For the first time in three years, Stanford football coach David Shaw actually has a little time on his hands during the season. The 16th-ranked Cardinal hasn't had a true bye week since September of 2011.
"I had to actually go back and look at what we did before," Shaw said.
Not that he is wearing out Stanford Golf Course. The team practiced Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. He also scrimmaged some of the younger players this week.
"We're getting them some more live action just because we need to," said Shaw. "This is part of their growth.
"As a coach, I've learned to be a little more lax with giving some guys some time off. When I played, it was the 11-week season. Now, you're playing 12 games in 14 weeks and we're looking hopefully to play more. And it's taxing."
While Shaw will give his players the weekend off, the coaches will scatter across the country to recruit.
"It's a vital time for us to be able to get on the road and see some guys play, go collect some transcripts, which is as important as seeing guys play, if not more important," he said.
Shaw's focus this week will be evaluating his 2-1 team and fine-tuning every aspect, including the offensive line and special teams. While the offense came on strong in the second half last week in the 35-0 win against Army, he knows it must improve with six of the final nine games on the road, including 3-0 Washington next Saturday and ranked opponents in No. 9 Notre Dame, No. 15 Arizona State, No. 2 Oregon and No. 12 UCLA.
"Offensively, we've had really, really bright spots and some dull spots," said Shaw. "I get surprised when some people are surprised because we've been talking about it all off-season. We have four new starters on the offensive line, talented, but gaining experience as we go. I thought the second half last week was really good, it's what we kind of needed."
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While Shaw has been pleased with his return and coverage teams and fifth-year senior punting Ben Rhyne, he is looking for more consistency from fifth-year senior kicker Jordan Williamson, who is only 2-of-5 on the season.
"Snap, hold and kick, it's not just Jordan, it's everybody working together," Shaw said.
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Stanford leads the FBS in total defense (204.3) and scoring, allowing only 4.3 points/game. The unit has surrendered only one touchdown and is unscored upon in the second quarter.
The Cardinal has collected 22 tackles for loss, with 18 players contributing to the total.
"I think we're playing great team defense," said Shaw. "You see the tackles spread out, guys just playing their responsibility, celebrating together. The defense has been the strength of our team three games in."
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Another area that has pleased Shaw is the play of his three sophomore tight ends Austin Hooper, Eric Cotton and Greg Taboada. Last year, Stanford tight ends combined for 10 catches for 69 yards. This year, the group already has caught 16 for 226 yards. Hooper (12-70) leads the way, second only to senior wide receiver Ty Montgomery (22 for 246).
"Our young tight ends are still growing," Shaw said. "Like the offensive line, those guys are getting used to playing a lot of football. I think Austin Hooper has a chance to be special."
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For the first time during the Shaw Era, Stanford now employs two punt returners: Montgomery and freshman Christian McCaffrey. Both are threats to go the distance.
"The big thing is to not allow somebody to completely punt the ball away from our returner," said Shaw. "If they want to kick it out of bounds, great. You can only align your punter returner one spot and if they kick it way far away from him, sometimes he gets over there just in time to catch it before people are on him. But now if you've got two guys, at the very least one guy can catch, the other guy can get in position to block for him. You saw Christian do a great job of that last week and the week before."
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Senior strong safety Jordan Richards has been named among 30 candidates vying for the 2014 Senior CLASS Award in college football.
To be eligible for the award, a student-athlete must be classified as an NCAA Division I FBS senior and have notable achievements in four areas of excellence community, classroom, character and competition. The complete list of candidates follows this release.
Richards is a public policy major from Folsom. An Academic All-America selection in 2013, Richards is regarded as one of the premier student-athletes in the country.
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Extra Points . . . Senior quarterback Kevin Hogan ranks sixth in the FBS in completion percentage at 73.0. He has thrown seven touchdowns and one interception . . . Montgomery ranks 22nd in the FBS in all-purpose yards, averaging 150.67 per game . . . Students begin classes on Monday, meaning most will only have the opportunity to attend three home games. "That's hard, because the students have been phenomenal," Shaw said. That will change next year. In the newly released 2015 schedule, Stanford will play three of its first four games on the road next season, meaning students will miss only one home game before classes start. The Cardinal opens at Northwestern on Sept. 5 and plays its first home game Sept. 12 against UCF in the start of a home-and-home series.