http://paloaltoonline.com/print/story/print/2013/12/06/lyons-givesdefense-reasonto-smile


Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - December 6, 2013

Lyons gives defense reason to smile

by Rick Eymer

Stanford junior cornerback Wayne Lyons just likes to make people happy. It's one of the reasons he's such a positive influence on the football team.

At Fort Lauderdale's Dillard High, with a student population of about 2,000, Lyons was as popular as they came.

He was overwhelmingly voted in as class president throughout his high school career. He started a virtual book club to promote reading and he was a pretty good football player.

"I'm all about making people smile," he said.

Lyons made a lot of people smile last weekend when he intercepted two fourth-quarter passes to help No. 7 Stanford beat visiting Notre Dame, 27-20, in a nonconference game.

Lyons hopes the No. 7-ranked Cardinal (10-2) is still smiling some time Saturday night. Stanford travels to No. 11 Arizona State (10-2) for the Pac-12 championship game, a berth in the 100th Rose Bowl at stake. Kickoff is slated for 4:45 p.m., with the game televised on ESPN.

In addition to his two interceptions, Lyons has 61 tackles (tied for fourth on the team with Ed Reynolds), 4 1/2 tackles for a loss, two pass breakups and two forced fumbles.

"He's trending upward," Cardinal coach David Shaw said of Lyons. "He's gotten better, smarter. He's understanding more and getting a good feel for what it takes to be a good cornerback in this league."

Lyons and the defense square off against an ASU team that is averaging 43.2 points a game this season, just behind conference leader Oregon. Stanford leads the Pac-12 on defense, allowing just 19 points a game. The Sun Devils give up an average of 24.8 points a contest.

Arizona State is also good at creating turnovers, leading the Pac-12 in turnover margin at a plus-13. Stanford has created as many turnovers (17) as it has in turning the ball over.

"That's a good, complete football team," Shaw said. "They have good players on all three levels."

The game also features two of the top four running backs in the conference with Stanford's Tyler Gaffney ranking third with 123.8 yards per game and Arizona State's Marion Grice, four yards shy of 1,000, averaging 90.5 yards.

Sun Devils' quarterback Taylor Kelly ranks fifth in the conference with 278.1 passing yards and fourth with 27 touchdowns.

Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan averages 184.2 passing yards, 11th in the Pac-12. He's fourth in pass efficiency with a rating of 149.9.

Stanford linebacker Blake Martinez grew up in Tucson a fan of Arizona football. His family has season tickets. Playing against the Sun Devils, for whom he "has a healthy dislike," has to be a little special.

"Arizona State talked to me after (coach Todd) Graham got there," Martinez said. "By that time I had my mind set on Stanford."

Martinez, who missed four games with a knee injury, understands the perils of the second time around against a team. The Cardinal played UCLA in the final regular-season game last season and then hosted the Bruins six days later in the conference championship game.

"It's always difficult to play the same team twice," Martinez said. "Going in, we think of them as a different team."

It will be nearly three months since the teams last played — Stanford beat ASU, 42-28, on Sept. 21 in Stanford Stadium — making it easier to convince Stanford players that Arizona State will be completely different.

"It's a better position for the coaches to say this is a new game," Shaw said. "We haven't seen them in a long time."

Lyons, meanwhile, may not be headed for a political career, though he can certainly work crowds well.

"I just made friends with everyone I met," Lyons said. "I'm the guy everybody gets along with. Guys would run against me (for class president) but it was really like I was in a race of my own."

During his junior year, Lyons started his virtual book club as a way to repay his mother, who works with the school board in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for taking the time to inspire him to read.

"She's the biggest influence on me," Lyons said. "I struggled with reading and she helped me a lot. It doesn't have to take much time, just start reading for 20 minutes a day."

It was the same year Lyons, who is good at reading quarterbacks, got his first look at Stanford, traveling to the school on an unofficial visit. It was his first trip to the West Coast.

"It opened up my mind and exposed me to so much more," he said. "There are brilliant people, beautiful minds, on this football team."

Lyons missed most of his freshman season with a broken foot and started just one game last season. He had just one career interception prior to the Notre Dame game. In the first meeting with ASU, however, Lyons tied Shayne Skov with a team-high nine tackles.

The Cardinal, which has won 10 regular-season games a fourth straight season, hopes to continue the journey with a second consecutive trip to the Rose Bowl, something the school hasn't done since John Ralston's final two years at Stanford in 1970-71.

"We need to sustain drives," Shaw said of the keys on Saturday. "And no field goals, we need touchdowns against these guys. When they blitz, there's no time to hold the all. We have to get it and get it off."

The last time Stanford played in Tempe, it escaped with a 17-13 victory in 2010.

"We had to claw and bite and scratch our way to a victory out there," Skov said. "So, I don't expect anything less coming back down there."

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