Even with the great talent that Christian McCaffrey possesses, there still is room for improvement, and Stanford's standout running back said he turned a corner in his development last spring.
That's when running backs coach Lance Taylor compiled video clips of then-Philadelphia Eagles' running back LeSean McCoy to emphasize patience to McCaffrey.
"If you watch him run, he takes so much time in the backfield waiting for his blocks to develop," McCaffrey said. "In our offense, it's critical in order to break big plays and let everything develop. So, I really try to hone in on details as far as patience goes.
"It's definitely something that takes time and takes a lot of film study and trust. The biggest thing is trusting your blockers. When I can sit back there and see everything happen and a big hole opens, it's an awesome feeling."
Saturday's sold out game against No. 4 Notre Dame (4:30 p.m., FOX) marks the final home for Stanford seniors. Among them will be fifth-year quarterback Kevin Hogan, who has led Stanford to three Pac-12 Championship Games and two Rose Bowls (so far). He will be missed.
"It's definitely a bittersweet moment, because that's someone you want on your side forever," McCaffrey said. "He's such an unbelievable leader and such an unbelievable person on and off the field. The legacy that he's left here is right up there with all the greats. I'm extremely lucky and blessed to be able to play with him, and to call him our leader and to call him our captain."
Asked why he feels so strongly about Hogan, McCaffrey brought up two examples.
"You go back to that USC game," McCaffrey said. "He hurt his ankle pretty good, came back and fought and won us that game. He made some huge plays running the ball.
Another was after Stanford's season-opening 16-6 loss at Northwestern, one that left many questioning whether the Cardinal had what it takes this year.
"He brought me aside and said, 'Hey man, look . . . We have two options right now. We can falter, or we can come together as a unit and fix this and get going," McCaffrey recalled. "To see someone after a tough loss have such a positive outlook and bring us all together . . . that's when you know that you have a leader. And Kevin Hogan exemplifies nothing but pure leadership."
A photo of Devon Cajuste's incredible catch against Oregon is featured in a two-page spread in the current issue of Sports Illustrated.
Stanford trailed 38-30 and had the ball on the Oregon 24 while facing a third-and-10 with about 20 seconds left in the game. Hogan lofted a high pass into the end zone. Cajuste leaped backward while reaching his right hand as high as possible and snared the ball with full extension. Cajuste landed out of bounds, nullifying the catch, but the defender was flagged for interference on the play and Hogan followed moments later with a short touchdown pass to Greg Tabaoda, though a two-point conversion pass failed and Stanford lost, 38-36.
Cajuste's catch didn't count and seemed to be instantly forgotten, but not by his teammates.
"Unreal," Tabaoda said.
"People have said it was the greatest catch that never was," Cajuste said.
"His hands are unbelievable," Hogan said. "You see him making catches like that all the time. He almost just clamps the ball. He has this non-conventional way of catching. It's amazing. That catch was out of this world. It would have been awesome if that was inbounds, but that was probably my fault."
With McCaffrey's success, his family has come into greater focus. Most know about his father Ed, a former Stanford and NFL receiver, and even his grandfather, Dave Sime, an Olympic 100-meter silver medalist sprinter. But few know much about his mother, Lisa, other than her playing soccer at Stanford.
However, through interviews and glimpses of her on television, her personality and dry sense of humor are slowly being revealed.
"I just got off the phone with her, and it was an hour-long conversation," McCaffrey said Tuesday. "I can talk about anything with her. It's kind of crazy that she's my mom because a lot of times I look at her as a good friend and someone who's always there for me. Her sense of humor is part of that. She's always so funny and always has something really funny to say. Ask any of my friends who have met her and they'll definitely agree. She's an incredible lady."
McCaffrey enters Saturday's game at No. 8 in FBS history for season all-purpose yardage, with 2,807. If he reaches 3,000, he'll jump to third behind only Barry Sanders of Oklahoma State (3,250 in 1988) and Western Kentucky's Antonio Andrews (3,161 in 2012). McCaffrey's 255.2 yards/game is second only to Sanders' 295.9.
At Stanford, McCaffrey is third in season rushing yardage with 1,546, trailing only Gerhart (1,871 in 2009) and Tyler Gaffney (1,709 in 2013).
In 2007, Mike Sanford Jr. arrived at Stanford uninvited for the press conference announcing Jim Harbaugh's hiring as head coach. Sanford lobbied Harbaugh for a job and was hired.
Since then, Sanford's stock has risen. He was Stanford's recruiting coordinator and quarterbacks and receivers coach in 2013, then went to Boise State as an offensive coordinator in 2014, to Notre Dame's offensive coordinator this year, and now is regarded as a major college head-coaching candidate. His father was Stanford's offensive coordinator in 2002 and now is the head coach at Indiana State.
McCaffrey was being recruited when Sanford headed the Cardinal recruiting efforts. McCaffrey said he has "a lot of respect," for Sanford. "It'll be fun. I'll probably say hi to him before or after the game. It'll be cool to see him."
Meanwhile, Shaw discounted the importance of Sanford's inside knowledge of Stanford's offense.
"We're still very similar," Shaw said. "We're not going to wholesale change what we do. Maybe we need to change a hand signal or something, but we're too late in the year and too far into what we're doing to really make wholesale changes."
Notre Dame notes
Notre Dame junior linebacker Jaylon Smith was a second-team All-America last year and comes into Saturday's game at Stanford Stadium with a team-leading 98 tackles, including 60 solo and eight for losses. In last year's 17-14 victory over Stanford, Smith made a career-high 14 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss, including a sack.
"You watch film of him and get an appreciation for a guy like this," Shaw said. "He really can kind of do it all. There are a lot of guys who are fast and quick, but not tough, not physical. But guys who are tough and physical and fast and explosive, you get a lot of respect for. Then you watch on film and realize now we've got to defend them."
McCaffrey finds himself in a similar situation to Toby Gerhart in 2009. Gerhart came out of nowhere to become a Heisman contender and sought to make a big impression when Notre Dame came to Stanford to end the regular season. Gerhart responded with 205 yards on 29 carries, scored three touchdowns and passed for another on a wild fourth-down play that tied a game and capped a comeback from an 11-point second-half deficit. He scored the winning touchdown with 59 seconds left in a 45-38 victory.
"It was one of the best running back performances I'd seen until Christian this year," Shaw said. "My favorite Toby run ever was when he bulled over the safety and cut across the field. You couldn't write a script any better for a guy playing his last game at home against Notre Dame. It was just awesome."
Gerhart went on to finish second to Alabama's Mark Ingram in the closest Heisman vote every.
Asked if he was aware of Gerhart's performance, McCaffrey replied, "Any Stanford fan knows about that game."
Each week, Shaw is asked about the College Football Playoff and each week Shaw refuses to bite, even as those around the country discuss Stanford's qualifications.
"Instead of wasting my time and effort on trying to guess what might happen, I'd rather just play our games and see what happens," he said.
Jumbo and Orge
The "jumbo" or "ogre" package -- that ultimate of power-running that calls for extra linemen and a tight formation -- has been an ideal way to bring young players into game action. Stanford has brought players like sophomore guard Brandon Fanaika into the fold this way. He goes into the backfield on short-yardage and goal-line situations.
"For the young guys, this is how we break them in," Shaw said. "This is how we get them ready to play big-time college football. They're in the game and in the most critical positions, and sometimes they have four snaps or six snaps and they're all critical. Sometimes those 5-7 plays are so big, the guys are juiced up, and we help them translate that into at some point being a starter.
"Fanaika is getting used to going in there and doing his job. At some point, he's going to play guard for us. And we'll bring the next group of guys in the same way."
Senior linebacker Kevin Anderson from Palo Alto High has experienced two painful losses to Notre Dame -- the 20-13 overtime loss where Stepfan Taylor was whistled down on fourth-and-goal while he still was churning for the goal line, and last year's fourth-down touchdown pass with 1:01 left.
"Last year, everyone remembers," Anderson said. "That was a tough trip, going up out there and playing in the freezing cold rain. We really didn't play very well. We went out there and laid an egg and were really tense. I definitely remember. That's in the back of our mind and it's definitely good motivation to make sure we have a great week of preparation and practice to be ready on Saturday."
Shaw said Stanford has the speed to put together a pretty good 4x100 relay. And that's true, judging by the track accomplishments of some of its players.
Sophomore receiver Isaiah Brandt-Sims is officially Stanford's fastest man. He was the Big Meet winner in the 100 and 200 meters last year against Cal and his best times of 10.53 and 20.93 place him firmly in Stanford's top-10 lists of all-time performers. At Wenatchee (Wash.) High, he became the first in Washington history to win four state titles each in the 100 and 200 in the highest classification.
Freshman running back Bryce Love set national age-group records at age 12 in the 100, 200, and 400 and was the USA Track and Field Youth Athlete of the Year. At 14, he set two more, in the 100 (10.73) and 200 (21.83) on consecutive days. His personal records are 10.68 and 21.64.
McCaffrey was a Colorado state 4A finalist in the 100 and 200 as a junior (he didn't compete as a senior) and has personal records of 10.75 wind-aided and 10.89 legal in the 100, and 22.17 in the 200.
In his lone season of high school track, as a junior in 2011, Michael Rector lost to Brandt-Sims twice in the Washington state 4A finals, finishing third in the 100 and second in the 200. Rector's personal records are 10.80 and 21.65.
Notre Dame arrived in the Bay Area on Thursday night and will hold a walk-through at Stanford Stadium on Friday . . . The Virginia-born Hogan is the nephew of former Notre Dame quarterback Coley O'Brien (1966-68) and tackle Ivan Brown (1973). More than two dozen family members earned degrees at Notre Dame and nearby St. Mary's . . . Stanford has scored 30 or more points in 10 straight games, tied for second nationally . . . This is the 30th meeting between Stanford and Notre Dame, with the Fighting Irish leading the series, 19-10. The first game was played in 1925 in the Rose Bowl . . . Junior Mike Tyler, a reserve outside linebacker, has collected a team-high 4.5 sacks . . . Stanford has recorded 63 tackles for loss, with 19 players contributing to the total, led by Aziz Shittu with 8.5 . . . Remound Wright has 21 rushing touchdowns in the past 14 games . . . The Cardinal has outscored opponents 127-53 in the second quarter . . . Stanford has scored touchdowns 67 percent of the time on its red zone possessions (32 of 48), while opponents have found the end zone 46 percent of the time (17 of 37) . . . Stanford will play the winner of Saturday afternoon's USC-UCLA game for the Pac-12 Championship on Dec. 5 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara.