Immaculate Recovery: Question Answered

There's been a debate brewing regarding the play The Bootleg deemed Stanford's top unheralded play of this 2012 Rose Bowl run, the one known as the Immaculate Recovery around these parts. After Oregon's Kiko Alonso stripped Kevin Hogan in overtime while the Farm Boys were positioning for the kill, Cardinal nation gasped. Uncertainty has lived over a month after the fact.

"On the field, when that happens, you don't have time to panic," Stanford guard Khalil Wilkes said. "I missed the ball once, then it bounced over to [Ducks linebacker] Michael Clay, but somehow I got in there and was able to get both of my arms around it."

Many have been crediting Hogan with recovering his own fumble, as video replay shows the quarterback diving into the pile after the play. Wilkes says he felt another "unknown" arm, perhaps Hogan's, grappling for the ball underneath him. But the jovial guard asserts that it was he who saved Stanford in that critical moment.

"Kevin Hogan might try to tell you he had a hand in there," he laughed. "But I clearly had control of the ball, and I was the one who handed it up to the refs."

David Yankey also credited Wilkes with the fumble recovery. Maybe offensive lineman stick up for themselves, but Wilkes' certainty is convincing even in the midst of the chaotic video replay.

Officially, the fumble has been ruled a "team recovery." Hogan was unavailable for comment on the matter Monday.

Wilkes to Center?
Speaking of Wilkes, he may be a prime candidate to replace center Sam Schwartzstein, the only graduating member of Stanford's offensive line. Highly-touted freshman Graham Shuler and 2010 walk-on Conor McFadden will both also be in the mix, but Wilkes competed for the center job in each of the past two seasons. He said he would have no problem shifting from his current guard spot to the "quarterback" position of the offensive line.

"Sam and Chase Beeler two years ago were both especially good at recognizing defenses and setting protections," he said. "There's a lot that goes into the center position."

Based on rave reviews from the coaching staff and the All-American lineman Yankey, it's very probable that either Andrus Peat or Kyle Murphy (or both) will be ready to start at left tackle after an entire offseason of work. (Both saw meaningful time there this season, after all.) That would allow Yankey to shift more regularly to the left guard position, where Stanford could better utilize the monstrous pull-blocking capabilities of "Yank the Tank". That shift, of course, could be completed by Wilkes moving one more spot over and coordinating the physical destruction.

To Yankey's credit, he's been phenomenal at almost every offensive line position this season, seeing snaps in each of the five spots, save for center. He's given up only one sack (on the opening possession against Oregon) all season from the tackle spots, and has spearheaded Power touchdowns by pulling from guard. Perhaps the greatest testament to his excellence is the Morris Award, given to the Pac-12's best offensive lineman -- as voted on by the conference's defensive linemen.

"None of us are surprised with how dominant [Yankey] has been," Wilkes said. He then directed praised to Shannon Turley and Stanford's strength and conditioning staff, which he credits for keeping the unit virtually injury-free this year. All told, it's a huge change from the days in which Wilkes was recruited, following the 5-7 2008 campaign.

"Watch out for the Stanford football team," Wilkes told The Bootleg when he committed back in 2009. "We're not just there for academics now. We want to win Pac-10 championships and we're not going to settle for anything short. We're not going to settle for being second to USC or Oregon or any of those guys. We want to be No. 1 and that's it."

Needless to say, Wilkes' vision has become reality.

Freshman Rising: Blake Martinez
As expected, bowl practice has been heavy on freshmen evaluation. Last week, Stanford head coach David Shaw, defensive coordinator Derek Mason, and defensive line coach Randy Hart all expressed enthusiasm about the focus of the coming weeks, which feature practices designed to take the strain off veterans' bodies and increase scrimmage time for the up-and-comers.

Perhaps the most mentioned newbie has been inside linebacker Blake Martinez, who has positioned himself to compete for serious playing time next spring.

"It's been awesome," the 6-foot-2, 237-pound Tucson native said. "Last year at this time, I had finished up my high school season. Now, I'm getting ready for a Rose Bowl."

Martinez concurred with Mason's opinion that he is "no longer guessing" the speed of the game, but he emphasized that his work has only just begun. Increased strength and agility are at the top of that list, necessities moving forward in what figures to be a fierce competition for playing time at the linebacker unit. Only Chase Thomas and fifth-year senior Alex Debniak are locks to leave at that position, and they play on the outside. Martinez will try to enter the serious inside mix with Shayne Skov (assuming he returns, as several sources have indicated), A.J. Tarpley, James Vaughters, and Jarek Lancaster next year.

To say the least, depth should not be an issue.

Rose Bowl Ticket Count
As of Monday afternoon, Stanford had sold 38,600 tickets to the Rose Bowl, and a source inside the Athletic Department says that number is still steadily growing. The iconic Pasadena stadium holds about 93,000 for the January 1 game, so the Cardinal are about eight grand short of filling half of the gigantic stadium. That seems attainable, especially when third-party buyers such as StubHub are thrown into the mix.

Stephens Update
Per CSN Bay Area's (and proud Bootie) Scott Reiss, Coach Shaw will provide an update on Terrence Stephens' status in the middle of this week. The defensive tackle has missed two consecutive games for a personal reason. His presence may be vital against a run-heavy Wisconsin team that averages 326 pounds across the offensive line. In comparison, Stanford balances out at about 296 pounds per hog up front. Stephens' forte is stuffing the run, and the Badgers love the ground game: they threw only eight times while rushing for 539 yards in their last contest against Nebraska.

David Lombardi covers Stanford sports for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. He can also be heard on San Francisco's 95.7 The Game. Check him out at Follow him on Twitter: @davidmlombardi.

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