Sports

Lancaster, Tarpley will get a chance in spotlight at linebacker

 

By Rick Eymer

Palo Alto Online Sports

Life without junior linebacker Shayne Skov may not be the same, but the Stanford football team will have to put his season-ending knee injury in their respective rear view mirrors and work to keep the vehicle pointed straight ahead.

Stanford coach David Shaw has worked his entire adult life preparing for just such situations. He turned to the next couple of guys in line and handed them his trust and faith in helping lead the team toward its stated goals.

Redshirt sophomore Jarek Lancaster will get most of the playing time, while redshirt freshman A.J. Tarpley will be included in the rotation.

Lancaster came on when Skov was injured Saturday late in the first half and played, if not spectacularly, steady and made all the right plays as fifth-ranked Stanford (3-0) turned a six-point halftime edge into a 37-10 rout of host Arizona in the Pac-12 opener for both teams.

Shaw also saw his top receiver and tight end get hurt during the first half of the game with the Wildcats. Coby Fleener was cleared to practice on Sunday. Chris Owusu returned to action in Tucson.

It should be noted that despite the absence of Skov, the Cardinal, seventh in the nation in scoring defense, shut out Arizona in the second half as Andrew Luck and the Stanford offense pulled it together to secure the victory -- Stanford's 11th straight dating to last year and the longest in school history since a 13-game streak ended in 1941.

There's no game this weekend, a blessing for Shaw, who can work on sharpening things in all phases of Stanford's game as the contest with visiting UCLA, set for 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 1, looms on the horizon.

"Obviously, those are huge shoes to fill," Lancaster said following Tuesday's practice. "He was our emotional leader, the most vocal."

Cardinal junior linebacker Chase Thomas joined Shaw in giving Lancaster his support.

"He's shown he can be accountable," Thomas said. "He has great instincts, something that can't be taught. He can find the ball and he can tackle."

Perhaps the most notable aspect of the situation is Stanford's depth at several positions, including linebacker. Shaw said it was light "night and day" in comparison to earlier years.

"We have recruited hard and we have good players," Shaw said. "We're going to need every available body. Shayne was one heck of a player but we're not going to stop playing.A.J. is bigger and Jarek is faster and both are ball hawks who find a way to the ball and find a way to make tackles."

Skov, just days after learning he was not going to play again this year, was back with the team in meetings. In fact, he came back onto the field and laid on his back in support of his teammates.

"Were going to miss his energy and the way he yells on the field," Thomas said. "It's a tough los and at the same time we have depth there. It's good we have the bye week. That gives Jarek and the guys behind him a chance at that many more reps."

Lancaster said Skov doesn't stay silent for long. He's constantly pointing things out to his teammates.

"He's helping my game," Lancaster said. "Even before he was hurt he was trying to teach us things. He reminds me not to over think and just play."

"He wants to make sure we know what we're doing," said Tarpley, who has made an impression with his special teams play through the first three weeks. "I think he realizes we have to fill his role by committee."

In related news, Shaw called Jordan Williamson's kicking effort against the Wildcats "impressive."

Williamson was 3-for-3 in field goal tries and connected on all four extra point attempts. Shaw was most impressed, however, by his kickoffs.

"The more reps he gets, the better he gets," Shaw said. "His last game was absolutely perfect."

NOTES: Stanford ranks second in the nation in rushing defense, allowing an average of 36 rushing yards. Only Florida, at 30.67, has a better number. It helps that the Cardinal has recorded a nation's best 114 sack yards . . . Freshman linebacker James Vaughters has seen his playing time increase as a defensive end. "He's still working out as a linebacker but right now he's good with a hand on the ground," Shaw said. "At some point he's going to dominate at both positions." . . . Lancaster came to Stanford as a safety and was switched to linebacker "two days into freshmen camp," he said. "I guess they decided I was better as a linebacker and I trained all summer to bulk up." . . . Luck currently ranks 10th in passing efficiency with a rating of 173.44, which is higher than his career rating of 158.5, which would be a school record. Luck's 23 wins as a starting quarterback ranks behind only Steve Stenstrom's 24. Jim Plunkett won 22 games. Luck's .821 winning percentage (23-5) is also the best in Cardinal history.

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