This weekend's trip to West Point is significant for David Shaw beyond the Cardinal's important East Coast recruiting rounds. He has a cousin in the Army, and his father, Willie -- once the runner-up to Bill Walsh for the Stanford head coaching job -- served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War as an electronics and armor expert for bombing missions.
"We're playing against young men that are willing to do some of the things that we're not willing to do down the road," Shaw said. "Our freedom is in their hands. We love them, we appreciate them."
Gratitude for Army also emanates from Stanford's players, who will tour West Point's hallowed grounds on Friday before playing the Black Knights in front of a sellout crowd at Michie Stadium Saturday.
"Their training camp is relief compared to what they do in boot camp," running back Tyler Gaffney said. "They're actually stoked to get to training camp, which may not usually be the case for football players. You can't help but respect everything they do."
Saturday morning's kickoff is scheduled for 9 a.m. PDT (noon Eastern). That marks a drastic reversal from the Cardinal's first start time, an 8 p.m. PDT boot against San Jose State this past weekend. Shaw isn't concerned with his players' ability to handle the change. He says that they're young and resilient, and that they'll be fine as long as they hydrate for Thursday's long cross-country flight.
"If you don't make a big deal out of it, they won't make a big deal out of it," he said. "I need to think about the game plan. That's the paramount thing. We won't change what we do preparation-wise. About 48 hours before kickoff, we'll subtly adjust our schedule, but that's it."
Quarterback Kevin Hogan added that the Cardinal's coaches have recommended that players remain occupied with a book or movie instead of sleeping on Thursday's flight over to combat jet lag.
The weather forecast suggests that Stanford will miss the humid heat that can be an East Coast trademark at this time of the year. Tuesday's temperature at West Point soared over 90 degrees, but an afternoon high of only 63 degrees is forecast Saturday. The Cardinal's last early East Coast start came in 2009 at Wake Forest, when redshirt freshman Andrew Luck suffered his first career loss on a muggy September afternoon.
A Unique Match-Up
While Saturday's early start in a relatively exotic location is a potentially complicating factor for Stanford, it's the match-up with Army itself that presents the most deviations from the Pac-12 norm. Last season, the Black Knights ran the ball 88 percent of the time from their triple option attack while leading the nation in rushing. They racked up 369.8 ground yards per game.
Army is extremely small compared to Stanford. The Black Knights' offensive linemen average only 254 pounds, a figure that's considerably lighter than Stanford's trio of primary outside linebackers, all of whom scale in near or above 260 pounds in weight.
"You can look at the numbers and say that, especially up front on both lines, we're bigger," Shaw said. "Problem is, when you're going against smaller guys, a lot of the time they're quicker. It's hard sometimes for big guys to get down. We have to be ready on defense for those guys to get under our legs and cut us and chop and try to get us on the ground. Because you have no size advantage if you're on the ground."
Stanford players are using the scepter of Army's cut blocks, designed to take the legs out from underneath bigger bodies, to refine their defensive technique this week. Shaw feels that this added emphasis can come in handy during later 2013 games as well.
"They try to get you on the ground to eliminate you from the play," Shaw said. "It's paramount for our guys to learn how to play those cut blocks, use our hands, get our legs out of the way, sidestep them, work on all the techniques that we do in order to stay up and have a chance to attack the ballcarrier."
Stanford's first-ever trip east of the Mississippi River came in 1928, when Pop Warner's team defeated Army 26-0 in front of 86,000 fans at Yankee Stadium. The Farm Boys last visited West Point in 1976, when they lost 21-20. Army has not beaten a nationally ranked team since 1972.
Underutilized Players and Overthrown Bombs
Shaw admitted that Stanford did not get the ball to explosive receivers Michael Rector and Kelsey Young as much as he would have liked against San Jose State. Young saw the ball only once. Meanwhile, the staff had specifically designed three plays for Rector, but San Jose State's defense was perfectly positioned to stop them when they came, so Kevin Hogan correctly decided not to throw in No. 3's direction.
"Sometimes, you can scheme all you want and put guys in places, but if they call the right defense at the right time, a guy will get taken out," Shaw explained. "It can be frustrating for a receiver, but the quarterback has to know not to force the ball ever."
Giving Rector and Young touches remains a priority.
"Those are two guys who we want to touch the ball," Shaw said. "We need to get experience for Rector because we think he has a huge upside. Kelsey's proven he's going to do great things in the game, and we'll continue to give him those opportunities."
Shaw also addressed Hogan's primary struggles on Saturday, which came on overthrown deep passes to Devon Cajuste and Ty Montgomery. He emphasized that No. 8 has only six starts under his belt so far.
"We always remind ourselves that he's still young," Shaw said. "[It's not a technique thing], it's excitement. [He saw Devon and Ty open,] and he just launched that thing. He got so excited. It's just, make the throw. He saw it, he read it, and he did everything right, up until throwing the ball. He's going to continue to grow there.... But by coaching standards, he's still a freshman."
Hewitt Again Questionable
Shaw said that Ryan Hewitt felt "great" heading into Stanford's game this past Saturday, in which he caught one pass in limited action. The painful effects of his knee bruise have returned, though, so he was held out of Tuesday's practice.
"There's still no issue with re-injury, it's just that it's a deep bruise," Shaw said. "I want to take him on the trip. If he's ready to go, we'll play him.... We're just waiting for the pain to subside. There are no structural issues. It just hurts like a son of a gun."
Cajuste is the only current Stanford player that hails from the state of the New York, though Shayne Skov attended boarding school at the upstate Trinity-Pawling School. Cajuste's family and friends are jumping at the opportunity to see him play live: 200 of them, all wearing matching shirts, are expected at Michie Stadium Saturday.
"There's going to be like three busloads of them coming," Cajuste said after practice.
The big receiver, who earned extensive coaching praise for his Saturday play along with Skov, Montgomery, and Wayne Lyons, was the last Stanford player walking off the field Tuesday. He put in several extra minutes of catching work on the JUGS machine.
Power Left and Ogres' Jersey Numbers
Shaw seemed to enjoy reciting the weights of Stanford blockers on the left side. Tight end Luke Kaumatule is 260, jumbo tight end Kyle Murphy is 290, left tackle Andrus Peat is 315, and left guard David Yankey is 312.
"It's not a big secret," he said. "Running to our left is impressive."
The Cardinal emphasized running in that direction with the assistance of right guard Kevin Danser's pulling this past Saturday. Shaw plans to develop rushes spearheaded by Yankey's pull-blocking to the opposite side in the coming weeks to balance Stanford's attack.
A big part of that effort will be the Cardinal's jumbo tight ends and 'Ogres.' Murphy, Josh Garnett, and Johnny Caspers are becoming fixtures at those positions, so much so that Stanford plans to change their jersey numbers starting this weekend. As offensive linemen, the three have worn No. 78, No. 51, and No. 57, respectively. But when Murphy has entered the game as a jumbo tight end while Garnett and Caspers have come in as Ogres, they've been required to throw on eligible jerseys sporting numbers in the 90s.
Starting this Saturday, the three will likely wear their respective numbers in the 90s to begin action and only throw on original offensive line jerseys if needed at the guard or tackle positions so that they do not have to report to the officials every single play that they enter the game.
What's Your Deal?
Shaw didn't realize that Jim Harbaugh's San Francisco 49ers are facing Pete Carroll's Seattle Seahawks to cap off this coming weekend of football. He smiled upon learning of the Sunday Night Football match-up that will feature a significant tie to Stanford history.
"I'm sure that'll be a really slow-played, unemotional game," he quipped.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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