Reynolds has spearheaded secondary improvement
The Lawry's Beef Bowl and a Los Angeles Clippers game highlighted Thursday's Stanford Rose Bowl entertainment, but plenty of football business took center stage, too. The Cardinal defense is using this January 1 test to gear for next season. Derek Mason credits the program's mentality for repeated success.
"We didn't come here to get a hat or a t-shirt," Stanford defensive
coordinator Derek Mason said Thursday. "We came here to win."
Stanford's intentions for their January 1 game in Southern
California are clear, even if Joshua Garnett may have weighed
himself down before walking out of Lawry's The Prime Rib after the
Beef Bowl. He devoured seven cuts of prime rib, at least two of
which were estimated to weigh 24 ounces. The 6-foot-5, 320-pound
monolith initially tapped out after four slabs, but rallied to down
three more before all was said and done. That tied Willie Howard's 1999 team record.
Garnett later announced that he could have finished 10 pieces of
prime rib had he not run out of time. Stanford hustled out of the
Beverly Hills restaurant and back to downtown Los Angeles to catch
the Celtics-Clippers NBA game at the Staples Center, which is just
across the street from the team's JW Marriott hotel.
Wisconsin, a team that inhaled 823 pounds of prime rib to win last
year's Beef Bowl against Oregon, is on deck at Lawry's tomorrow. It
was imperative for Garnett to rack on insurance ahead of the
Badgers, who will enjoy the "home-eating advantage" of going second.
Defensive Progress: 2013 Springboard
Regardless of the Beef Bowl's outcome, Stanford's focus remains on
the New Year's Day main event. There's a common theme emanating from
the Cardinal: The program sees this season's Rose Bowl Game as a
potential springboard for an unprecedented 2013 run. Senior
linebacker Chase Thomas said that he expects the Farm Boys to be in
national championship contention next year because the unit will
only "lose three of us," among other reasons.
That statement may hint at Shayne Skov's 2013 return, which has been
rumored in a number of Stanford circles. Thomas, Terrence Stephens,
and Alex Debniak represent the three Stanford defensive players
whose eligibility will be exhausted after this season, and it's
entirely possible Thomas was referring to that trio -- and not Skov.
"I love Stanford," Skov said. "So I have to take in all the
information and make a decision [after the Rose Bowl]."
Reloading Power Mentality
Regardless, the Cardinal will return the majority of a defense that
has set school records and led in the nation in sacks (56) and tackles
for loss (120) entering the Rose Bowl. Perhaps more significantly
than the team's performance in the front seven, Stanford's secondary
-- a longtime area of weakness -- has closed the gap in 2012. The Farm
Boys finally matched Oregon's speed on the back end. All of the
team's defensive backs will return in 2013.
"Practices get long and hard," Mason said of his unit's remarkable
progression, an improvement that managed to effectively conceal the
graduation of Andrew Luck. "You're supposed to lock and reload.
Right now, we feel we're in that mode."
Solid true freshman in-season production (Alex Carter, Zach Hoffpauir) and a
successful slate of Stanford bowl practices corroborate Mason's
claim. David Shaw has praised freshman defensive tackle Ikenna Nwafor for his development, while Mason has asserted that fellow
newbie Blake Martinez is "ready to compete with Skov" for time at
the inside linebacker position next season. Defensive end Jordan Watkins has also received positive mention, adding credence to the
notion that Stanford's defensive excellence is here to stay.
Continued blue-collar practice mentality is the key to sustained
success, and that hasn't been an issue this December. Stanford has
actually had to govern physicality in these late season practices
because the hard-hitting mentality has become so ingrained in its
"They'll go after one another if you let them," Mason said. "That's
the mentality we've created."
Thomas elaborated more on Stanford's midseason reversal, which saw
the Cardinal rip off seven consecutive victories to close the
pre-bowl season following a devastating loss at Notre Dame. Reports
have indicated that the Farm Boys' first post-Irish practice was
lacking in quality, and that Thomas convened a meeting to put his
team mentally back on track.
"We also made a personnel change with the quarterback and some other
things that also helped our team in terms of production," he said.
"So a combination of those two things definitely helped to lead us
to those victories down the stretch."
Following the Notre Dame loss, Stanford's defense held Cal to
negative rushing yards, sacked Washington State 10 times, and
limited Colorado to 76 total yards before the offense finally got
aboard behind new starter Kevin Hogan. The rest was history: Oregon State, Oregon, and UCLA went down to end the season.
A Defining Challenge
If Stanford intends to enjoy national championship-caliber
success in 2013, successfully dealing with one of college football's
all-time great running backs on the first day of the year will be a
good start. Montee Ball, who has scored an NCAA record 76 touchdowns
in his career, is complemented by fellow Wisconsin studs James White
and Melvin Gordon to create what Mason calls a "three-headed
Wisconsin's run-first attack amassed 539 yards on the ground against
Nebraska in the Big Ten championship game while passing only ten
times, but quarterback Curt Phillips can execute the play-action in
key spots. He's been intercepted only once. The Badgers will also
have former starting quarterback Joel Stave at their disposal. He's
been cleared to play after missing much of the season because of a
broken collarbone and is considered a greater downfield passing
threat than Phillips.
All told, Stanford will be challenged by a massive Wisconsin unit
that is capable of demonstrating creativity.
"We have to get off blocks. We can't let them recreate the line of
scrimmage," Thomas said. "We have to knock them back and get
underneath their pads. What's going to be big for us is lining up to
all their formations, and all those big minor formations they do on
balance sets. We have to make sure we're lined up in the correct
Stanford holds its only open Rose Bowl practice tomorrow from 1:15-3:05 p.m. at The Home Depot Center in Carson.
David Lombardi is the Stanford
Football Insider for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. Check him
out at www.davidlombardisports.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @DavidMLombardi.
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