Anytime his team faces San Jose State, Stanford head coach David Shaw has a chance to reflect on one of the brightest memories from his playing days. Flash back to 1993, when Shaw, a junior, was starting his second game at wide receiver on The Farm. Bill Walsh was his coach; Steve Stenstrom his quarterback. Jeff Garcia, the Spartans' signal caller, stood on the opposing sideline.
Early on, Shaw thought he saw an opening in San Jose State's defense.
"I told Bill Walsh the post was there," he remembers. "The Hall of Fame coach listened to the little kid."
It turns out Stanford's future coach made the right call, while the legend was wise to take his advice. Shaw hauled in his first career touchdown catch on the post that he prescribed. He also later caught the game-winning score in the Cardinal's 31-28 victory over the Spartans.
A Rivalry Ends
Now, twenty years later, Shaw is in Walsh's shoes, and he's presiding over the last currently scheduled game in the Stanford-San Jose State rivalry. The Cardinal's reluctance to visit Spartan Stadium, where they've played only four times in their history, has caused San Jose State to seek out other non-conference road games with larger financial guarantees. Stanford has a game with UC Davis scheduled in 2014, while no future plans with the Spartans have been set at this point.
The rivalry contest has been named the "The Bill Walsh Legacy Game" in honor of the San Jose State alumnus and former Stanford coach, and Shaw doesn't want it to end.
"There's a lot of mutual respect between our players and theirs," he said. "If there is such a thing as a friendly rivalry, [this is it]."
Starting Positions Fully Set
The final two question marks regarding Stanford's first-string positional plans are gone. Sophomore wide receiver Kodi Whitfield will be tasked with replacing Drew Terrell as Stanford's punt returner. Meanwhile, offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren told The Bootleg that fellow sophomore Joshua Garnett will take over the offensive "Ogre" position Saturday.
This "wing-back" spot, perhaps better known as the "James McGillicuddy position," belonged primarily to Dillon Bonnell (6-4, 281 pounds) last season. He's still on the team, but Garnett's spectacular physical development (he's now 6-5, 316 pounds) has allowed him to bulldoze into this trademarked supplementary blocking role.
In his interview with The Bootleg Radio (above), Bloomgren also confirmed that Johnny Caspers will join Garnett and Kyle Murphy as one of Stanford's oft-used jumbo set offensive linemen. Since Caspers and Garnett have switched from left to right guard frequently over the course of their first year on campus, they're also both ready to fill in at either position if needed.
Hewitt Questionable, Skov's Knee Brace
Stanford fullback Ryan Hewitt bruised his knee during the team's August 24 open scrimmage. The resulting swelling has not yet subsided, so there's a strong possibility that the bruiser will miss Saturday's season opener, though he did finally return to running full speed at Tuesday's practice. Shaw and the medical staff will make a decision regarding Hewitt's weekend availability on Thursday. If he's not cleared to play, the Braveheart warrior will miss the San Jose State contest with a minor ding for the second year in a row.
"He knows that [he missed the game last year]," Shaw said. "He's been upset about it for 12 months, so he doesn't want to miss this one."
Lee Ward (who wore a yellow non-contact jersey Tuesday but will be back full-go Wednesday) and Patrick Skov will again shoulder the entire fullback load if Hewitt sits against San Jose State, but no. 85's versatility would certainly be missed, particularly because of the Cardinal's question mark at the tight end position.
In good news along the injury front, both guard Cole Underwood and tight end Alex Frkovic are back in full action after missing the entirety of 2012 due to knee injuries. Meanwhile, Shayne Skov practiced without his "limiting and restrictive" knee brace for the first time since his 2011 knee injury Monday. He called the experience "liberating."
Tight End Shift to Involve a Freshman?
Despite being healthy again, Frkovic is not expected to be a major player in reinforcing Stanford's inexperienced tight end room because he is just now regaining his explosiveness. The daunting task of replacing a pair of NFL tight ends may well rest on the shoulders of three converts from the defensive line. Luke Kaumatule and Charlie Hopkins occupy the two listed spots on Stanford's depth chart, while Shaw suggested today that a finally healthy Eddie Plantaric has surpassed Davis Dudchock for spot number three.
"Luke and Charlie had really good training camps," he said. "Eddie had a great training camp. I think all those guys are ahead [of Dudchock] right now."
Shaw did also mention that Dudchock will certainly travel with the Cardinal and help out on special teams. These assertions come several days after he suggested that the redshirt junior's most legitimate battle for playing time may actually come at the 'big slot' position, which Devon Cajuste currently occupies. That makes sense considering the fact Dudchock is listed at 242 pounds, considerably lighter than the massive defensive converts Stanford is currently favoring at the tight end position. Hopkins and Kaumatule both check in at 260 pounds or heavier, while Plantaric weighs 248.
Shaw also again indicated that true freshman Austin Hooper is the most likely youngster to see action at the position this season. While discussing potentially game-ready freshman, he also mentioned wide receiver Francis Owusu before outlining Stanford's general redshirting plan.
"They all know they're in a holding pattern if they don't play the first four weeks," he said.
The Bellarmine Connection: Alive This Week
San Jose State coach Ron Caragher succeeded Jim Harbaugh at the University of San Diego, so Saturday's game against Shaw, a man who later did the same at a different school, can be legitimately dubbed the "Harbaugh Successor Bowl." More interesting Caragher connections come to the surface when considering his alma mater, San Jose's Bellarmine Prep. That also happens to be the high school of Stanford players Kevin Danser, Usua Amanam, and Kyle Olugbode.
All of the involved Bellarmine alumni have gotten press this week. Danser has started a fantasy football league for Stanford's offensive lineman (Kyle Murphy drafted Andrew Luck), Shaw praised Amanam for a blitzing ability that overcomes his "diminutive" listed 5-10 height, and Olugbode has cracked the Cardinal's depth chart behind Jordan Richards at strong safety.
"He's been dinged up [in the past]," Shaw discussed Olugbode. "This has been the longest period of time that he's been completely healthy. He knows the defense inside and out. We're confident throwing him out there."
Shaw was pleased with the "lively, energetic" tempo of Tuesday's practice, and he hopes for one more intense, full-contact session Wednesday before Stanford begins to taper its routine on Thursday. The Cardinal are busy installing their San Jose State gameplan. The Bootleg will feature strategy pieces breaking down the contest as this week continues. Until then, enjoy the 30-minute game preview below.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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