Kibbles & Bits

We are out of breath in this edition of K&B, trying to keep you up to date on all the latest in and around Stanford Football. Inside you will find an explanation of the new practice fields, impressive T.C. Ostrander, the Blocker of the Week, Cardinal difficulty in Corvallis, admissions myths debunked, scout team uncovered, and much more.

  • Stanford Football enjoyed positive publicity in 2002 when it built a new weight room and new locker room.  The buzz has been tremendous since the announcement of the stadium renovation project.  But the fourth component of the program's facilities overhaul has earned hardly a peep of public attention.  Stanford dug up their old practice field (three fields in one, actually) and put in a completely new one this summer.  The Cardinal's practice field has been the envy of its peers for years, so why make a change?  Walt Harris says that the first thing he was told after being hired last winter by then-defensive coordinator A.J. Christoff (now with the San Francisco 49ers) that Stanford needed to change was the practice fields.  "It was actually dangerous if it rained a lot.  The grass dug up.  It didn't have a good root system," Harris says.  "We saw that in spring practice."  Associate director of football operations Matt Doyle explains, "The old stuff looked great but didn't hold up well at all.  Imagine trying to have football practice on your front lawn."  The old practice field was built in 1994 but deteriorated after 10 years of reseeding.  "It became several mixtures of grass that did not root well together," Doyle describes.  The bluegrass and rye was ripped out, along with the soil underneath.  In went an entirely new drainage system, and on top is now bermuda grass, which roots deeply and is more difficult to tear up.  "So far this season it's been really good, considering how much we're on it," Harris judges.  Doyle adds, "The fields look as good now as the third day of camp."
  • Fifth-year senior running back J.R. Lemon continued to take the lead in first team snaps at tailback in practices this week.  Observers might question leaving the reins to Lemon after his meager 24 yards on 10 carries as the starter last Saturday at USC.  Walt Harris says that the blame for the running game in Los Angeles could be spread beyond the fifth-year senior's shoulders.  "J.R. ran well against UCLA," the coach comments.  "I don't think anybody had a chance to run well last week."
  • Harris' injury policy precludes revelation of the practice habits (or lack thereof) of injured players.  We will wait until Saturday before we see the doubtful players of the week in action or not.  But erroneously reported detail should be cleared up.  When junior wide receiver Mark Bradford went down in Stanford's opening drive of the UCLA game, the Fox Sports telecast crew reported that he had a high ankle sprain.  I heard otherwise within 24 hours and believe that to be an incorrect description of the injury.
  • One question to ask this week is if the expected rainy, slick conditions in Corvallis might come into play as Harris decides on bringing back somebody from an injury onto the playing field.  "If the doctors say that he can play, that means he can play on any type of field," Harris offers.  "A slippery field has more to do with groins and things like that."  None of Stanford's currently questionable players have groin injuries, which tells us that rain is not part of the equation in determining the 'who' and 'how much' answers for Saturday.
  • One of the overlooked bright spots last Saturday was the play of redshirt sophomore quarterback T.C. Ostrander.  After seeing no real playing time this year aside from the UC Davis debacle, the second string signal caller has been a forgotten man.  But Walt Harris this week was demonstrably excited and effusive in talking about the job Ostrander did running the offense in the fourth quarter at USC.  Ostrander ran for 23 yards on three carries and threw 4-of-6 for 34 yards, guiding the Cardinal on a 73-yard touchdown drive.  All this came after a fumble by Ostrander early in the third quarter when he substituted for a banged up Trent Edwards on the one-yard line.  "I was excited to see T.C. go into the game - after a rough start," Harris describes.  "He came back.  He is a very prideful young man and a competitive football player.  His last experience playing obviously wasn't real positive.  He kept his mouth shut, as the saying goes, and showed up to work every day.  He has worked hard on trying to become a smarter, better football player.  He had a chance to perform in this last game, and I thought he did very well.  I thought he performed very well as a quarterback, and I thought he did very well trying to execute our system - which I thought he did on almost every play but one.  I think he also showed that he is an athlete in the pocket, and that he is a tough guy.  He didn't go down on the goalline.  He ran into three guys and was running forward.  He smelled the goalline, which is a trait you that you like your players to have.  He was not to be denied.  Now of course, three-to-one, they denied him.  But he put the ball in a position where we could score on the next game.  It was a tremendous scramble.  He had a couple good scrambles in the game."
  • I need to give some kudos to fifth-year senior wide receiver Justin McCullum.  He has been a solid slot receiver for Stanford, but frankly I was surprised and impressed by the job he did last week at USC.  His career highs of 138 yards and nine catches were marvelous enough, but it was the way he made some of those grabs that caught my attention.  McCullum went up and won some tough contested balls, which has not been his strength.  That is a clear area of improvement for him, which goes to show that a fifth-year senior is not a finished product.
  • McCullum and redshirt junior quarterback Trent Edwards were awarded co-Offensive Player of the Week by the Stanford coaches for the USC game.  Indicative of the staff's abject dissatisfaction elsewhere on the football field, there was no Defensive or Special Teams Player of the Week named.
  • Redshirt freshman Alex Fletcher was named Blocker of the Week, after he put forth against the Trojans the best game of his young career.  Walt Harris publicly declared that week that USC's Sedrick Ellis was the best nose tackle he had seen on film all year, and that would be a tremendous challenge for Fletcher, who was to make his first start at center after starting at right guard the previous seven games.  As if that was not a tall enough challenge, Harris made an effort to get inside Fletcher's head throughout the week.  "I had told Alex during the week that I kept getting emails from Sedrick, that he wanted to make sure that Alex was going to play.  I kept telling Alex everyday.  He kind of looked at me like I was crazy - that's part of it," Harris recounts with a wry smile.  "I saw [Fletcher] today and told him that I haven't gotten any more emails and congratulations...  We're real proud of how he performed at that position.  He played like he wants to play, we expect him to play and we need him to play.  He has more ability and more good days ahead of him, as he becomes more experienced, stronger and physical."
  • Fletcher and fellow redshirt frosh Allen Smith (offensive tackle), have been nominated by Stanford for Freshman All-America honors.  The few publications who do recognize that specialized award will subsequently review game film of the two Cardinal offensive linemen to see if they are worthy.  The last Freshman All-American on The Farm was Mark Bradford in 2003.
  • On the other end of the eligibility spectrum are Stanford's seniors.  The fifth-year players are obviously heading into their final games, as are defensive end Julian Jenkins and cornerback T.J. Rushing - both of whom played as true frosh and never took a redshirt year.  Other fourth-year seniors classified by eligibility as redshirt juniors may or may not return for 2006.  We expect the public information on those individuals to become public later this month, likely when seniors are introduced for their final home game Thanksgiving weekend against Notre Dame.  At least some academic seniors not invited back for a fifth-year are already filling out the accompanying paperwork to close out their Cardinal careers.
  • Stanford gave up a career receiving day the last time the traveled to Corvallis, when then-sophomore Mike Hass caught 225 yards on just eight receptions.  That set an Oregon State school single-game record; for the record it was eclipsed when Hass went for 293 yards last year against Boise State.
  • In a few years, folks will look back at this 2005 Stanford scout defense and remark at the talent it contained, which is today due some credit for the offense's productivity.  This week we saw: Will Powers as #27 defensive end Joe Lemma; Matt Kopa as # 49 defensive end Jeff Van Orsow; James McGillicuddy as #92 defensive tackle Alvin Smith; Ekom Udofia as #99 defensive tackle Henry Anderson; Clinton Snyder as #4 linebacker Keith Ellison; Tom McAndrew as #44 linebacker Trent Bray; Taualai Fonoti as #42 linebacker Andy Darkins; Kris Evans as #6 cornerback Keenan Lewis; Wopamo Osaisai as #36 cornerback Brandon Hughes; Bryan Bentrott as #24 safety Sabby Piscitelli; and Nick Silvas as #9 safety Al Afalava.  Interestingly, this is the second straight week where Will Powers has played defensive end for the scout team while the bigger Tom McAndrew has played linebacker.
  • Speaking of freshmen on scout teams, a couple of first-year Cards are changing their bodies before our eyes.  Quarterback Tavita Pritchard has packed on pounds and today tips the scales at 194 pounds.  Meanwhile, defensive lineman Ekom Udofia is shedding pounds just as fast.  He has a near-term target of 285 pounds and today weighs 293.  Once he trims his weight down to that mark, he will carefully add lean muscle to work up to 300.  The goal is to have Udofia shaped and conditioned so that he can play either the nose tackle or defensive end in Stanford's 3-4 scheme next year.
  • Oregon State does not utilize a fullback in their offense - at all.
  • Get used to seeing #26 in the Beaver backfield because Yvenson Bernard seldom if ever leaves.  He started the season with carries in the 'teens for Oregon State's first three games, growing to the 20's in the next three.  He has carried the ball more than 30 times in each of the Beavers' last three games, including every snap at tailback the last two weeks.  The last time any other running back touched the ball for Oregon State was Nate Wright's two carries in fourth quarter garbage time of the 28-51 loss on October 22 to UCLA.  Bernard is the team's workhorse for good reason, as he ranks #6 in the NCAA with 123.6 yards rushing per game.
  • Stronger still than their running game is Oregon State's rushing defense, ranked tops in the Pac-10 and #18 in the nation at just 108.9 yards per game.  Much like the Cardinal, the Beavers' strength on defense is their front seven.  Their two starting defensive tackles average nearly 320 pounds and are both fifth-year seniors.  They have drawn praise from Stanford players and coaches this week as immovable objects.  Behind them are a trio of linebackers as good as any in the conference.  Trent Bray leads the conference in tackles (89), though Walt Harris repeatedly praised Keith Ellison (80, #4) in particular this week.  "It will take a tremendous effort from our [offensive] line to get movement," Harris says.
  • Fifth-year senior defensive tackle Henry Anderson, a 6'3" 314-pound beast, is officially listed on the Oregon State roster, depth chart and press releases by his nickname: "Sir Henry."  I am not joking, and he has not been knighted.  Anderson hails not from the British Isles, but instead from McClymonds High School in Oakland.
  • Another item to watch Saturday is the wide splits of the Oregon State defensive ends.  They use wide attack angles to rush the passer, which forces offensive tackles to operate out on an island.  Stanford's tackles performed poorly last week against USC, and the competition at right tackle in particular opened back up this week between redshirt juniors Jon Cochran and Jeff Edwards.
  • On Stanford's defensive line, we noticed something new in the USC game.  Senior defensive end Julian Jenkins has been a workhorse this year, logging more snaps than any defensive lineman in a number of years on The Farm.  In the UCLA game, he played every one of Stanford's 65 defensive snaps.  But in the first quarter of the USC game, he rotated out while redshirt sophomore Mike Macellari played.  That was telling for two reasons: 1) Macellari is earning the coaching staff's confidence as a defensive end, though he just weeks ago moved to the position from offensive tackle.  2) The staff is trying to more carefully regulate the snap count of Jenkins and the starting front three, so that they can play more effectively late in the game.  Watching UCLA rip through you for three touchdowns in six minutes will have that effect.  "We felt like that was an area where we were not doing as good a job as we needed to.  [The defensive line] was not as fresh as we needed in the fourth quarter," Walt Harris explains.
  • Stanford two weeks ago was tops in the conference as the least penalized team, with 5.2 penalties and 40.0 yards per game.  Against UCLA and USC combined, the Cardinal were hit with 15 penalties for 120 yards.  That is a category to watch Saturday, especially when playing against a program like the Beavers, infamous for high-penalty performances.
  • The last time Stanford won in Corvallis?  Anthony Bookman was in the backfield, and Chad Hutchinson was under center.  1997 was a long time ago...
  • Neither head coach will want to admit it, but this game has a "do or die" feel for both Stanford and Oregon State.  The Cardinal obviously need two more wins in the next three weeks to reach bowl eligibility, and the odds would be considered long should they fail to win Saturday against the unranked Beavers - #26 California and #7 Notre Dame await afterward.  Oregon State is 5-4 and would have to beat #11 Oregon to become bowl-bound if they drop Saturday to Stanford.
  • Both coaches come into this game with .500 records at their respective schools.  Walt Harris is of course 4-4 in his first year on The Farm, but you have not have known that Mike Riley is straddling a 28-28 career mark in Corvallis.
  • In case you haven't paid attention to the Harris Poll that has been introduced as a new component for the BCS rankings, this week's rankings include a gem.  Somebody in that voting pool put 3-6 Arizona in their Top 25, which means that the Wildcats can claim this week to be tied as #36 team in the nation.  The folks at Harris Interactive disclose the names of all 114 of their voters, and we know one of them who did not cast that dubious vote: John Mackovic.
  • We all have tall tales, which indubitably grow longer as time passes, in our memories.  That holds true for a pair of former Cardinal recruits in the 2003 class, who in the last six days have had inflationary numbers reported for their high school academics that would make Depression-era Germans run to the Deutschmark.  On national television last Saturday, TBS sideline reporter Craig Sager offered to begin the broadcast that Reggie Bush was denied admission to Stanford despite "SAT scores over 1100."  Today we read in the Corvallis Gazette-Times that Beaver linebacker Andy Darkins was denied admission to The Farm despite "SAT scores in excess of 1300."  Bush never submitted any part of the Stanford admissions application, knowing his prospects with a transcript and test score both well below what he might claim.  He actually took the ACT for his standardized test, for the record, and the SAT-equivalent of that score fell a full 200 points short of what Sager said on Bush's behalf Saturday night.  Darkins in good faith did submit an application, though he carried an 1140 on the SAT.

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