Sports

Pullman might be a new experience for most Stanford players

 

Saturday's football game will be Stanford's first in Pullman since Mike Leach took over the Washington State program in 2012. The Cougars chose to play their 2013 game against Stanford in Seattle. The odd-year games have been at Stanford Stadium.

Therefore, this also will be Stanford's first time in Pullman with a crowd under the spell of Leach.


Martin Stadium/WSU Athletics
During a media conference call Tuesday, Leach described the home atmosphere Saturday this way: "It's probably on the scale of Woodstock as far as being a historic event where people gather. A statement for our generation I think."

Woodstock . . . on Halloween . . . No doubt Cougar fans will channel their inner hippie at Martin Stadium.

"It's going to be loud," said Stanford head coach David Shaw. "It's going to be a great college football environment. A little weather, a little cool. Can we still play at a high level? That's our next challenge."

Recruiting help

How much does having a father, who is a former Stanford player, influence recruiting on the son? With Christian McCaffrey and Kodi Whitfield, both sons of Stanford greats, on the roster, it might seem to have a significant impact.

"The closest thing to an advantage is having our best recruiters in his home, not only talking about how special this place is, but laying the foundation for how hard you have to work to get here," Shaw said. "That has nothing to do with sports. It has to do with your academic profile and preparing yourself intellectually for a place like this. That's a big thing: Stanford is different. Stanford is not the easy road, but Stanford is worth it. That's what we try to get through in recruiting."

Cougars' time

Why is Washington State, a 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the Pac-12, better than last year? The Cougars are coming off a 3-9 season.

"They're just playing well," Shaw said. "The quarterback (Luke Falk) is playing at a high level, the protection is better than they've had in the past, they're running the ball more, they're playing well on defense.

"As a team, they're playing with a lot more confidence. That's the biggest thing that jumps off the film, the playmaking, consistency, and the positive yardage."

No surprise in his answer, but Shaw stressed the need to play sound defense against the Cougars' wide-open attack.

"That's the most important thing," Shaw said. "It's knowing your responsibilities. With good pass protection, their quarterback is going to find the open guy. If you're two steps out of place, that ball's going to go right past.

"Secondly, we've got to make open-field tackles. They make you play sideline to sideline. You may be one-on-one with a guy, and you have to get him down while the rest of the troops rally to help you."

Finally, "We've got to try and get pressure," Shaw said. "You can't let him sit back there and pick us apart, and you can't give up the deep ones. They can get you little by little, or by big chunks."

McCaffrey Maintenance

McCaffrey, the nation's all-purpose yardage leader (1,818), is proving to be durable as well as effective. He is averaging 28 touches per game (201 total) after having no more than 13 in any game last season. The sophomore is averaging 9.0 yards every time he touches the ball.

"He's holding up very well," Shaw said. "He only knows two speeds, on and off. He took some big shots this past game, but that's how he plays. We'll take care of him to a certain degree during the week, but he's a running back, and he's going to run between the tackles."

Just old-fashioned football

Most of Stanford's Pac-12 opponents have turned to no-huddle spread attacks. But Stanford holds out as one of the few to remain pro-style.

Why does Shaw choose to play with a traditional scheme?

"Two big reasons: One is, I've got a great history in it -- I played in it (under Dennis Green and Bill Walsh at Stanford) and coached in it. I was fortunate to be with two NFL teams that led the league in rushing, the Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens. We do a good job of mixing in a lot of different things, with a fullback, three-receiver sets, two tight ends sets, three tight-end sets. I like our versatility.

"The second reason is: It works. And it's always worked. If you do it well and execute it right and you put guys in position to make plays, it works. A lot of times, there's a lot of stat-chasing out there, if you go faster you get more yards. That stuff never really appeals to me. I want to do whatever it takes to win a football game. Bottom line is, I like it and it works."

Block party

Joshua Garnett's block on a Washington defensive back on a screen pass to Daniel Marx is the latest Stanford highlight to go viral, following the lead block on a sweep by backup quarterback Keller Chryst against Arizona and the defender-wraparound catch by Francis Owusu against UCLA.

"Josh is having a really good season," Shaw said. "He's made some phenomenal blocks. That one just happened to get highlighted. The last month of the season, he's had 3-4 pancake blocks a game, where he just takes somebody back and drives them into the ground."

Said left tackle Kyle Murphy, "It's a testament to him, how powerful and explosive he is."

Garnett at guard and Murphy at tackle has been an effective tandem on the left side of the offensive line. They are seniors and close friends.

"Josh and Kyle have a really good synergy," Shaw said. "The communication has been phenomenal. Kyle's one of the better tackles in our conference. He's continuing to improve. He's got a chance to be really special. He's not trying to beat what Andrus did. He's just trying to do his best. His best is good enough to play at this level or the next."

Hogan's heroics

Kevin Hogan's consistency and efficiency at quarterback is allowing Stanford to open up the playbook to include more screen passes.

"The screen game comes with passing the ball well," Shaw said. "The screens mix in very nicely because your quarterback's playing at a high level. The two go hand in hand."

Hogan has had a strong command of the offense and great freedom for the past two years. This year, his decision-making has been nearly flawless, his accuracy has been precise, and he's getting better protection.

"He's seeing everything," Shaw said. "He's doing a really good job of seeing defenders off, really feeling comfortable working in the pocket."

His teammates have noticed it too.

"He's always been that calm presence in the huddle," Murphy said. "He's been a leader the past few years, but this year he has really stepped up and been that team leader that we need him to be, that really drives us when things are going good or when things are going bad. He's the vocal, positive voice that's constantly there."

Shittu knows languages

Washington State has been able to offer an effective running game as a change-up to its prolific passing attack. The Cougars' top two rushers -- Gerard Wicks and Keith Harrington -- have combined for 536 yards and 6.2 yards per carry.

The Cardinal defense must be wary of the run while concentrating on stopping the pass.

"It's about having good pad level on the pass," Shittu said. "Then, you should be able to hit the guy in the mouth before he even gets to go each way in the run. It's something we've got to get a key for. Look for lineman distribution, weight distribution, and see that pre-snap. If their pads are down and if you see that weight leaning forward to come get you, maybe you can read the run."

Shittu's first language was not English, but Yoruba, which his parents spoke in their native Nigeria.

Abdulaziz Oluwatosin Shittu, Jr. is the son of Olayiwola and Adejoke Shittu, who came to the United States to attend Cal State Stanislaus. Shittu was born in Merced, but moved to Nigeria, where he lived until he was 3, before the family settled in California's Central Valley.

"I was completely fluent when I was a kid," Shittu said. "Being out here, I lost how to speak it."

However, Shittu took a Yoruba class at Stanford and re-learned much of what he lost.

Murphy's law

Stanford unveiled a unique formation in the third quarter on first-and-10 at the Washington 25-yard line. Murphy, the 6-foot-7, 300-pound left tackle, lined up in the right slot and tight end Greg Tabaoda took Murphy's spot as a tackle eligible and took a tackle's stance.

The plan was a quick count so that the defense wouldn't realize that Tabaoda (6-4, 244), wearing No. 88, wasn't Murphy, No. 78.

The play resulted in an 18-yard pass to Tabaoda over the middle to the 7, setting up a McCaffrey touchdown run on the next play.

Murphy looked almost comical as he stood waving his arms at Hogan, in an apparent attempt to decoy the defense into thinking he would get the ball. The Huskies didn't buy it, completely ignoring him.

"We stole it from the Patriots' playbook, they used against the Ravens last year in the AFC Championship game," Murphy said

As a jumbo lineman he ran a pass route once each in his freshman and sophomore seasons. But, including youth football, Murphy has never caught a pass in a game. However, that doesn't mean he can't. He has hand-eye chops, as evidenced by his early high school years playing volleyball for San Clemente.

"If Hogan wanted to dish the ball out to me, I was probably the last in his progression," Murphy said. "If all else failed . . . "

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