Murphy: Most dominant defender in the nation?
Stanford has a chance to make it four wins in a row over archrival California. The 1-10 Bears are in the midst of a nightmare season. The Cardinal will look to capitalize with their BCS bowl chances in serious jeopardy. Here are the keys and notes.
Stanford will face one of the worst football teams in
Cal program history on Saturday. When it comes to all critical
phases of the game, Sonny Dykes' squad sits in the Pac-12 cellar.
Poor defensive averages (44.4 points, 522.9 yards per game) tell a
big part of the story.
Some of Cal's ineptitude is staggering. See the discrepancy between
their punt coverage numbers and their own punt returns. The Bears
have returned 19 kicks for a total of 57 yards this season (3.0
yards per return), while their opponents have taken 22 back for 444
yards (20.2 yards per return). Cal is also one of only three teams
in the entire nation with zero interception return yards (Army and
UTEP are the other two).
The Bears, of course, were not very good to begin with this season.
But injuries have also completely decimated their squad. Offensive
players have been forced to make sudden switches to the defensive
side of the ball. Strength and depth is lacking on both lines of
scrimmage. That, of course, is the recipe for disaster against a
team like Stanford, a club that may pack the most brute strength in
In this game, an average Stanford effort will be more than enough to
win. A disastrous (or miraculous, depending on your point of view)
rash of turnovers is the only thing that can infuse the Bears with
unprecedented life. That brings us to our second and final key.
Cal's strength disadvantage in this game leads me to believe
that an upset here is more unlikely than Stanford's over USC in
2007. No team had ever overcome a 41-point spread until the Cardinal
did on that night six years ago in the Coliseum. It's helpful to
analyze the formula for the Farm Boys' famous victory over USC to
discuss the potential way that Cal can pull off a shocking upset
over Stanford on Saturday.
USC quarterback John David Booty threw five interceptions back on
that night. He broke his finger in the second quarter, but Pete Carroll had him continue to stubbornly throw downfield in the second
half. That enabled deluge of turnovers that opened the door for
Stanford to squeak by in a 24-23 final.
The Cardinal can learn a simple lesson from that game: Hold onto the
ball. Stanford's physical advantage at the line of scrimmage and in
space is so significant here that only a string of egregious errors
can negate it.
- Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov is averaging 8.1 tackles per
game, making him more productive now than he was before his severe
2011 knee injury (he previously averaged 6.9 tackles per game in
2012). "I would say he's smarter," Shaw said. "When he came back, he
was a step slower. He's faster this year. What happens when you're a
step slower is you can't get to all the places you were before. So
you have to play it smarter. You have to play with better angles...
He's a much, much smarter football player now. He plays the
techniques and he plays the defense much better than he has in years
- Even when Skov and fellow star Trent Murphy leave after this
season, Shaw believes Stanford has the arsenal "to be one of the top
linebacker groups for years to come." Outside linebackers coach
Lance Anderson praised sophomore Noor Davis for progress that he has
made this year, while true freshmen Mike Tyler, Kevin Palma, and
Peter Kalambayi all have shown potential to enter the rotation next
season. Anderson is especially excited about Tyler's pass rushing
abilities. He also spoke highly of Joe Hemschoot's performance at
the outside linebacker/big nickel back spot, a position move from
the inside which Stanford is seriously considering making permanent.
The Cardinal are also considering keeping Blake Lueders at defensive
end following his move from outside linebacker earlier this year.
- The National Strength and Conditioning Association named
Stanford's Shannon Turley the National Strength and Conditioning
Coach of the Year. Cardinal players cheered enthusiastically upon
hearing the news at the end of practice. They even demanded a
speech, but it ended up being very "short, sweet, and to the point"
-- true to expected Turley form. "How physical we can play is a
direct result of what he does," Shaw said. "The players know that."
- Outside linebacker Trent Murphy spoke at length about his senior
season and his life outside of football. Full audio of the chat is
embedded on this page, but one of the most entertaining parts shines
some light on the "country strong" nature of the Stanford defense.
"If football goes well, I'd enjoy just having a simple life on the
farm," Murphy said. "Waking up at the crack of down and working the
simple, right way. I think that would be the right thing to do...
There's not a whole lot of politics on a farm, so I think it would
be a cool experience. Really blue collar, wake up and just earn your
way of living."
- Yesterday, I
documented Stanford's concerning problems in the red zone.
Here's another brewing issue: The Cardinal has scored points on only
three of its 10 opening drives this year. Against USC, Stanford
burned a pair of timeouts right out of the gate before Ty Montgomery
dropped Kevin Hogan's third down bomb.
- Stanford cornerback Alex Carter will miss the 116th Big Game because of a concussion he suffered at USC. He is expected back the following week against Notre Dame. Kicker Jordan Williamson is participating in practice, but he is still questionable for Saturday, though Shaw expects to certainly be back for the regular season finale.
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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