Stanford senior receiver Ty Montgomery has proven to be Stanford's biggest playmaker and a big-play threat any time he has the ball. The challenge is finding creative ways to create space for him.
Cardinal head coach Davis Shaw compares Montgomery with former University of Georgia and Pittsburgh Steelers' star Hines Ward or the Minnesota Vikings' Cordarrelle Patterson, players who take on a myriad of offensive roles.
"We made the decision as a staff that we're going to let this guy touch the ball every way humanly possible," Shaw said. "He's that dynamic of an athlete."
Some of the roles that Montgomery has played in only two games: receiver (in the slot and outside), punt returns, kickoff returns, running back, and Wildcat quarterback. Though he has looked good as a running back, there never has been a movement to move him there.
"Not that he can't do it, but he is a receiver," Shaw said. "To put him in the backfield doesn't put enough pressure on the defense, play after play, as putting him out like a receiver does."
The running game remains in flux after the first two games as Stanford seeks the best approach to a ground attack that in recent years has been dominated by a single physical back in order: Toby Gerhart, Stepfan Taylor, and Tyler Gaffney.
"The job is to find the best guy, or the best combination of guys," Shaw said.
The decision to run true freshman Daniel Marx, making his first collegiate carry, on a third-quarter fourth-and-1 play from the USC 3-yard line was made because of Marx's ability to run that particular play.
"Daniel was really really good throughout training camp," Shaw said. "That particular play was one he did the best. That's how we do everything, whoever does it the best earns the right to have that opportunity. We weren't going to shy away from him because he's a freshman."
One loss will not deter Stanford from striving for a third consecutive Pac-12 championship and, perhaps, a shot at the four-team championship playoff.
"Our ultimate goal is still in front of us," quarterback Kevin Hogan said. "Now, we know how much work is it's going to take. We can't fail to execute. We can't miss those opportunities that we have to put away games. It's a good lesson learned."
Hogan completed 22 of 30 passes for 285 yards with no interceptions against the Trojans.
"We would love to not lose a game this season, but it happens," Hogan said. "If we do play up to our potential, we'll be back in the Pac-12 Championship Game and have an opportunity to get into the playoff."
A MATTER OF RESPECT
This is the second half of a home-and-home series against Army, following last year's tough 34-20 victory at West Point.
"The first word that comes to mind is respect," Shaw said of the Black Knights. "They deserve it and they give it. They're unbelievably respectful. They play hard. They play to and through the whistle. You don't think about it during the game, but before and afterward, you're glad these people are not only representing our country, but defending our country. It's an honor to be on the field with these guys."
Army, under first-year coach Jeff Monken, plays an aggressive blitzing defense that is unique in its relentlessness and variety.
"They throw a lot at you," Hogan said. "They'll throw every kind of blitz we've ever seen at us. Usually a team will throw one or two main blitzes or looks. It's different because they bring it all. That's something you've got to prepare for and be ready to check and audible and change the play."
The idea of putting both Montgomery and Christian McCaffrey as twin punt returners sacrifices the rush, but it certainly was effective when Montgomery ran one back 44 yards while McCaffrey sprung him with a block that took out two defenders.
"They're both special returners," Shaw said. "We're trying, hopefully, to get the ball kicked to one of them. If you just have Ty back there, you don't anticipate the ball coming straight to him. Hopefully, with two guys back there, especially two dynamic returners, we've got a chance to get a return every time it's kicked."
A TIGHT GROUP
Sophomore tight end Austin Hooper (4 catches, 61 yards vs. USC) has emerged as one of the offense's biggest weapons. With the incredible talent Stanford has had at tight end in recent years -- Zach Ertz, Coby Fleener, Levine Toilolo, and Konrad Reuland all have reached the NFL since 2012 -- the role model is none of the above.
"Our standard for that position he plays is Jimmy Dray," Shaw said of the current NFL tight end who played at Stanford from 2005-09. "Tough, physical, but also a playmaking receiver from the line of scrimmage. The first two games out, Austin's been every bit of that. He's only scratching the surface. He's got a chance to be a really really good football player."
A DEFENSIVE MOVE
Shaw said nose guard David Parry has a future in the NFL. That's quite a journey for the former walk-on who didn't receive a single major-college scholarship offer.
Parry, who is half Samoan, grew up in Daly City as a Cal fan, but moved to Iowa because of his father's business, a yeast manufacturing company. He spurned some smaller programs while holding out hope for a scholarship offer from Iowa or Iowa State that never came.
Parry was a center and offensive guard when he arrived, but immediately was switched to the defensive line.
"My defensive skills weren't as refined," he said. "But I was willing to get on the field and learn."
Parry, who anticipates a future in law or finance, now is one of the pillars of one of the strongest defenses in the country.