Oct. 2, 2012
STANFORD, Calif. - At the end of Stanford's past two football games, fans have stormed the field. One came after a delirious victory over USC at Stanford Stadium, the other after an upset at the hands of Washington in Seattle.
The Cardinal left those fields in a contrast of emotions - the high of a big victory and the low of devastating loss.
How does Stanford compartmentalize those emotions? How does the Cardinal avoid the extremes and stay focused on the next opponent?
It's all about taking responsibility, Stanford nose guard Terrence Stephens explained.
"One of the things I learned in high school was that after a loss, you've got 24 hours, and that's it," he said. "You've got 24 hours to sulk, you can cry in your bed, you can roll over and pout. After that, you better get up and be a man about it. It's one of the things my high school coach taught me and one of those things that rolled over to this program.
"If you sit there and sulk in your misery, you're only going to get worse. And we don't have any room to step backwards."
Stay on task, said David Shaw, Stanford's Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. "It's the constant training that we're doing, What do we need to work on today so that by the end of the day we're a better football team? It's focusing on the things we can control."
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The Pac-12 already is showing signs of a wide-open conference, and the addition of coach Rich Rodriguez at Arizona, which plays at Stanford Stadium on Saturday (noon), has only added to that notion.
"All of us Pac-12 coaches, when he was hired, had hoped that it would take at least a year before that offense started showing signs," Shaw said. "But it really hasn't. The quarterback's a perfect fit. They've got speed, good backs, good receivers. They've picked it up much faster than most of us would have liked."
Stanford's victory over USC, Washington's over Stanford, Oregon State's emergence, and even Colorado's comeback over Washington State all have contributed to a memorable early season.
"We all knew it was going to be tough on everybody," Shaw said of the improvement within the conference. "Everything is going to be a battle. The big lesson our guys hopefully learned last week is, you better go into every week ready to play your best game. These teams are too good week to week to think you cannot play your best and expect to pull out a victory."
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Other than allowing two big plays that allowed Washington to turn a 10-point second-half deficit into a 17-13 victory, Stanford's defense has been exceptionally strong. The team is among six around the country to not allow more than 20 points in any game.
"The defensive backs are playing better than anyone expected them to play," Stephens said. "The focus was on the front seven, but without a back four you'll get torched. But the DBs really took that as motivation to perform well. We've got teams who know they can't attack the middle and want to attack the perimeter, but we've got DBs coming up and making tackles."
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Quarterback Josh Nunes admittedly did not play well in the Washington loss. And offered no excuses for his performance, even when given opportunities to do so by reporters at the Cardinal's weekly press conference on Tuesday.
"I didn't make the throws," he said. "I just need to throw the ball better."
On the lessons he has learned in his four games as a starting quarterback (going 3-1), Nunes said, "You've got to take everything in stride. It's still a game. When you go out there, it's essentially practice. You've got to do the things you've worked on in practice and apply them in the game."
Shaw continues to support his incumbent starter.
"The passing game is very rarely fixed by one guy," Shaw said. "If that were it, that's easy. Of all the football Josh has played in four games, three-quarters of it has been good. In the past few games, I don't know if you can throw a better deep ball.
"Against Duke, he showed he could throw everything. Against USC, he showed that he can run, and get us a couple of first downs. Now, the mantra for our offense this week is `Time to put it all together.' It's not about changing plays or changing players, it's about executing. No more and no less."
Center Sam Schwartzstein, a roommate of Stanford's former superstar quarterback Andrew Luck, who is now with the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, had a unique perspective.
"You see a lot of talent in Josh, especially in practice," Schwartzstein said. " You think, `Is 12 (Luck) here, or is that 6 (Nunes)?' He does some amazing things, he throws a great fade.
"One of things I've learned about Josh is, he's very good about flushing it. If it's a bad play - short-term memory - he'll flush it and get ready to go.
"One of the best passes in this game, he was falling down, like Andrew was against Arizona State (in 2009), but he wasn't able to complete it. He has some of those magical qualities that 12 had."
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The blame game would be easy for the Stanford defense, which kept the Cardinal in the game against Washington and even scored on an interception return by linebacker Trent Murphy. But, ultimately, the defense was unable to overcome the Cardinal's struggling offense.
However, the defense won't bite.
"There have been plenty of times in the past 3-4 years when the defense has given up 30-40 points," linebacker Shayne Skov said. "We consider that unacceptable, and the offense has bailed us out. That's the way football works -- it's two sides and they've got to come together to earn a victory.
"You can't possibly lose football games if you don't give up any points. The defense has to have that mentality."
Still, some offensive players have a sense that they didn't live up to their end of the deal.
"You never want to leave a game with the defense scoring more points than you," Schwartzstein said. "We understand this is a team game and we have the best defense in the country, but we've got to do our part and we've got to be a great unit too. We've got to put on the onus on ourselves and say `We need to help the defense out because they're getting three-and-outs all the time.'"
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Skov is not necessarily looking forward to facing Arizona's spread attack.
"It's easier to play a team that plays smashmouth football," Skov said. "It's hard physically, but as a linebacker, it gets a little annoying when teams go sideline to sideline, because it's like basketball on grass. I'd rather be hitting people than running around chasing them. But if that's what teams want to do, I've got no problem doing it."
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Sophomore quarterback Kevin Hogan made his collegiate debut by coming in for one first-quarter play and running for five yards to the left side. The package was designed for Hogan, who is the most mobile quarterback on the roster.
"It's similar to what we've done in the past with Alex Loukas," Shaw said. "And similar to what we've done at times with Tavita Pritchard. He's a big guy, he can run, he can throw. So, we'll see how much each week we'll have in the gameplan. It's a nice changeup I believe. It's something we're going to keep looking at."
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Asked what aspect of the game he enjoyed most, Stephens made his preference abundantly clear.
"I love lining up right over the center and making him feel everything I have to offer throughout the whole game," he said. "That is what I love to do. I love the thought of having a center coming up to the ball, and after the play, just go `It's going to be a long day because this guy's not going to let up."
"I'm just a power guy. I'm short and stocky and I just like moving people backwards and making people feel like this guy's going to come and we better get ready for it.
"Pass rush? Yeah, I can do it, but I like to stop runs. I wish teams would literally line up with 12 people on the ball and just try to run, because that's what football is. It's man versus man, especially in the trenches."
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics