"Yank the Tank", aka David Yankey
There's been a debate brewing regarding the play The Bootleg deemed Stanford's top unheralded
play of this 2012 Rose Bowl run, the one known as the Immaculate
Recovery around these parts. After Oregon's Kiko Alonso stripped
Kevin Hogan in overtime while the Farm Boys were positioning for the
kill, Cardinal nation gasped. Uncertainty has lived over a month
after the fact.
"On the field, when that happens, you don't have time to panic,"
Stanford guard Khalil Wilkes said. "I missed the ball once, then it
bounced over to [Ducks linebacker] Michael Clay, but somehow I got
in there and was able to get both of my arms around it."
Many have been crediting Hogan with recovering his own fumble, as
video replay shows the quarterback diving into the pile after the
play. Wilkes says he felt another "unknown" arm, perhaps Hogan's,
grappling for the ball underneath him. But the jovial guard asserts
that it was he who saved Stanford in that critical moment.
"Kevin Hogan might try to tell you he had a hand in there," he
laughed. "But I clearly had control of the ball, and I was the one
who handed it up to the refs."
David Yankey also credited Wilkes with the fumble recovery. Maybe
offensive lineman stick up for themselves, but Wilkes' certainty is
convincing even in the midst of the chaotic video replay.
Officially, the fumble has been ruled a "team recovery." Hogan was
unavailable for comment on the matter Monday.
Wilkes to Center?
Speaking of Wilkes, he may be a prime candidate to replace
center Sam Schwartzstein, the only graduating member of Stanford's
offensive line. Highly-touted freshman Graham Shuler and 2010
walk-on Conor McFadden will both also be in the mix, but Wilkes
competed for the center job in each of the past two seasons. He said
he would have no problem shifting from his current guard spot to the
"quarterback" position of the offensive line.
"Sam and Chase Beeler two years ago were both especially good at
recognizing defenses and setting protections," he said. "There's a
lot that goes into the center position."
Based on rave reviews from the coaching staff and the All-American
lineman Yankey, it's very probable that either Andrus Peat or Kyle Murphy (or both) will be ready to start at left tackle after an
entire offseason of work. (Both saw meaningful time there this
season, after all.) That would allow Yankey to shift more regularly to the left
guard position, where Stanford could better utilize the monstrous
pull-blocking capabilities of "Yank the Tank". That shift, of
course, could be completed by Wilkes moving one more spot over and
coordinating the physical destruction.
To Yankey's credit, he's been phenomenal at almost every offensive
line position this season, seeing snaps in each of the five spots, save for center. He's given up only one sack (on the opening
possession against Oregon) all season from the tackle spots, and has
spearheaded Power touchdowns by pulling from guard. Perhaps the
greatest testament to his excellence is the Morris Award,
given to the Pac-12's best offensive lineman -- as voted on by the
conference's defensive linemen.
"None of us are surprised with how dominant [Yankey] has been,"
Wilkes said. He then directed praised to Shannon Turley and
Stanford's strength and conditioning staff, which he credits for
keeping the unit virtually injury-free this year. All told, it’s a huge
change from the days in which Wilkes was recruited,
following the 5-7 2008 campaign.
"Watch out for the Stanford football team," Wilkes told The Bootleg when he
committed back in 2009. "We're not just there for
academics now. We want to win Pac-10 championships and
we're not going to settle for anything short. We're not going to
settle for being second to USC or Oregon or any of those guys. We
want to be No. 1 and that's it."
Needless to say, Wilkes' vision has become reality.
Freshman Rising: Blake Martinez
As expected, bowl practice has been heavy on freshmen
evaluation. Last week, Stanford head coach David Shaw, defensive
coordinator Derek Mason, and defensive line coach Randy Hart all
expressed enthusiasm about the focus of the coming weeks, which
feature practices designed to take the strain off veterans'
bodies and increase scrimmage time for the up-and-comers.
Perhaps the most mentioned newbie has been inside linebacker Blake
Martinez, who has positioned himself to compete for serious playing
time next spring.
"It's been awesome," the 6-foot-2, 237-pound Tucson native said.
"Last year at this time, I had finished up my high school season.
Now, I'm getting ready for a Rose Bowl."
Martinez concurred with Mason's opinion that he is "no longer
guessing" the speed of the game, but he emphasized that his work has
only just begun. Increased strength and agility are at the top of
that list, necessities moving forward in what figures to be a fierce
competition for playing time at the linebacker unit. Only Chase Thomas and fifth-year senior Alex Debniak are locks to leave at that
position, and they play on the outside. Martinez will try to enter
the serious inside mix with Shayne Skov (assuming he returns, as
several sources have indicated), A.J. Tarpley, James Vaughters, and
Jarek Lancaster next year.
To say the least, depth should not be an issue.
Rose Bowl Ticket Count
As of Monday afternoon, Stanford had sold 38,600 tickets to
the Rose Bowl, and a source inside the Athletic Department says
that number is still steadily growing. The iconic Pasadena stadium
holds about 93,000 for the January 1 game, so the Cardinal are about
eight grand short of filling half of the gigantic stadium. That
seems attainable, especially when third-party buyers such as StubHub are
thrown into the mix.
Per CSN Bay Area's (and proud Bootie) Scott Reiss, Coach Shaw will
provide an update on Terrence Stephens' status in the middle of this week. The
defensive tackle has missed two consecutive games for a
personal reason. His presence may be vital against a run-heavy
Wisconsin team that averages 326 pounds across the offensive line.
In comparison, Stanford balances out at about 296 pounds per hog up
front. Stephens' forte is stuffing the run, and the Badgers love the
ground game: they threw only eight times while rushing for 539 yards in their last contest
David Lombardi covers Stanford
sports for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. He can also be heard
on San Francisco's 95.7 The Game. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @davidmlombardi.
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