While the Stanford football team got down to business on Sunday with its first practice in Pasadena for the 102nd Rose Bowl Game, Stanford defensive coordinator Lance Anderson was joined Aziz Shittu, Blake Martinez, Ronnie Harris, Brennan Scarlett and Kevin Anderson at the Rose Bowl's defensive press conference.
Here's what everyone had to say:
Q. Coach, when you look at the offseason, you go back last year to February, when did this team start to come together? What did you guys do to rally from last year to get where you are now?
A. I think it started as soon as last season was over, as soon as we started those workouts of the offseason before we even started spring practice. Sure, there was a bowl game last year, there were some good things. We set our standards a little higher, we wanted to accomplish a lot more this year, and I think we identified some things that we needed to correct and get better.These guys just did a great job. As soon as last season was over, really putting in the work and doing the things necessary for us to get to where we are today.
Q. How has Blake (Martinez) had the type of season that he's had?
A. I think he's got such good experience at this point. He's played a lot of football now in his fourth year, and he's just such a great fit as an inside linebacker in our defense. He's strong, he's physical, he runs well for a guy his size. I think at this point he has a really good understanding of the defense and where he fits, what his job is, how it fits in with the other ten guys on defense. He's just let himself go and just played fast and as a result made a lot of plays.
Q. You mentioned the first quarter plus at the USC game, it looked like last year's defense. When the guys see that on film, is there a kind of connection that happens in their head?
A. I think so. I think so. I think there really is. And that's been -- at times we have played really well, and when we've done things right, the results have been great. Now, we're just looking for that consistent performance, that consistent effort where we're doing it for full games, for four quarters, 60 minutes. I think with a young group it's hard to find that consistency. You know, when the momentum starts going the wrong way or going bad, it's hard to get that turned back around sometimes. But like I said, when they see themselves doing things right, I think that does give them the confidence, the understanding that yes, we can be successful if we just do things the right way.
Q. When you look at the first time you turned on the tape of Iowa, what were some of the things that stood out?
A. Physical football team. They run the football very well. The quarterback is a guy that can make plays. He makes plays with his arm, makes a lot of plays with his feet as well, buys time. Looks like a real leader, real competitive guy. Also the thing that jumps out initially watching them is that they're probably more like us offensively than a lot of other teams we've played. They'll line up with the tight end and two running backs, they'll line up with two tight ends and get into some of the bigger personnel groups that we don't see as often in the Pac-12. It's just hard-nosed, smash-mouth football. It's going to be an exciting match-up.
Q. Does the novelty of going to the Rose Bowl every wear off?
A. No, I don't think it ever wears off. You just try to understand what you're getting yourself into. And I think this one is just that much more special for me just because it is my senior season and this is my last game ever at Stanford. So it's going to be a great moment just to go out there with my teammates. And it kind of helps just from the standpoint of having that experience to be able to talk to the young guys, because we have nine new starters this year on defense, just let them know, hey, this is what you're getting into, this is what we're doing each week, this is where you can have time to study for the game, this is where you can have time to have fun and those little things, which is really important.
Q. What happened after the first loss at Northwestern? This team seemed extremely different from that point on. What was sort of the reaction after that game and moving forward, how things changed?
A. Yeah, right after that game we came together as captains. And we decided, hey, we were going to have a team or a player-led meeting and to kind of just talk about where we need to go from here. And each of us as captains kind of went up there and said, hey, either work on your fundamentals each day, get better at film study, or give more effort on certain things. Then on the last point was, that each person is a leader in their own right and everyone has the capability of going out there and saying, hey, you're not giving it your best. Hey, do you think this. Hey, you need to do this better. Those little things kind of helped us shape who we are now and helped us get to where we are now, because we had every single person on the team as a leader, no matter if you're a freshman or senior.
Q. What was your favorite ride at Disneyland?
A. I think our favorite ride was the Toy Story, I don't know exactly what it's called, but it's like the shooting game where you get points on certain things like that. And it was just awesome from the standpoint because we're all competitive, so all of us went at it. Josh was unreal. I was with him in the cart and it looked like he was shooting off the screen and next thing I know he has 60,000 points
somehow and I was like, all right, this is stupid, I'm done.
Q. I noticed from your depth chart you list college majors. You don't see that that often in depth charts. How much pride do you guys take in the academics side of things?
A. That's huge. That's why we came here, graduate with a great degree and then get the chance to play great football. That's why we are here at the Rose Bowl. We take that part of our lives at Stanford so important.
Q. Is there something that Christian McCaffrey has done that has maybe made your jaw drop, in the weight room or anywhere?
A. I remember, his freshman year, fall camp, like his third day here, I think he hit some sort of sweep, and he hits the edge and puts his foot in the ground and leaves the defender in the dust. I remember watching him I was like, okay, this kid has some juice. So that's kind of the moment I remember. Just him at a young age, I was like this guy is going to be the guy for us.
Q. Where do you think the Iowa front backs up against the front that you've faced this year?
A. Probably one of the best fronts we've faced all year. Just their -- I wouldn't say one individual man is going to stick out but as a unit, they work so well together. It's one of the best units we've seen work together all season. So we're really excited to get after them.
Q. (On the Rose Bowl...)
A. This is the granddaddy of them all. You can't get any better than the Rose Bowl unless you're obviously playing for a National Championship. But this is the game you want to be in.
Q. How are you feeling?
A. I'm feeling great, real great. The rehab process has been amazing. I stayed here instead of going home for the Christmas break just to continue with rehab, and it's been going well. Blake and Brandon and I have just been constantly in the training room, and we're with one of the best athletic training staffs in the world so they've been helping us a lot.
Q. How much has the time off helped you guys?
A. Oh, the time off has helped tremendously. The body feels so much better, well-rested, and just ready to get out there.
Q. I know some of the things people say are you guys get caught off your rhythm, you guys lose any steam that you had. What do you feel about that?
A. I would say that's not the case for most of us, just because we have so many different ways to watch film, like the virtual reality or just being with your coach and watching film. So you mostly take mental reps and when you get back out there on the field, you just try to translate it as fast as possible, if that takes one or two plays, that's what it is.
Q. How do you feel like their quarterback has done over the last couple years?
A. Their quarterback looks very solid. He's more elusive and a lot more athletic than people give him credit for. I think he has a great arm. I've seen him make almost every throw on the field. He's a solid quarterback. He took them to 12-1, so he's doing his thing.
Q. How tough is it for Stanford to balance athletics with academics?
A. It's difficult. After about four and a half years here I'm still trying to master that. You just have to be scheduled. And to be honest, it almost helps having so much schoolwork and having to be detailed in the classroom because that carries over into the football room and the football realm. So it's something that's not easy, but you slowly try to figure it out.
Q. Have you been able to let this experience so far kind of soak in?
A. Yeah, having been here a couple times before you look back and realize how much fun it is and how good of an experience. So people have asked like, well, is it kind of not as fun because I've done it a couple times? But it's the opposite to where we know what to expect and know that we make some great memories and have some great time while we're down here.
Q. For a lot of the teams in the Pac-12 the Rose Bowl is kind of the white whale, you always look up to it. But it's a lot harder to actually get here than people say. What does it mean to you to actually be here in your last year of eligibility?
A. Yeah, they say the Rose Bowl is the granddaddy of them all. And coming out here and just being here for a day, you realize why the atmosphere and the energy has been great so far. And really just a blessing to be here and a tribute to the team of how hard we worked to get here. Because it hasn't been an easy road.
Q. What does it mean to get this experience kind of as a culmination of all that?
A. It means a lot. This is -- actually, this is my first bowl game since my freshman year. So it's been a long road for me to get here and just couldn't end it any better. This is the end of my college career and what better way to go out than the Rose Bowl game with this team and the fellas. So looking forward to it.
Q. What did the fellas tell you about the week leading up to it? Did they get your expectations up? Any cool stories that they told you?
A. Yeah, Disneyland was an essential topic of conversation. And also that it's a lot more fun to win the Rose Bowl game than to lose, because they experienced both sides of it. So that's what we have been talking about. Because it's one thing, yeah, it's great to come here and be in the Rose Bowl game, but it's another thing to actually win it and be Rose Bowl champion.
Q. You've only been here for one day, but how does it differ from the expectations or kind of the same? Has it lived up to the standards that you set yourself in your mind?
A. Yeah, it's living up to it so far. Maybe exceeding it, because I knew what Disneyland was going to be like. But then when we went to the ESPN End Zone for an hour of free games and I was like, what? This is great. So we're all doing that and playing basketball games and stuff like that. I'm showing off my jump shot. So it was fun.