Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - November 26, 2010

It's not quite going worst to first

But Stanford seniors Sherman and Fua, who remember the 1-11 season in 2006, are looking forward to finishing 11-1

by Rick Eymer

Richard Sherman and Sione Fua were part of the worst season in Stanford football history. Five years later, they can be part of the best season in school annals.

Should the seventh-ranked Cardinal (7-1, 10-1) finish its regular season with a victory over visiting Oregon State (4-3, 5-5) Saturday, that one-win season of 2006 will look like a distant memory with a sparkling 11-1 mark to take into the postseason as the most victories in a single season for Stanford.

"You don't have that same desire to win," Fua said of his first year on campus. "You'd be looking at the clock and you couldn't wait for practice to get over. Even then I knew we had the guys coming in to do things like this and play in a big game."

Fua left school after the spring semester to go on his Mormon mission, but a taste of Jim Harbaugh's first spring camp left him with a good impression.

"I always knew I wanted to come back to Stanford," he said. "We've had a special season so far and we still have some of our goals ahead of us."

Sherman, the team's leading receiver his freshman year, said the work ethic from then to now is about the same. These days it's just more fun.

"People worked hard day in and day out and we go 1-11," Sherman said. "The transition from the work stand point was not that dramatic. It was more about belief and changing the culture."

Harbaugh arrived and began working on the team's mindset from the start.

"He forced people to start believing we can win," Sherman said. "That was definitely part of it. You always hope for something like this, getting to a BCS bowl or the national championship and getting the crystal ball. We're in that position now and it's an amazing feeling."

The Beavers, who opened the season ranked 22nd in the AP poll, are also playing for their postseason lives. Oregon State's remaining games are against Stanford and at home against top-ranked Oregon. One victory will clinch a bowl game for the Beavers, who currently have the fifth-most difficult schedule.

Oregon State has gone to bowl games in each of the past four seasons and hopes to extend that streak. The Beavers already have lost to TCU and Boise State, but beat then 9th-ranked Arizona and took care of USC last week. In the middle of all that are bad losses at Washington and UCLA and at home against Washington State.

"They took it to us up in Corvallis," Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck reminded people. "They're capable of beating anybody."

Stanford doesn't have a good recent history with the Beavers either. Oregon State has won nine of the past 13 meetings.

Oregon State will be without senior receiver James Rodgers, but will still have the dynamic running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the third time in three years with a big game against the Trojans.

"They have weapons," Sherman said. "It might be a different dynamic but they still do a great job. Quiz has a low center of gravity and runs hard. He's a bundle of strength."

Rodgers rushed for 189 yards and scored four touchdowns in last year's win, leaving quite an impression on Stanford's returning defensive players.

"He's the key to stopping Oregon State," Fua said. "It will take the whole defense because he can take any play and reverse it all the way to the other side of the field. He can score on any play. You have to get low to tackle him and you can't arm tackle because he'll just break through your arms."

Harbaugh, who brought his two-year daughter Addison to Tuesday's press conference, calls Rodgers "one of the top three or four players in the Pac-10."

The Beavers also have one of the defensive linemen in the country in senior tackle Stephen Paea, a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award.

"He's just so strong, fast and physical," said Luck, one of three finalists for the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award with Auburn's Cam Newton and Boise State's Kellen Moore.

"You have to know where he is at all times and is blocked," Harbaugh said. "He is a tremendous football player."

Harbaugh has Oregon State connections with his 21-year-old son Jay Harbaugh serving as a student assistant for the Beavers under head coach Mike Riley, for whom Jim Harbaugh played when both were with the San Diego Chargers in 1999-2000.

Harbaugh a finalist

Jim Harbaugh is among the eight finalists for the 2010 Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award, announced by the Football Writers Association of America in conjunction with the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

Harbaugh joins Bret Bielema of Wisconson, Auburn's Gene Chizik, Michigan State's Mark Dantonio, Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy, Oregon's Chip Kelly, TCU's Gary Patterson and Boise State's Chris Petersen as finalists for the prestigious award, which named in honor of the legendary Grambling head coach.

The winner, determined by a vote of the Football Writers Association of America, will be revealed on Dec. 6 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City.

Harbaugh has guided Stanford to a 10-1 record this season, as the Cardinal has tied a school record for wins in a single-season, a feat which has been accomplished just three times previously (1926, '40 and '92).

Stanford, ranked seventh in this week's AP poll, has won six straight games since suffering its only loss of the season to top-ranked Oregon.

The FWAA coaching award is named after the late Robinson, a coaching legend at Grambling State University for 55 years. He has more Division I victories (408) than any other coach in the history of college football. The FWAA has presented a national coach of the year award since 1957 and named the award in Robinson's honor in 1997.

Big Game blowout

The 113th annual last weekend Big Game turned into the Big Blow Out, with seventh-ranked Stanford handing host California its worse home loss in a long, long time.

Luck threw two touchdown passes and led Stanford to scores on all eight possessions he played as the Cardinal beat the Bears, 48-14, for its most lopsided win in the rivalry in 80 years.

Luck completed 16 of 20 passes for 235 yards and added 72 rushing yards. Stepfan Taylor ran for three scores as the Cal defense, which shut down No. 1 Oregon's high-powered spread offense in a 15-13 loss just one week ago, had no answers for Luck and the Cardinal's power game.

For Luck, it was a measure a matter of personal pride. He completed just 10 of 30 passes and threw a game-sealing interception deep in Cal territory with just over a minute left in last year's 34-28 loss at Stanford.

"I definitely had some motivation coming off last year's disappointment," Luck said. "That being said, it was a new year and you can't really dwell on the past too much. But I did get a little extra motivation from that experience."

About the only fight California mustered was delivered just before the pregame coin toss, when the Bears ventured onto the field as a group for some trash talking. Once the game was underway, Stanford had all the answers and refused to share.

"Our guys really kept their cool and I think that was a big difference," Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said. "They kept their poise. I don't like that kind of football where you try and talk and intimidate. Just play football. Shut up and play football."

That's what the Cardinal did to win for just the second time in the past nine games against the Bears.

Luck led the Cardinal on touchdown drives of 95, 86, 90 and 61 yards in the first half. He threw touchdown passes to Zach Ertz and Doug Baldwin and bowled over safety Sean Cattouse on a 58-yard run that set up Stanford's first touchdown.

"I didn't really get a good look at him before we came together," Luck said. "I just hit him and let physics take over."

Luck also engineered touchdown drives on the first two drives of the second half, then led the Cardinal to a field goal in the fourth quarter as the offense never slowed down until he left the game in the final minutes.

Luck has 24 touchdown passes on the season, tied for third all-time on the single season list. John Elway (1982) and Steve Stenstrom (1993) share the record at 27. Elway was a guest at the game, the first time he's been in Memorial Stadium since 'The Play' in 1982.

"They obviously have the best quarterback," Bears' coach Jeff Tedford said. "In my opinion, he's the best quarterback in the country. He's an accurate passer. He doesn't make mistakes. He puts the ball right between the numbers. He's big and strong. When he pulls it down, you can't arm-tackle him. He has speed and athleticism."

The Cal players decided in the morning they would all come out for the opening coin toss to challenge the Cardinal.

"We wanted to show we were emotional, we were here and we were ready to play this game," Cattouse said. "We wanted to let them know we were here."

The officials quickly defused the situation by calling offsetting personal fouls and ejecting Stanford reserve receiver Jamal-Rashad Patterson.

"When all that stuff happened, we kind of got anxious to get out there on the field," Baldwin said. "It kind of hyped us up a little bit more than we expected it to."

Cal quarterback Brock Mansion then fumbled two of the first three snaps from center, losing the second to set up a field goal by Nate Whitaker.

Sherman intercepted a pass to end Cal's second possession. Stanford capitalized with a 95-yard TD drive, capped by Taylor's 3-yard run. The drive was highlighted by Luck's 58-yard run that included the shoulder knockdown of Cattouse.

It was the most points scored by Stanford in Big Game history, eclipsing 1996 (42-21) and 1981 (42-21). It is the sixth time Stanford has scored at least 40 points in the Big Game.

"We're capable of playing with some of the top teams," Sherman said. "All we can control is going out every Saturday and trying to win."

Stanford has scored 446 points on the season, second all-time in a season to the 2009 total of 461 points. It is also the 11th time Stanford has scored 30 or more, a school-record.

Stanford has now outscored opponents, 131-34, in the first quarter.

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