Kibbles & Bits: Big Game Edition

It's a special week on The Farm, and we have a special collection in anticipation of today's 108th Big Game. Inside is news on Trent Edwards, a look at the Stanford sack attack, senior talk about getting back the Axe, exorcising 2003 demons, Evan Moore's talk about 2007, the running game, recruits on campus, and more!

  • Everything newsworthy this week begins and ends with Trent Edwards, so why should this story be any different?  To remove any further doubt, Walt Harris declared the redshirt junior as his starting quarterback on Thursday.  But the evidence was seen on the practice field this week, where Edwards took not only first team snaps but the overwhelming majority of repetitions with the offense in practice.  In fact, this might have been the most lopsided week I have seen of practice all year in the ratio of snaps for Edwards to those for backup T.C. Ostrander...  And for the record, Edwards' snaps as early as Wednesday were actual snaps under the center.  We did not witness a single fumbled exchange between Edwards and the center, which moves us further from concerns about his injured left (non-throwing) hand.
  • You of course were not able to watch practices this week.  They were closed to the public - all week.
  • Players and coaches admit that there is something special and different about this week, but they publicly maintain that practices and game preparation proceed like any other game week.  What we saw Tuesday and Wednesday (Thursdays and Fridays are completely closed in the Stadium) was unlike anything on the Stanford practice field this fall.  Two observations punctuated that judgement.  The first came Tuesday, when the team ran their trademark conditioning sprints 15 minutes before the end of practice, followed by a mini-scrimmage.  The team runs in three waves, typified by the three body types on the team.  Linemen are their own group, followed by the mid-sized plays you see at linebacker, tight end, etc.  The fastest skill players are a third group.  All three of those groups ran by far the fastest and most spirited sprint on the final run that I have seen at any time this year at Stanford.  And I have literally watched hundreds of sprints in practices and off-season conditioning this year.  There was something electric on Tuesday, with players bellowing primal screams as they raced down the field.  They were absolutely flying.  The linemen were the most striking to me...  On Wednesday, one offensive coach was heard to say with great excitement and pride that the afternoon's workout was by far the best Wednesday practice for Stanford this season.
  • Stanford struggled to run the ball last week, though they did have one strong drive predicated on the run to start the second half.  That ended in a Michael Sgroi field goal, which was ultimately the margin in the game.  J.R. Lemon was the tailback on that successful drive, which may be the reason he continued as Stanford's first string running back in practices this week.  Lemon is sporting a meager 2.9 average this year, though his 3.3 last week was awfully solid against an Oregon State team that gives up just 3.0 per rush this year...  Of course, Walt Harris was quick to rotate all three tailbacks into the game when the running game struggled, and we would expect the same today.  Especially given the improving health of redshirt freshman Anthony Kimble, who looked stronger in practice this week than he has been in quite some time.
  • As we have done in other K&B's, here are this week's unsung scout team heroes:  Ray Jones as #10 running back Marshawn Lynch; Xxavier Carter as #20 running back Justin Forsett; Ben Ladner as #27 fullback Chris Manderino; Charlie Hazlehurst as #11 wide receiver Robert Jordan; Thaddeus Chase as #1 wide receiver DeSean Jackson; Jason Robinson as #7 wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins; James Dray as #82 tight end Craig Stevens; James McGillicuddy as #43 defensive tackle Abu Ma'afala; Ekom Udofia as #52 defensive tackle Brandon Mebane; Matt Kopa as #94 defensive end Phillip Mbakogu; Will Powers as #53 defensive end Nu'u Tafisi; Clinton Snyder as #26 outside linebacker Ryan Foltz; Tom McAndrew as #10 middle linebacker Desmond Bishop; Josh Catron as #1 outside linebacker Worrell Williams; Wopamo Osaisai as #13 cornerback Daymeion Hughes; Kris Evans as #22 cornerback Tim Mixon; Aaron Smith as #21 rover Donnie McCleskey; Blaise Johnson as #4 safety Thomas DeCoud; and Bryan Bentrott as #11 safety Harrison Smith.
  • Stanford can boast the number one sack defense in the Pac-10 coming into today.  The Cardinal have sacked opposing quarterbacks at an average of 3.22 per game.  Next in the conference is USC at 3.20...
  • One of the biggest plays last week in Corvallis was a sack which seems to have slipped by Cardinalmaniac™ conversation this week.  On third down, Julian Jenkins recorded a five-yard sack of Ryan Gunderson in the final minute of the first half, which pushed the Beavers back to the 27-yard line.  That may very well have been the difference when Alex Serna just missed wide left on a field goal attempt that would have tied the game.  Stanford won the game by just three points...
  • We reported last week on the noticeable shift in play counts for the Stanford defensive line.  After seeing the Cardinal suffer late in the fourth quarter during the infamous UCLA comeback, the Card carefully substituted and rotated early in the USC game to try and help keep fresh legs for their starters.  Well, that went out the window last Saturday in Corvallis.  Stanford was on the field for 71 defensive plays, and Jenkins was out there for 70 of them.  Babatunde Oshinowo logged 66 plays.
  • There has been plenty of talk this week about the fifth-year seniors looking to close their Cardinal careers by bringing the Axe back to campus.  Yes, they lost the last three Big Games and want to avoid the ignominious label of dropping four straight.  However, this class did experience a winning Big Game on the Stanford sideline as redshirts in 2001.  The seniors with arguably more emotion at stake today would be Jenkins and T.J. Rushing - the team's two fourth-year seniors who have not taken a redshirt and play today in their final Big Game.
  • Michael Craven may be coming on at just the right time, to close out his fifth and final year on The Farm.  He played 25 snaps last week at outside linebacker, recording one big sack plus two quarterback hurries.  He could be a critical contributor to Stanford's pass rush today, as the Cardinal seek to swarm to the Cal quarterback(s).
  • Big Game heroes are an important part of the history and mystique surrounding this rivalry.  Some great players make great plays in this greatest of games, but many times the Big Game heroes are relative unknowns who make a spectacular play or effort in contrast to an unspectacular career.  We cannot begin to guess who could be today's heroes, and that is part of the electricity surrounding this game.
  • Gerren Crochet put into words why this game means so much to the seniors on this team.  "There are not many of us who have touched the Axe anymore.  It may be a silly tradition, but what it stands for means a lot to the seniors.  It's a sense of pride we haven't had the last three years," the fifth-year senior wideout describes.  "When I was indoctrinated into the Big Game, there was a sense of that this was the way it was supposed to be - Stanford owning the Axe...  It's something that is being reestablished into our program - a sense of pride.  If we get the Axe back, it would be a great legacy for my class.  A return to a sense of the way it's supposed to be."
  • Evan Moore is still not wearing any pads or doing any sort of running or jogging at practices.  He is stepping up every other part of his strength and conditioning, however, including 72 repetitions of 195-pound squats one morning this week.  "There is no pain when I squat.  I can go all the way down with a full range of motion," he says.  Taking a medical redshirt this year, following the traumatic dislocation of his hip in the second quarter of the season opener at Navy, Moore has been penciled onto the Stanford 2007 roster.  He will have that option but cast some clouds of doubt toward that possibility this week.  "Next year is my senior year, and all of my friends are graduating," he explains.  "I don't know.  I took a fifth year for a reason.  Should the next level call next year or the year after, we'll see."  Moore is academically still on track to finish his undergraduate degree in four years.
  • Last week helped to exorcise some of the demons of the 2003 game at Oregon State.  The Beavers committed nine penalties for 94 yards in that game, but the Cardinal could not take advantage, instead receiving a 43-3 spanking.  The next week, Stanford played at home in Big Game in a must-win situation for their season.  Cal fumbled the ball seven times in the game, losing three.  Aaron Rodgers also threw an interception.  All four of the turnovers came in the first 17 minutes of the game, but Stanford only scored 10 points off those gift-wrapped opportunities and ultimately lost a pathetic game, 16-28.  Cal again is nursing turnover trouble, with the second-to-last turnover margin in the conference (-0.8).  26 times in their 10 games have the Bears turned the ball over.  Stanford owns a +2.0 margin.  Can they take advantage of turnovers this week, unlike the 2003 game, much as they took advantage of OSU's penalties last week and turned the page on the 2003 failure?
  • One of the battles nobody is talking about this week pits Stanford's punting game against Cal's punt return.  The Bears' Tim Mixon is ranked #6 in the nation in punt return average at 17.4 yards.  Stanford's redshirt sophomore Jay Ottovegio is having a fantastic year, aided by the Cardinal's punt coverage team, leading the conference with just 90 total return yards allowed on punts this year.
  • Stanford had trouble each of the last two weeks running the ball, but maybe you swallowed that knowing that USC and Oregon State are the two best teams in the conference in rushing defense.  Well, don't look now but Cal is ranked third...
  • Fans on both sides of the Bay this week have felt a unique balance of excitement and meaning to this year's Big Game.  One team has come in stronger than the other in most years the last decade-plus, which makes this 108th edition different.  To punctuate the uniqueness of this matchup statistically, this is the first Big Game where both teams enter with a winning record since... 1991.
  • A bowl is obviously on the line for Stanford today, as they stand at five wins.  The conference bowl picture as a whole has a lot on the line with these rivalry games.  The Pac-10 could have as few as four teams bowl eligible this year, if the rivalry games go the wrong way.  The maximum number of Pac-10 teams that could be bowl-bound?  Seven.  To get there, Stanford will need to beat Cal; Oregon State has to upset Oregon; and next week Arizona State must beat Arizona.
  • Who is the only school in the conference to not yet own a Pac-10 Player of the Week on offense, defense or special teams?  The Washington State Cougars.  How in the world does Jerome Harrison, the #1 rusher in the nation, not have at least one of those honors by now?
  • Hosted at Stanford Stadium, today's 108th Big Game is also a big game for Cardinal recruiting.  Stanford is hosting their first official visitor of the year in Alex Loukas, who is also the only quarterback Walt Harris has offered in the 2006 class.  As we reported this week, Loukas was just accepted to attend The Farm, which frees him emotionally to take in the sights and sounds of this weekend...  Through conversations we have had with recruits this week, we have also learned of several unofficial visitors on campus for today's Big Game.  Andrew Phillips, John Kyed and Marcus Rance are all commits who are on hand.  Running back Toby Gerhart and wide receiver/defensive back Richard Sherman told us that they are each making the trip up today to catch the Cardinal's last conference clash.  We would not be at all surprised if there are several more recruits at today's Big Game.
  • Sadly last week, Troy Walters' Pac-10 career receptions record was knocked down by Arizona State senior Derek Hagan, who now owns 249 to Walters' 248.  It is vexing to note that the special 12-game seasons allowed by the NCAA 2002 and 2003 afforded more games to somebody like Hagan in pursuit of the record.  Of course, with the permanent 12th game starting in 2006, that will help rewrite a lot of conference career and single-season records...  Troy Walters still owns the Pac-10 career receiving yards record, which Hagan and Oregon State's Mike Hass are both chasing.  Hass needs 231 yards today against Oregon to break the record.  Hagan and the Sun Devils are off this week but would need 253 yards against Arizona next Friday to pass Walters.

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