he knows the nature of the game and has reminded them what can happen when you overlook an opponent, especially with 15th-ranked USC visiting next Saturday.
“No, we’re not looking forward to USC,” Shaw said. “We have enough things to get done this week. We’re focusing on showing how hard we worked this off-season.”
Not that his players need a reminder, but Stanford was surprised by Utah last year, 27-21, snapping its five-game winning streak to begin the year.
“This is college football,” said Shaw. “You better strap it up and play. If you don’t play well, you have a chance to lose.”
Senior quarterback Kevin Hogan insisted no one is overlooking the Aggies.
“You have to respect all your opponents,” he said. “At the end of the day, they’re college football players and anything can happen. All of our focus is on them. We’re not worried about how they’re supposed to do. It’s our first game and we want to come out strong.”
Hogan said the team began game-planning for UC Davis last week. And while some would expect Stanford to be conservative on offense and save a few wrinkles for USC, Hogan said the game will dictate how deep the Cardinal goes into the playbook.
“We’re going to do whatever it takes to win,” said Hogan.
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With four new starters on the offensive line, Shaw is looking for the unit to develop chemistry as quickly as possible. According to Hogan, that process is well under way.
“I think it’s already gelled,” he said. “I’m not worried about it at all. I know they’re not worried or nervous. I’m excited to see what we can do this year.”
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Senior wide receiver Ty Montgomery was cleared Monday by team doctors and trainers to play Saturday. Montgomery, an explosive playmaker and All-American kick returner, has been somewhat limited in training camp after undergoing off-season shoulder surgery. Last season, he led Stanford with 61 catches that produced 10 touchdowns. He also had 1,091 in return yardage and a pair of scores.
“He feels great,” said Shaw, who predicts another big season from the Dallas, Texas, native.
Shaw said Montgomery will rotate with other players on kickoff returns to keep everyone fresh, and believes he has the ability to be mentioned in the Heisman Trophy conservation.
“You have to make big plays at the right time, you have to make big plays in big games and you have to be good down the stretch,” Shaw said. “If he does all that, he’ll definitely be in the conversation. Athletically, you’re not going to see very many guys as talented as him across the nation.”
Shaw used the phrase “Je ne sais quoi,” defined as elusive, pleasing quality and charming, to describe Montgomery’s chances of impressing nationally. He is believed to be the first head coach to use the phrase this season.
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Senior Kelsey Young will receive his first career start at running back. He played wide receiver his first three years, but was asked to make the switch to running back by Shaw prior to spring practice. As a senior at Norco High School in Southern California, which produced Cardinal great Toby Gerhart, Young rushed for 2,008 yards and 30 touchdowns while playing for Gerhart’s father, Todd.
“They say I’m No. 1 on the depth chart, but that can change at any moment,” said Young. “Actually, it makes me more motivated.”
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Defensively, Shaw is predicting a big season from senior Kevin Anderson of Palo Alto High School, who takes over at outside linebacker for 2013 NCAA sack leader Trent Murphy, now playing for the Washington Redskins.
“High effort,” Shaw said. “That’s Kevin’s hallmark. He was as productive as any player on the field last year. His motor doesn’t turn off.”
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Also making his first collegiate start on Saturday at free safety is fifth-year senior Kyle Olugbode, a former walk-on from Bellarmine Prep in San Jose.
“Kyle is the veteran of that group,” said Shaw. “Those guys respect him so much. It’s great to have him back there as a leader.”
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Extra points: Other first-time starters will include junior Blake Martinez at Shayne Skov’s inside linebacker spot (he won’t cut his hair in a Mohawk) and senior Ronnie Harris at cornerback. Junior Alex Carter, who was cleared to practice about 10 days ago, will also play Saturday ... Defensive tackle Aziz Shittu will not play due to a toe injury ... Shaw freshman running back Christian McCaffrey, the son of former Cardinal great Ed McCaffrey, had a great training camp and is likely to receive playing time ... Offensive tackle Casey Tucker is the only true freshman listed on the two-deep depth chart. He’ll back up preseason All-American Andrus Peat and likely see playing time in the jumbo package ... In addition to McCaffrey, Shaw said true freshmen cornerback Terrence Alexander and fullback Daniel Marx could see action.