Return Progress, But Nwafor Out
Though Stanford will be closer to full strength at kickoff Saturday, they'll have to combat Washington's new uptempo attack shorthanded on the defensive line. End Henry Anderson is still three to four weeks away from returning, but he remains on schedule for a potential October 26 comeback at Oregon State. Anderson should get off crutches sometime this week.
To compound depth issues, sophomore nose tackle Ikenna Nwafor hurt his left leg late in Stanford's victory over Washington State. He was wearing a boot Thursday while using a special walking contraption that allowed him to keep weight off that leg. David Shaw said that Nwafor will be out for "a few weeks."
"We've got guys who are ready to go," defensive coordinator Derek Mason said. "We'll try to hold it down as best we can until our comrades come back."
Linebacker Blake Martinez is still wearing a big brace on one of his legs, but he is walking without a limp and only about two weeks away from undergoing tests that will determine if he's ready for full medical clearance. Shaw anticipates seeing him back on the field shortly thereafter.
Fellow linebacker Kevin Anderson, meanwhile, is "good to go" after leaving last Saturday's game favoring his arm. Left guard David Yankey and free safety Ed Reynolds have also returned to full-time duty for Stanford.
Critical of Closing Effort
Mason joined The Bootleg Radio (above) and said that he expects better performances from the Cardinal, particularly down the stretch. The Farm Boys are plastering teams by a combined 131-36 in the first three periods, but opponents have outscored Stanford 42-34 in the fourth quarter this year. After playing in 10 contests decided by a touchdown or less in 2012, the Cardinal's newfound offensive explosiveness has led to several blowouts this year. But for Mason, that's not an excuse for his defense to take its foot off the gas.
"Our second secondary unit hasn't played well," Mason said. "I've talked to those guys individually and collectively about what it looks like for us. When we come into late ballgames, we're not talking about giving up 14 points, but that's what we've done in consecutive ballgames. The job description is to get off the field, and we've had opportunities. Missed picks, penalties, those things have hurt us. Can't do it. They know, they understand. They're working hard in practice to clean it up and get better."
Given the injuries to Henry Anderson and Nwafor up front, Mason also voiced his desire for the team's defensive linemen to accelerate their development.
"I'm still looking for more out of guys like Nate Lohn and Aziz Shittu," he said. "I need more out of them. They're good football players, but we need more. They're going to continue to get better, but we need them to get better now."
A player that has satisfied Mason is senior linebacker Joe Hemschoot, who has emerged as Stanford's clear standout on special teams behind his explosive tackling ability. The first hit in this video is worth five seconds of your time.
"[Hemschoot] is like A.J. Tarpley was three years ago," Mason said. "No one knew his name, but now everyone's starting to say his name."
Tarpley's improved sideline-to-sideline speed has thrilled his coaches.
"Best linebacker nobody talks about," Mason raved. "What he brings to us is everything Shayne Skov brings to us."
Barry Sanders electrified Stanford's fan base with a pair of explosive gains (including his first career touchdown) against Washington State. Though he was also impressed with the youngster's pass blocking, Shaw has been trying to deflect what he sees as a disproportionate and unfair amount of attention heading Sanders' way "just because of his name," which comes from his NFL Hall of Fame father. The redshirt freshman's runs were the only highlights of the Cardinal's win on ESPN's SportsCenter, despite the fact that they had little to do with the contest's final outcome.
"The guys on the plane were cracking up laughing," Shaw said. "We had two pick-sixes. We hit the quarterback 15 times. We made five unbelievable downfield throws, which everybody has been waiting two years for us to make. And the only thing that gets shown are a screen pass that led to an interception and a [touchdown] run when the game was already over."
The staff plans to continue "spoon feeding" Sanders, though Shaw explained that he wouldn't take carries away from Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson just to accommodate No. 26.
"He hasn't earned it, and they've earned where they are," he said.
Running backs coach Tavita Pritchard illustrated Stanford's backfield dilemma.
"We don't have enough carries to go around," he said. "I wish we had 80 carries per game so that I could give all [our running backs the touches they deserve.]"
Speaking of offensive possibilities, definitely expect tackle to Kyle Murphy to be targeted on more passes this season. He was unable to haul in a deep corner route in Seattle, but Shaw said he has never dropped a pass in practice. He expects Murphy to occasionally contribute in the passing game this season.
Stanford football's sparkling new 27,000 square foot, $21 million football facility is a tasteful homage to the program's accomplishments and a big upgrade in locker room, office, and training space, but the Cardinal isn't concerned with any of that right now. The fire marshal gave the coaching staff clearance to move into their new digs at 11 a.m. Thursday, but those words were lost on Mason.
"Right now, I've got Washington on my mind," he said. "The new office will have to wait for Monday."
Linebacker James Vaughters was similarly unconcerned with the shiny new facility, which features college football's only gigantic "coffee table iPad."
"It'll be nice to move in, but we have other priorities right now," he said.
Do Things Right the First Time
Outside linebacker Trent Murphy, who's become a legitimate candidate to be named an All-American at season's end, expressed thanks to his parents Thursday. He credited his strict Arizona upbringing for the maniacal attention to detail that has made him one of the best defensive players in college football. He also discussed how his involvement with extreme sports (such as steer wrestling) has helped sharpen his mental approach on the gridiron.
Murphy said that his dad taught him how to "do things right the first time." He spoke of a grueling afternoon when he was assigned to clean up a field by his family's house.
"I had filled three trash cans full of dog crap, rotten oranges, you name it," Murphy said. "[My dad] took one walk around the field and said, 'No, that's not good enough.' He dumped all the trash cans and made me do it all over again. I was never more mad in my life... You talk about your blood burning a bit.
"I'm 100 percent appreciative to be blessed and raised that way. It's taught me a lot of things, and here I am."
Expect perfectly sunny 86-degree conditions during the day leading up to the 7:30 p.m. kickoff against Washington. For a thorough breakdown of what Stanford must do to beat the Huskies, visit our analysis here.
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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