Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - October 12, 2012

Stanford notebook

by Dave Kiefer

The mullet that once graced the head of defensive end Ben Gardner has returned.

"I didn't want to bring it back, to be honest," Gardner said. "I cut it last year after the final game of the regular season, and then we ended up losing the Fiesta Bowl. You wouldn't believe all the crap I took from teammates blaming the loss on my lack of mullet.

"At the end of the day, they kind of convinced me they needed it. I brought it back for one more final hurrah. I'm going to keep it to the end of the bowl. Maybe we'll cut it in the locker room after the game."

So, just so we're straight, the mullet was to blame for the 41-38 overtime loss to Oklahoma State and not Cowboys' receiver Justin Blackmon?

"According to the other 100 guys in the locker room, it was my mullet," Gardner contested.

* * *

A Stanford coaching meeting Sunday was postponed 30 minutes because the coaches couldn't pry themselves away from the television as they watched former Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck rally the Indianapolis Colts to a dramatic 30-27 upset victory over the Green Bay Packers.

"It felt like our USC game from a year ago," said David Shaw, Stanford's Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football, of the 56-48 triple-overtime victory at the Los Angeles Coliseum. "He put us on his shoulders. He runs, he throws, and when the game's on the line, he makes unbelievable throws.

"And he had one more year of eligibility. I think about that often."

Gardner, a native of Mequon, Wis., is a lifelong Packers fan, but saw the game from a different perspective.

"I was happy for Andrew," Gardner said. "I've been a Green Bay fan my entire life, but as you get older and know more guys in the league, your allegiances tend to stick with your buddies. I was proud of Andrew and I texted him after the game. I asked him, 'Why did you have to do my Packers like that?"

"The older guys a lot of times watch the NFL games, seeing the guys you played with for three or four years. They're some of your best friends. And it's exciting to see that what we do at Stanford translates to the NFL level. It's good for us to see what we could potentially be doing down the road."

* * *

Quarterback Josh Nunes had what might be considered a breakthrough game in leading the Cardinal to a 54-48 overtime victory over Arizona on Saturday. He completed 21 of 34 passes for 360 yards and accounted for five touchdowns — three running, two passing — without throwing an interception.

How will that performance help Nunes?

"He was confident before," Shaw said. "But now the confidence is backed up by some more tangible production."

* * *

There are many similarities between Stanford and Saturday's opponent, Notre Dame, as Shaw explained.

"We have something in common with Notre Dame, and that's playing tough, physical defense, loving our linebackers, and running the ball on offense, and have the quarterbacks do what they need to do to win the game," he said.

But the coach stopped short of following that common thought that Notre Dame is the closest of major-college programs to Stanford in terms of the academic-oriented players that Stanford recruits.

"We're still in our own universe," Shaw said. "We don't even send a letter of intent to anyone unless they are admitted to the school."

* * *

Freshman Alex Carter and sophomore Wayne Lyons got mixed reviews from Shaw in evaluating their play against Arizona quarterback Matt Scott, who passed for 491 yards against the Cardinal.

"Both guys did some good things," Shaw said. "And both guys did some young-guy things, which you live with when you have great athletes because you've got to play them. You can't afford not to. They'll have to fight through some things, but both guys have a really really high ceiling."

* * *

Notre Dame senior inside linebacker Manti Te'o may be the best defensive player in the country, if not the best overall player in college football.

"He's got as good of instincts as anybody I've seen on this level," Shaw said. "He reads the quarterback so well. He'll get a jump on a pass, and he'll get a jump on a run play.

"There was a run play where as soon as the ball's snapped and the guard starts to pull, he actually passes the linebacker and beats him to the play. It's uncanny. He's a special football player."

However, when asked if he would vote for Te'o if he could vote for the Heisman Trophy, Shaw shook his head. His campaign for Luck last year could not prevent his quarterback from a runner-up finish.

"I've learned that I don't vote for Heisman Trophies, and people who vote for Heisman Trophies don't listen to me," Shaw said. "I stay out of the conversation. It was a tough lesson for me, but I've learned it."

* * *

Stanford has allowed only five sacks this season. The Notre Dame defense has 14.

"This will be our biggest challenge," Shaw said. "These guys are big and they are physical. When the linebackers blitz, they hit it hard. This is going to be a big test.

"We've done well, but the thing that helps our pass pro is our running back. We've got to be able to run the ball and have our play action, which helps slow down the pass rush, hopefully."

* * *

Stanford true freshman defensive end Aziz Shittu saw his first action of the season on Saturday, rotating in during the Arizona game, thereby ensuring that he will not redshirt this season.

Shittu has been ready to play the past two games, but the situations didn't call for it. Against Arizona's hurry-up spread, however, Shaw knew he would need more players in the rotation to keep everyone fresh.

* * *

The performance of Arizona's Scott (45 of 69 for 491 yards) against Stanford last week was one of the most impressive of the college football season, Shaw said.

"Outside of (West Virginia's) Geno Smith's game against Baylor, I don't think that I've seen a quarterback performance better than what that kid did against us," Shaw said. "The ball came out quick, it was accurate. He had all the trajectories -- the fastball, the touch pass. The guy put on a show.

"There are a lot of things we could have done better, but I have to give that kid credit. He was on fire. He is as good as anybody out there throwing the ball."

Nunes, the other half of the QB duel, appreciated Scott's performance, as well.

"I sent Matt Scott a text after the game," Nunes said. "I knew him from different camps — we spent a weekend together at the Super Seven camp in Santa Barbara. It was nice to get to know him on that level, and room with him. He played a heck of a game."

* * *

The vision of Khalil Wilkes springing Taylor for the winning 21-yard touchdown run in overtime with a downfield block illustrated the talents of the left guard and the offensive line as a whole.

"I believe mobility is one of my strengths and the offensive line's strengths," Wilkes said. "We have big guys that can play physical, but also have great feet and are able to go up to a safety if need be, especially on that play."

* * *

After chasing players around the field in facing Arizona's spread offense last week, Ben Gardner is looking forward playing against a team that approaches the game much like Stanford.

"They want to run the ball and hit people," Gardner said of the No. 7 Irish (5-0). "That's our style of football. That's what we signed up for when we came to play here. We're looking forward to a physical matchup where we can really play to our strengths and hopefully flex our muscles a little bit up front."

Having grown up in the Midwest, Gardner appreciates the Notre Dame tradition.

"The guys on our team don't really understand it," Gardner said. "I'm one of the few guys that grew up watching Notre Dame and know about the history.

"I love playing them, and I love going to Notre Dame Stadium because it's a beautiful place to play and the fans are into it, and you've got the little leprechaun running around. But, in terms of most our team, they could care less. We're just about what we do, about playing big, physical football."

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