Road to the Rose Bowl: Day 4
Dec. 29, 2012
LOS ANGELES - The Rose Bowl week media frenzy was at its height on Saturday when the entire Stanford and Wisconsin teams and coaches were made available for interviews at the LA Hotel Downtown.
The following are a few of the highlights:
David Shaw, Stanford's Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football:
Q: Do you expect this to be a grind-it-out game?
A: Absolutely. We're two similar teams that like to run the football and play great defense. We don't know anything about that. Whatever people say about point spreads and those things, those things don't matter. Just about every game we play comes down to the last possession late in the fourth quarter.
Q: What kind of opportunity is this for your program?
A: Is this a chance to elevate on that next level? We think we're there. We've elevated ourselves based on how we've played .... So for us, this is just an opportunity.
Q: How has Josh Nunes handled the change in quarterbacks this year?
A: It's been tough, but he's handled it unlike anybody I've ever been around. He understands why I made the decision I made. He's ready when called upon. He's practiced extremely well, which is what he and I talked about a bunch, which is you've got to keep razor sharp to a certain degree.
So we still give him a lot of reps, because you have to have two quarterbacks ready at all times. In particular, with as much as Kevin runs, there might be two or three plays where Kevin has to come from the sidelines and Josh has to be ready to go in there and throw potentially a game-winning touchdown.
So his mentality is there. He's ready for that possibility, and he's handled it phenomenally.
Q: How has Josh Nunes been in terms of helping bring Kevin Hogan up to speed?
A: He's been great. It's such a comfort for me. Sometimes when I'm looking for Kevin on the sideline, I see he and Josh over there talking about what they saw. Josh watches the game. Watches him like a coach. There's no mistake about it. Josh was the most prepared guy at the beginning of the year. He understands the offense inside and out. He understands defenses inside and out.
So for them now, it's like having somebody who is on your level but has more experience than you and can come and be a sound board. Kevin can say, here's what I saw. What did you see? And those guys can have those conversations. I felt good about that combination of those guys.
Q: What is the plan going to be in spring ball? Will it be an open competition? Or is Kevin going to go in with the lead?
A: Kevin will go in with the lead. Kevin's our starting quarterback from now on until something else happens. Kevin's play in the last five games has secured his position. So we won't be competing for his job in spring.
Q: What does Stepfan Taylor mean to this team?
A: Stepfan Taylor has set the tone for our offense from the beginning. It doesn't matter how many guys are in the box, we're going to hand the ball off to him. It doesn't matter sometimes if we don't block it perfectly. He's going to make a guy miss. He made a great run against SC with an unblocked guy in the hole. A great run against Cal at the end of the game, making a guy miss.
His daily work habits are unmatched. He doesn't say a word. He comes in every single day and goes extremely hard, stays after it, does more. All of our young running backs, we just say, do what he does. We don't have to yell at him, scream at him, we say follow him. If you can keep up, you're going to be a good football player.
Q: How much influence do you think Jim Harbaugh had is what this team is now?
A: To be honest, I think it's a combination of things. When Jim got the job, he still tells the famous story about Bo Schembechler saying are you going to have a tight end, are you going to have a fullback, are they going to be on the field at the same time? And that was our mentality.
We had a conversation before we came up from San Diego, and he asked me about Denny Green. I said, well, my dad was defensive coordinator. We played great defense. We had great athletes on offense. We moved the defense to help us on the defensive side, and we had Tommy Vardell on the offensive side and Ed McCaffrey. So at the time we had the biggest offensive line in college football in the early '90s, and that was Jim's mentality.
I told him, it has worked at Stanford before. We talked about how it came about with the recruiting, and it was like a perfect fit. When everybody else was running sideways in the conference, we started running north and south with really big guys and physical guys like Toby Gerhart. There were just so many things that fit perfectly, and we've been able to continue to recruit to what we do.
Q: How has the offensive line been able to reinvent itself every year?
A: You've got to give (offensive line coach and running-game coordinator) Mike Bloomgren a lot of credit for what he's done with those guys and the mentality they have in that room. Everything everybody gets in that room is earned. It's a tough room. You walk in that room, and you better have thick skin. It's not just Mike that's going to get on you. Sammy's going to get on you. David Yankey's going to get on you. If you can handle that room and come out and perform, you deserve to play.
We had played one true freshman on the offensive line over the past five years. This year, we played three. Those guys have earned that. Andrus Peat, Kyle Murphy, Josh Garnett, those guys are going to be phenomenal. They've taken some beatings in that room. Some verbal assaults, if you will. But it's that mentality, and the fact that we're going to call plays for what they do well.
Sometimes we put a play in and they get really excited and we'll remind them. If you don't execute it, we're not going to call it. That's the standard that we hold them to. They know. They put a lot of pride into what they do. It's a tight knit group. Excited about the future, we'll continue to get better in the next few years.
Q: Kevin Hogan started four games against four ranked opponents and has four wins. Are you concerned with his youth?
A: Kevin's very even keel. Kevin doesn't get really excited about anything. Kevin doesn't get overconfident. One of the things I love about Kevin is he's extremely hard on himself. He still sees this as Stepfan Taylor's team. He just happens to be playing quarterback on Stepfan's team. So it's his job to facilitate the offense. That is the way he looks at it.
He doesn't get super high when he makes a game winning play. He doesn't get super low when he makes a mistake. So for us, our offense, our guys have relished his mentality which he's gotten a lot of publicity. But he tries to shy away from it as best as possible.
Q: Wisconsin's dealing with a situation where coach Bret Bielema tells recruits, 'I've got your back, you're my family,' and then leaves. But when you make a commitment to a player and you've made a commitment to a university, but you have to worry about yourself, your family and everything else.
A: That is the hard part about this business. It's a harsh business. When you have a job, you have to pour yourself into it. And sometimes an opportunity comes up, and like in Bret's case, it's something he couldn't pass up.
For me in my situation, I plan on being here for a long time. I've passed up multiple opportunities and continue to pass up opportunities, because for me, this is the place for me and my family.
Q: Have you gotten a chance to talk to Andrew Luck about Kevin Hogan's development? What does Andrew think Kevin can do in the future?
A: Andrew is so excited right now. It's the one negative about making the playoffs is he can't come to the Rose Bowl. But he's so excited and so proud. Because when Kevin played his first game, he called Coach Pep Hamilton and said 'That looks like my sophomore year.' With the quarterback that can escape the pocket. You've got a great running back and a great running game. Now he's able to be very consistent in his mechanics. He doesn't have to force the ball because can he pull it down and run. It's very similar game plans to what we do with Andrew.
Q: Do you ever think Zach Ertz would have a season like this?
A: Absolutely. After Coby Fleener's season last year, I grabbed Zach and said, are you ready? He said absolutely. I said I don't know if you're ready. Do you know what I'm talking about? All that we did to get Coby open, you're going to get those opportunities and more. He's such a different athlete than Coby. Coby is so fast and explosive.
Zach has all the nuances of route running, and we've been able to put him in some positions. There are very few guys that are his size and his skill level. I still believe that we'd love to recount the Mackey Award. I don't know that I've been around a college tight end or a receiver playing the slot or playing in the back field the way Zach Ertz can and be effective.
He's changed the way people play us on third downs. We've had teams that play their best cover corner on our tight end, which has helped other guys get open, but at the same time, those guys haven't been able to cover them one on one.
We've had teams play high over the top of them to try to double team and we've been able to run the ball with two high safeties on third down. So the way that he's played for us this year has been as well as any tight end has played in college football in the last five years in my opinion.
Stanford tight end Zach Ertz:
Q: Is there a way to explain how you guys have been so successful in close games?
A: I think Coach Shannon Turley does a great job in the off season of kind of preaching the finish mentality. We want to finish every game strong. He preaches starting fast and finding a way to finish. That's kind of his main thing. That kind of sets the tempo for the team throughout the year.
Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor:
Q: Talk about Kulabafi. What is the story behind it?
A: It all started on the practice field. Anthony Wilkerson, we're just freestyling. You know, he was rhyming with me. And I came up with the Kulabafi line, and looked at Anthony and started smiling. He's like, no, that's not going to work. I said you start calling me Kulabafi, and I wrote it on the tape. I think the first person to actually call me Kula was Andrew Luck. And it stuck from there. Right now, it's just blowing up, I guess you could say, like everything else. Just having fun with it.
Q: Do you remember the actual lyric that rhymed with it?
A: It was something like you can't mess with me, because I'm Kulabafi or something like that.
Q: Is it hard to keep focus throughout this week?
A: I don't know. I think we have mature people on this team that understand the situation, and good character and team first. So I mean we're all going to come out and practice and practice hard a hundred percent because we know what's at stake. To be able to lose focus for things like that or drop off, we can't have excuses like that. If anything, we should be better the more time we have to prepare. I feel like we have a great group of guys in the locker room. The coaches recruit the kind of guys in the locker room, and that shows on the field, being able to stick together, being mature about situations that we have.
Q: How did you choose Stanford?
A: Honestly, I chose it because once I got accepted, it was like you can't go anywhere else. You've got the academics and BCS football.
The main thing that I looked at was my recruiting class. I saw it, and I saw some good players. Shayne Skov, Zach Ertz, Levine Toilolo, Jamal Patterson, and it was a nice list. That got me excited to know that I could come and compete with these guys. Also Coach Harbaugh did a great job of recruiting.
I felt like I couldn't go anywhere else after I came. It was my only official visit. I came here to California, and I fell in love with it.
Q: Have you spoken with Montee Ball?
A: We had a quick `hello, what's up' when we first got here. But he seemed pretty cool.
Q: Did you bring your alter ego with you?
A: He's in the hotel sleeping right now. Thank you.
Stanford linebacker Chase Thomas:
Q: What do you need to shut them down?
A: We need to shut the run down early. If we show we can slow it down, eliminate the run in the first couple quarters, they're going to slow down, as well. As long as we do our job of shutting down the run, making them one dimensional and winning first and second down, our defense should be fine.
Q: What's the key to winning?
A: Communication. You know, we've got to communicate up front. We've got to make sure guys are aligned properly in the correct gaps, because like you said, they do a lot of - they'll do like six man sides with only two on the backside, so you've got to get lined upright, we've got to make sure every guy knows their responsibility and does their job well.
Q: Could you talk about the team meeting you led after the Notre Dame loss? People have said they don't know that Stanford would be here without that meeting.
A: Coach Shaw got after us the practice after Notre Dame about not trying hard enough, and the fact that he had to mention that we're not practicing hard after a loss, that really didn't sit well with a couple of us, clearly the captains and seniors.
So me, Sam Schwartzstein and Stepfan Taylor, the next day had a little players' meeting in the locker room and really got the guys together and told them, hey, this season can go two ways: We can lie down right now and finish 8-5 and go to like the Sun Bowl, or we can turn this thing around, start executing the way we know how, playing the type of game that we're used to playing around here. The guys really accepted that challenge. They responded very well, and obviously so, since we're here.
Q: What specific changes came out of it? Was it mostly effort in practice?
A: Yeah, I think it was effort out on the practice field, dedication to studying film, in the weight room, making sure we got out to practice early, everyone was -- we started fast every practice, and just those type of things that really do add up.
Q: What has this week been like off the field?
A: Yesterday, we went to a comedy improv club with three great comedians. I don't think any of these guys in this room have laughed that hard for a long time. Everyone's cheeks were just sore for like an hour afterwards. We got to go to Disneyland, skip all the lines, which was nice, and just get to the front. Also we went to the Clippers Celtics game the other night and got to sit up in like a box seat. They've definitely treated us really well down here.
Q: Do you feel you guys have taken that next step? Do you feel like you're among the elite in the country now?
A: Definitely. There's probably only five or so schools out there that have been to three straight BCS games. We've only lost four games in the past three years, and that's definitely something our team is proud of. I know the nation still doesn't really buy into Stanford football, but sooner or later they will when they realize we don't go away. Everyone counted us out when Harbaugh level, when Gerhart left and when Andrew Luck left. To keep coming back, that's the style we are. We don't rebuild, we just replace.
Stanford offensive tackle David Yankey:
Q: What's been the funnest moment so far this week?
A: I think the funniest thing is actually last night at the Improv club, before the show started we had some guys going up on stage and just singing karaoke style and the whole team really got into it and we were clapping and singing along to one of the Kulabafi songs, actually. It's called "I Go to Stanford, Brodie". It was a lot of fun.
Q: What were you looking forward to the most before coming?
A: I think I was most looking forward to the Beef Bowl, the Lawry's Beef Bowl, and that was a lot of fun. Coach Shaw put a limit on how much we could eat, but also a great time. It was a lot of fun there.
Q: What was the limit?
A: Two steaks per person except that he let Joshua Garnett eat a bunch.
* * *
Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez:
Q: How do you enjoy coming to the Rose Bowl?
A: I've said this probably many, many times, there's nothing like taking the field at the Rose Bowl. It's the most beautiful venue in all of sport, I think. I'll be just as thrilled as the first time I took it when I take the field this time.
Q: What's the biggest difference between Stanford 13 years ago (at the 2000 Rose Bowl) and Stanford today?
A: Stanford was a very good team 13 years ago. As a matter of fact, they were a very similar team. They're a physical team. We really struggled moving the ball, running the ball against them. I thought they were coached very well then. They're coached very well now. They're sound. You know, I think they play similar. They ran the ball well the last time around, they could throw it, and they were balanced. I think they're very similar teams. Both excellent football teams.
Wisconsin running back Montee Ball:
Q: Have you seen a defense like Stanford in previous games?
A: Yeah, we like to compare them to Penn State because they play smart, they play with a lot of heart, and they play together, they play for each other, which is a very difficult defense to defeat, when every player plays for each other, and they do a great job, like I said, of attacking the run. It's going to be challenging for us, but it's going to be fun.
Q: What are the similarities between your play and Stepfan Taylor's?
A: A lot. I see a lot of similarities. We both run behind our pads. We're both blazing fast. We both do a great job of utilizing our strengths, which is like I said running behind our pads and playing very physical.
Q: How ironic is it that if there's any running back who's been portraying you in practice that it turns out to be Barry Sanders?
A: Yeah, I heard about that the other day, Barry Sanders Jr., and the one thing I said is that they're going to be ready. Having him do that, they're going to be ready. It feels good. It feels good to have someone like that portraying me in practice.
Q: You got a chance to get to know his dad a little bit. How cool was that?
A: Oh, man. I mean, come on, that's Barry Sanders. To have him even look your way or even acknowledge you is enough, but to have him tweet at me, go out of his way to send me a message and stuff like that is fantastic, man. It was surreal, kind of felt like it was fake at first because there's no way this is happening. But it was a blessing for sure.
Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland
Q: How similar is Stepfan Taylor to Montee?
A: Are they similar type running backs in terms of the power between the tackles type guys? I think so. They're similar size. I think the greatest similarity between the two is their completeness. Both of them can do anything you want a running back to do on the field. They're in on third down, they're in pass pro, they run, they catch out of the backfield. So going against Montee has helped us prepare for Taylor.
Q: What have you learned about defending guys that take off with their feet or throw through the season?
A: I think especially with Hogan, he's going to extend the play and look to throw more than other guys we've faced. So staying plastered on your man in coverage, and not getting lazy with your eyes is going to be important. Because he has a tendency to extend plays and look for the deep ball. So we can't let that happen.