State of Stanford: Duke Week

Trying to bounce back from an underwhelming 20-17 season-opening win over San Jose State, Stanford welcomes Duke to Stanford Stadium this Saturday. Here's the Stanford report, featuring some good nuggets of information as the Cardinal moves forward.

Stanford victimized David Cutcliffe's Duke team 44-14 last year. The Blue Devils have not enjoyed a winning season since 1994. They did turn in a solid 46-26 win over Sun Belt conference favorite Florida International in their opener, though. Recruiting measurements insist that Duke is closing what was once a massive talent gap between their program and the rest of the ACC, but consecutive 1-7 finishes in conference play have not yet reflected that. Still, the Cardinal have something to prove against an experienced offensive team that has the playmakers to cause trouble. Here's the weekly report:

The Return of Skov
A stronger, better conditioned Shayne Skov will make his return to the lineup almost a year after suffering a severe knee injury in Tucson. Skov, who weighed slightly over 250 pounds last year, checks in at about 242 now, but he looks significantly more chiseled entering his 2012 action.

"I was chubbier last year," he explained. "Playing middle linebacker at about 240 is easier on your knees and your mobility."

Skov credits the Stanford strength and conditioning staff for his improved physique, lauding their focus to help him strengthen all parts of his body outside his injured knee to compensate for any potential slowdowns. He's now chomping at the bit to play in live action again, especially after being forced to watch the San Jose State game on television home alone due to his one-game DUI suspension. He yelled at the TV in frustration during the second half and is "ready to jump out of [his] skin."

Whenever they're asked about his play in practice, Skov's teammates always rave about a guy performing an a separate level from the rest of the squad. One thing to watch out for, though: the last time Skov was out for a prolonged period of time (first two games of the 2010 season), his anxiousness caused him to commit a "terrible" late hit on Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price upon his return.

"We should have a full game of guys playing like their hair's on fire," David Shaw said of his defense, which will now essentially be at full strength.

David Shaw on his team; Hewitt injury
Shaw says that fullback Ryan Hewitt, who injured his ankle in the team's public preseason scrimmage, is "really close" to returning. The Stanford coaching staff is leaning toward erring on the safe side and not playing him, while Hewitt himself is leaning toward playing. More will be known Thursday, but the Cardinal certainly missed their rugged fullback against San Jose State - particularly during their 2 for 13 third down struggles. Shaw said he was generally happy with the way reserves Lee Ward and Patrick Skov filled in for Hewitt, although he did mention that Ward played the game on a sore, taped-up ankle.

Speaking of Stanford's third down struggles, Shaw did briefly acknowledge room for improvement regarding his team's play-calling.

"We can also grow there," he said.

However, he then immediately emphasized that - upon reviewing game film - he would not change a single one of his calls from Friday's game. His contention was that play selection was fine, while execution of the plans was not - hence Stanford's struggles. Along those lines, Shaw also said that the Cardinal "didn't execute" their counter-adjustments after San Jose State changed defensive alignments following the Cardinal's early 14-0 lead. The Spartans outscored the Farm Boys 17-6 the rest of the way.

An unsung hero and the young guys
Shaw was lavish in his praise of reserve linebacker Alex Debniak, whose "pure, unadulterated effort" caused the game's defining fumble late in the third quarter. Debniak has played at such a high level in training camp that he has forced the staff's hand; he will rotate in plentifully. On a similar note, Jarek Lancaster's play in camp and against the Spartans has earned him an increased role. He will rotate in and split time with starting inside linebacker James Vaughters much earlier against Duke than he did last Friday, when he entered in the fourth quarter.

"Vaughters did well, but Lancaster needs to play," Shaw said.

An "outstanding" Kyle Murphy, Drew Madhu, and Zach Hoffpauir were amongst the youngsters who caught Stanford's eye with their play on Friday. In total, seventeen players saw their first game action for the Cardinal.

Shaw guaranteed that freshman Andrus Peat will see action at left tackle this week and split time with veteran David Yankey at that position. Peat appeared only in field goal coverage against San Jose State, but the simplification of offensive line roles is obviously a priority for Stanford after the front's lackluster season-opening performance. Murphy is now only listed at right tackle in this week's two-deep, though Shaw repeated that he is still able to play on both sides.

One more note of interest: Barry J. Sanders will "most likely" redshirt.

The quarterback situation
Shaw began his meeting with the media by emphasizing that he thought Stanford's execution of the two-minute drill at the end of the first half, which netted a field goal, was "perfect." He disputed reports that said the sequence of events implied that the coaching staff did not trust its new quarterback. "On third and long, you run the ball, let the clock run down, and kick the field goal. That's what you do," he said.

Josh Nunes maintained that the two passes he had batted down at the line of scrimmage were "not something [he] could control." He also hinted that Stanford will try to incorporate its large tight ends into the action more this week. Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo combined for only five catches and under 50 yards receiving Friday. "It's in the game plan," Nunes said.

Regarding the dropped bomb by Ty Montgomery late in the game, Nunes confirmed that Stanford had set that play up over the course of the game, and that the Cardinal "could have probably gotten to it a bit sooner." That was the only play during which the offense truly tried to blow the top off San Jose State's defense.

And rebuffing theories that the receivers might have struggled as the game progressed because of unfamiliarity with their new quarterback, Drew Terrell reported that there were "no communication issues with [Nunes] at all."

Usua Amanam
Amanam was Stanford's defensive hero against the Spartans, and although some observers have been surprised by his emergence, the Cardinal players and staff saw it coming. Terrell said that Amanam had "played that way all through camp," and that he expects him to perform at a high level for the defense.

Amanam himself raved about his nickel back position, saying that he loves the "mix between corner, safety and linebacker." He even hinted that he enjoys sacking the quarterback more than scoring an offensive touchdown (Amanam was originally a running back for Stanford; he made the switch to defense after former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio recommended the move to Shaw leading up to the January 2011 Orange Bowl).

The Stanford hero's name has a special meaning, too. In Nigerian, "Usua" means "one who despises evil things," while "Amanam" means "job well done."

The senior certainly lived up to his last name to ensure Stanford would open up the 2012 campaign 1-0. Now, the focus moves to Duke.

Stay tuned for the in-depth Bootleg Radio preview and breakdown of the game tomorrow.

David Lombardi, a TV and radio (95.7 The Game SF) personality in the Bay Area, is a Stanford and Pac-12 Conference enthusiast. He has broadcast the Cardinal on KZSU for several years. You can check out several of his Stanford calls and other writing at www.davidlombardisports.com.


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