The Stanford seniors get one more chance to play in front of the home crowd and take yet another 'Last Walk.'
"We'll put tape over the date of last week's T-shirt," said Stanford linebacker Chase Thomas, who was named to the Pac-12 first team for the second straight year earlier this week.
Thanks to changes in the television schedule, which forced Stanford to play California in October, the Cardinal will be facing the same team twice within a six-day period. Coaches and players are taking the first-ever back-to-back showdown in stride.
"There's no need to make vast changes to the game plan but we will go over it with a fine-tooth comb," said Stanford coach David Shaw, named the Pac-12 Coach of the Year. "You add some things and you delete some things. Our challenge is to make sure we don't outsmart ourselves but to be diverse enough to change things we can do better, or that hurt us."
One change for sure is in the Cardinal special teams personnel. Punter Daniel Zychlinski, also the team's holder, will not play after suffering an injury on a big hit while punting against UCLA last week.
Junior Ben Rhyne will assume punting and holding duties. He averaged 39 yards on three kicks and was spotless on his holds.
Rhyne, an all-state punter from North Carolina, has been on the field before. He handled kickoff duties for the final three games of last year's regular season in place of an ailing Jordan Williamson, and made 18 kickoffs overall.
Senior defensive tackle Terrence Stephens, meanwhile, will miss his second straight game due to personal reasons. He's recorded three tackles for a loss, including one sack, among 10 tackles. His likely replacement is senior Josh Mauro, who has played in 33 games but has never started.
Mauro has 11 tackles on the season, 5 1/2 for a loss, including 4 1/2 sacks. He's also recovered a pair of fumbles.
One cause for concern is turnovers. The Cardinal has coughed it up eight times over its past three games after losing the ball 10 times over the first nine games. It could be an adjustment period for redshirt Kevin Hogan, who made the start at quarterback the past three games and beat three ranked opponents for the first time in school history.
Hogan has improved his efficiency in each of his starts and did throw an interception against the Bruins, though one interception was nullified because of a penalty.
"It drives you nuts," Shaw said. "We can't keep turning the ball over and we can't turn the ball over on a punt for negative yardage. We continue to concentrate on those things."
No one could remember ever playing the same team twice within such a short span, even in high school. Hogan said Gonzaga Prep played the same team within two weeks.
"We know we put things on film and they study film just like we do," Hogan said. "We'll have to focus on things differently."
Hogan has had an auspicious start to his college career. The championship game will be his fourth consecutive against a nationally ranked opponent.
"It's been a good experience being out on the field with the guys," he said. "The defense played great and we're moving the ball well right now."
Trent Murphy, also a first team All-Pac-12 pick, understands how difficult it is to play, and beat, the same team twice in a season.
"We're playing a team with a chip on its shoulder," said Murphy, tied for third on the team with 51 tackles overall. "We get the opportunity to correct the mistakes we made, which is also a challenge. You have to show up for every game. They probably have a few tricks we haven't seen and I'm sure we'll try some new things."
Murphy leads the Cardinal with with 16 1/2 tackles for a loss, including a team-high 9 1/2 sacks. He's been responsible for the opposition losing 81 yards.
"We have a party in the backfield," joked Thomas, second in tackles with 58, including 12 for a loss. "We have great guys up front who can stop the run and get after the passer."
The defense placed five guys on the first two all-Pac-12 teams. Defensive back Ed Reynolds was also a first-team defensive pick. Defensive linemen Henry Anderson and Ben Gardner were named to the defensive second team.
"Vic Fangio always brought a toolbox to practice and talked about working to build a good defense," Murphy said. "(Derek) Mason has carried that forward with a few wrinkles of his own. We've developed high expectations for ourselves."
Mason was named one of five finalists for the Broyles Award, which annually honors the top assistant college football coach in America.
The honor represents a season-long effort that produced the nation's best team in sacks (4.42 per game average; Arizona State was second at 4.0) and tackles for loss (9.25 per game average; Arizona State was second at 8.83), and rushing defense (71.3 per game yards allowed; Alabama was second at 77.0).
Tight end Zach Ertz and offensive lineman David Yankey were named to the all-conference offensive first team while running back Stepfan Taylor, and linemen Kevin Danser and Sam Schwartzstein were named to the second team offense.
Stanford placed 14 on the honorable mention list: DB Usua Amanam, DB Terrence Brown, DB Alex Carter, ST Alex Debniak, OL Cameron Fleming, RB Ryan Hewitt, QB Kevin Hogan, RS Ty Montgomery, DB Jordan Richards, LB Shayne Skov, DL Terrence Stephens, RS Drew Terrell, TE Levine Toilolo, and Zychlinski.
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