Pre-Oregon Interview: A.J. Tarpley

All eyes have been on the Stanford defense this week, as the unit gears up to take on Oregon's high-octane attack. Linebacker A.J. Tarpley, who started the season as a backup but earned Max Bergen's starting job as the season progressed, will be one of the most instrumental players in that effort.

Tarpley has made plays in big games before—he had an interception and recovered the game-ending fumble two weeks ago against USC. On Wednesday, The Bootleg got Tarpley's take on the defense's injury difficulties and the impending matchup with the Ducks.

Is there still a competition between you and Max Bergen for playing time at linebacker?

A.J. Tarpley: Yeah, I'd say there's competition for every position on the field, if you're not one of the guys like [Shayne Skov], who before [the season] had his spot. At every other position, guys are competing every day out here, but it's good for the team. Whoever's playing well is going to play, and as long as we're competing it makes both of us better every day.

How much does it mean to the defense to get Delano Howell back this week?

AT: It means a lot. We trust the other guys that are playing in his place, but Delano is a special player. He's one of those guys that is going to bring something special to this team. I know he's been wanting to get out there—he probably could have played in a game earlier, but we knew that this was a good game for him to come back and we're definitely excited to see him play.

A lot of the talk about Oregon's offense focuses on their speed. What's the biggest thing you guys think you can do to slow them down?

AT: I'd say alignments and just making sure you know your job. Yeah, they're fast, but if you align in the right spot and you know where you have to be, sometimes reaction and being able to read can beat speed. I don't think we're a slow team at all. We definitely have some athletes and fast guys. I'd say as long as we're aligned right we can compete with that speed and be able to hold them just fine.

Who do you think the toughest threat to contain will be?

AT: I'd say LaMichael James—it's an easy answer, with him being such an elite player and an elite back. They have guys that are maybe faster than him, or just as fast, that we'll need to contain, but he's definitely the No. 1 guy we need to stop.

What do you think you guys need to improve on the most, looking back on your performance against Oregon State?

AT: I'd say consistency. So far this season, we'll play three good quarters, or even like five good plays on one drive where you hold them, hold them, hold them, and that one play if one guy busts—if they happen to find that on offense, especially a team like Oregon, that's a touchdown. I'd say if we can keep our consistency and do your job every play, not just 90% of the time, then we'll be alright.

Have there been any extra distractions to deal with this week?

AT: No, I'd say this team's mature enough, all the players are mature enough to realize it's a big game. Obviously, there is more media attention, more publicity for all of us in the game, but we're all mature enough to handle it. This is where we wanted to be, and if you want to be here you have to be able to handle those outside things and not let them affect your practice every day or how your game plan is.

Some commentators have said that this is the biggest game in Stanford history. Do you agree with that assessment?

AT: I don't know. I didn't really know about Stanford until in high school. I know a little bit about their history but I don't know about all of it. One thing that I do know—it's a huge game for us and it's the biggest game of the season. We're just focused on that, not trying to put added pressure or maybe make something up about it. We're just going to go into the game like it's any other. It's a big game for us, and hopefully we can pull out the win.

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