Sports

Time to fidget, time to relax and time to play ball

Late kickoff gives Cardinal players plenty to think about

By Rick Eymer

Palo Alto Online Sports

Saturday's 8:15 p.m. scheduled kickoff against visiting Wake Forest is the latest start to a Stanford football game in a long, long time. Is anyone ready to work some crossword puzzles?

"Players hate it because all you can do is sit around and maybe watch another college football game," Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck said. "We realize that television plays a big part in college football and if you want games on TV, sometimes this happens."

The team pretty much has only each other as company for the 24 hours leading up to kickoff. At least this week the 19th-ranked Cardinal (1-0, 2-0) will be in familiar surroundings. There's another scheduled 8:15 p.m. starting time in Eugene on Oct. 2.

"You can get anxious waiting all day," Stanford receiver Ryan Whalen said. "But there is plenty of time to relax."

That the ESPN family of networks is involved in both games should be no surprise. After all, it's the same company that brought us midnight madness, and 9 p.m. (and later) starting times in basketball.

Television money certainly helps balance the budget, but aren't the athletes also supposed to be students?

"Well, school hasn't started yet," Luck said. "I'm signed up for 13 units. Ask me again in two weeks."

Working the defense

Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said he knew he wanted to work with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio the moment he met the veteran NFL coach.

His only previous college experience was a year as a graduate assistant at North Carolina in 1983.

"This is like a miracle took place that we got coach Fangio," Harbaugh said. "He is one of the top coaches out there in all of football. I'm learning a lot of football from him."

Fangio spent the previous 24 years coaching in the NFL, the past four with the Baltimore Ravens. Harbaugh's brother, John, is the head coach of the Ravens.

Fangio joined the Ravens coaching staff as a special assistant to the head coach in 2006, with primary duties on the defensive side of the ball. In his four seasons with Baltimore, the Ravens led the NFL in total defense in 2006, was second in 2008 and third in 2009.

"He has an impressive knowledge of the game and he's able to teach that," Jim Harbaugh said. "He's organized and it's a belief our players have bought into. There's an identity forming. You can see it in their confidence and execution."

Harbaugh has been very creative in forming his coaching staff over the years. His first defensive coordinator, Scott Shafer, was hired from Western Michigan following an internet search of top defensive programs in the country.

Excessive jubilation

Stanford junior safety Michael Thomas was penalized for excessive celebration Saturday after scoring on a 21-yard fumble recovery in which he ripped the ball loose from UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince.

The strange thing is that Thomas didn't appear to do anything out of the ordinary.

"The only thing I can figure is that I gave the 'Hook 'em Horns' sign and they may have thought it was gang-related or something," Thomas said. "I don't care about the university but I do love the state."

(Quick history lesson: then head cheerleader Harley Clark introduced the sign to the school in 1955, and while its popularity is well-known in the United States, in some European cultures it has a Satanic association).

Thomas is, says Luck, "the most cheerful, jolly guy I've ever met."

Thomas explained that Cardinal junior safety Delano Howell was the person who taught him the technique of stripping the football.

"The first thing you do is to secure the tackle and that's what I was doing," Thomas said. "He was running at me and not covering the ball with two hands. When someone is protecting the ball with one hand, as you wrap him up you get a hand on the ball and just rip."

From the huddle

Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price, a true freshman out of Austin, Texas, attended Stanford's football camp and impressed Harbaugh. "He is a smooth passer," said Harbaugh. "But that's kind of a sad story for me." . . . Sophomore linebacker Shayne Skov and junior wide receiver Chris Owusu have missed the first two games of the season with undisclosed injuries. Senior running back Jeremy Stewart did not play against UCLA. All three were expected to participate in practice this week and all "have a chance to come back," said Harbaugh . . . Doug Baldwin has scored two touchdowns this year and nine others have scored once.

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