Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - September 20, 2013

Another test for defense

Arizona native Murphy is looking forward to facing Sun Devils

by Rick Eymer

Trent Murphy was one mean football player in high school. That's exactly what Stanford coach David Shaw wanted to see. During the recruiting process, Shaw was impressed by the way he handled would-be blockers.

"He'd just throw them to the ground," Shaw said. "I pointed at him and said 'that's what we're looking for.' I don't care who else is recruiting him. He played hard and with an attitude."

Jim Harbaugh was still around and Murphy said his passion for the game is what made Stanford so attractive.

Murphy, a fifth-year senior outside linebacker out of Mesa (he attended Brophy Prep in Phoenix), hopes to slow down an Arizona State offense that averages over 43 points a game and nearly 500 yards of offense.

The 23rd-ranked Sun Devils (2-0) visit Stanford Stadium to take on the fifth-ranked Cardinal (2-0) in the Pac-12 Conference opener for both teams Saturday at 4 p.m. The teams are meeting for the first time in three years.

Stanford is coming off a 34-20 win over Army while Arizona State knocked off Wisconsin, 32-30, in a controversial ending.

"It feels like we played Wisconsin just the other day," Murphy said of last season's Rose Bowl game. "That should be helpful when we're looking at the film."

Murphy grew up watching sports at Arizona State — his sister Kayli Murphy played basketball there — and he narrowed his choices to ASU or Stanford.

"We had close ties to the athletic department," Murphy said. "I was very familiar with it."

Murphy is on pace to equal or better his statistics of a year ago, which prompted mention by several publications on their preseason All-American lists. He's also on several watch lists.

"There are no weaknesses to his game," Stanford defensive end Josh Mauro said. "You see him drop back in pass coverage. Even in practice I have so much confidence with him."

Murphy and Mauro, after trying to defend against Army's triple option offense, are preparing for a similarly diverse offense, though more conventional.

"The Army game was about responsibility football," Murphy said. "When we were gashed it was because when they hit a gap, there was no one there. We all have to stick with our assignments and trust that everybody else will do their jobs."

The difference with Arizona State this week is in the style of deception.

"Their quarterback (Taylor Kelly) runs the 'gun read' better than anyone I've seen," Murphy said. "He carries out his fake so well. Both the running back and quarterback always look like they have the ball. It makes it harder to read that scheme."

Stanford's defense is one of the nation's most experienced, with eight senior starters and seven seniors in backup roles.

"We have an interesting team of people who have played so much football and a small group of of players in their first or second year," Shaw said. "I still don't know that we're operating close to our capabilities. It's still a process."

Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan, undefeated as a starter, is one of those first- or second-year players. He'll be making his eighth career start when he takes the field against the Sun Devils.

"He's right there at a 'B,' " Shaw said of last week's performance. "The turnovers, the fumble and interception, hurt bad. Those things just can't happen. But he also made unbelievable plays and got us into some great plays and out of bad plays. He wants to be an 'A' student. He's hard on himself."

Hogan does have a passing efficiency rating of 168.2, ranking him 18th in the nation. Kelly, a junior, is 45th, with a rating of 147.9. He's completed just over 62 percent of his passes and has rushed for positive yardage in each of the first two games.

"We could have been more efficient offensively," Hogan said. "I would have liked to hit a few more throws. I did feel more comfortable and things are a little clearer. I'm looking to build on that."

Hogan has been sacked twice this year, both times against Army. Overall, though, he operates behind an offensive line that allows him enough to make things happen.

"They have been awesome," Hogan said. "They have kept me clean the first two weeks. They allow me to be more comfortable and able to keep my eyes down field."

Senior center Khalil Wilkes is on his first season as a starter at center. He moved over from left guard, where he started last year.

Senior guard David Yankey was a consensus All-American a year ago and is named on a number of watch and preseason lists. ESPN.com ranked him the ninth best player in the conference.

There are also seniors at on the right side of Wilkes, with veterans Kevin Danser and Cameron Fleming. Then there is Andrus Peat (6-7, 312), in his first year as a starter.

"He understands the game, and not just who do I block," Shaw said. "He and Yankey's communication is phenomenal. They are playing faster and sharing their understanding."

Shaw called the conference season "a gauntlet."

"They way we look at it is we have to rise to the occasion every seven days the rest of the way," Shaw continued. "Every game is important. We have to live in seven-day existences. We have to be strong mentally coming back from every game. There's no reason to overlook anyone."

NOTES A win over Arizona State would give the Cardinal a 3-0 record to start the season for a fourth straight year. The last time Stanford started 3-0 in four consecutive seasons was 1908-11 (playing rugby-style rules) . . . Stanford enters the weekend with the nation's second-best overall winning streak at 10 games (Ohio State leads all FBS programs with 15 consecutive wins) . . . Stanford's active 10-game home winning streak is tied for the fourth-longest in the nation (behind Michigan, Georgia and South Carolina) . . . Shaw looks to become the first Stanford head coach to win his first three games in his first three seasons on The Farm since George J. "Press" Presley did so from 1909-1911 (playing rugby-style rules) . . . Stanford is 23-1 under Shaw when out-rushing an opponent, and 14-2 when the Cardinal produces a 100-yard rusher. The Cardinal was 10-0 in 2012 when out-rushing its opponent.

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