Blind Side Talk: Allen Smith

No player on the offensive line receives more pressure and scrutiny than the left tackle, who has to protect the dangerous blind side of the quarterback. Redshirt sophomore Allen Smith has started all five games "on the edge" for Stanford this year, with up-and-down results. He articulately talked Wednesday about his confidence, pass protection, turnovers, teammates, Notre Dame and more.

You guys keep losing starters to injuries.  How do you keep yourselves going, and without pressing too much individually?

"I think the most important thing is to have faith in your teammates.  When we lost our top receivers this year, we knew that the guys below them were going to be able to step up and perform because we feel that everyone prepares themselves at a level where they are ready to go into the game when their time is called.  As an offensive lineman, I know that the receivers are going to do their job, so I do not worry that we're without Mark Bradford or that we're without Evan Moore.  I know that Richard Sherman, Austin Yancy, Kelton Lynn and those guys will be able to step up for us and make plays in the game.  Anytime you have injuries on your team - we're exactly that: a team.  We know how hard each other works, so we know that all of our teammates will be ready to play when the time comes."

You guys are averaging over four yards per carry.  How have you gotten the ground game working this year?

"You know, I still don't think we've moved the ball as well as we would like to.  But I believe that having an experienced running back in Anthony Kimble has helped us a lot this year.  Also the true freshman Toby Gerhart is a very hard, powerful runner.  He has helped us on the ground this year.  Losing Nick Frank was a big blow, but I know our fullback Emeka Nnoli has stepped up in the running game.  Overall the offensive line's comprehension of run schemes is going to get our run game better as time goes on.  Trent Edwards has also done a great job of getting us into the plays that best suit the defense, and I think that is going to help us down the line as we get more experience with that."

Can you talk about Trent as a leader in the huddle and how he keeps you guys focused?

"Trent is the big guy who leads by example.  He is a fighter on the field.  We've seen him take a lot of hits over the years and always get back up - always keep fighting.  We can see that if the offensive line doesn't do a good job protecting, he has to scramble.  How hard he runs shows us that he is really trying to win the game for us.  His example provides a lot of leadership in the huddle.  Not to mention that if we're in very high pressure situations - the two-minute drill - he is always very calm and composed.  He never gets rattled.  If we don't do our job on the offensive line and somebody gets a hit on him, he doesn't talk down to us or yell at us.  He just says, 'Hey guys, don't worry.  We can go get it again.'  It doesn't phase him, and that's something that shows something about Trent Edwards' character.  He's an outstanding leader and an outstanding quarterback."

How close to do you think the team is to getting on track offensively and having that breakthrough game?

"I feel like we're very close.  Over the last four weeks, we have seen lots of improvement from our offense.  But it's one of those things where little mistakes in different positions keep us from getting where we want to go.  I think that as we clean up those mistakes week to week, and we're making less and less of them each week, we're going to have a very productive offense.  As an offensive unit, we're starting to gel.  We've had a great week of practice so far, and we're going to keep on practicing and getting better throughout the week.  Our time will definitely come."

You say that the last four weeks have been better each week.  Can you help illustrate or detail what some of those points of progress are?

"One of those things is that after Washington State, the offensive tackles - my position group - we definitely took a lot of responsibility for the way that game went.  We felt that we did not perform as well as we needed to, so we've been working hard with Coach [Doug] Sams and Coach [Tom] Freeman at getting our sets and technique corrected.  Coach [Walt] Harris has been keeping a good eye on us, to make sure that we perform better.  I think that against UCLA, we did perform better than we did against Washington State.  I think that every position group takes that kind of mentality.  Every time on offense we make a mistake, we go back and analyze it to make sure we don't make the same mistake next week.  The only thing we have to eliminate now is making new mistakes, and I think we're going to be a very good offensive unit because we do a very good job of correcting the old ones.  I can't really speak on the other position groups, but I know that on the offensive line we drill and walk through a lot of stunts, making sure we know how to pick up our protection schemes and know everything they could possibly throw at us.  We want to make sure we give Trent enough time to do what he does.  I think that as the weeks go on and we get better, our offensive capabilities are going to increase."

Allen, what kind of toll are the turnovers taking?  Several of those have come as you are about to score or in position to score.  14 turnovers in five games, and most of them have been pretty costly.  Does that wear on you after a while?

"Turnover ratio is something that Coach Harris makes a big deal about.  He gives us the NFL stats and tells us how teams that win the turnover ratio have like an 80 percent win rate in NFL.  He hammers it home: as long as we don't turn over the ball, we have a chance to win.  It's when we defeat ourselves that we don't really give ourselves a chance.  I don't think it's something that wears on us.  Week to week, it's something we become more conscious of and try to make a better effort of it.  It's just a focus issue.  We have to make it a point to take care of the football.  It's something that we will be able to correct.  I believe last year going into the USC game, we were Top 10 in the nation in turnover ratio.  It's definitely something we are capable of doing.  It's a discipline and focus thing that we will definitely get corrected as the weeks go on."

You are playing at Notre Dame and their storied stadium.  Would a win this Saturday erase a lot of the pain of the last five weeks?

"A win this Saturday - I'm not going to say it will erase the pain of the past five weeks because that's our record.  Regardless of what we do now, we put on film what we put on film.  I think a win this Saturday would be great, and it's something we have been working hard for and are very capable of.  I think a win this week would just solidify where we know we are at.  We know we are a good football team, and we know we are capable on offense and defense.  A win this Saturday would solidify that for us.  I also think that anytime you can go on the road and get a victory, it's always a very good victory.  But they are a very good team, and that's a very tough place to play.  We have our work cut out for us, but we're pretty confident that we can play with anybody, anywhere."

Allen, what's the emotion going to be like for you to play in that stadium?  That was one of the final schools you looked at.  You took a visit, but chose Stanford.

"I would love to play in the golden dome.  It's one of those things where it was one of my final schools, but I also have friends on the team.  I still keep in contact with Ryan Harris.  I look up to him as a player.  I try to model myself after him.  I think he's an outstanding offensive lineman.  Of course, Darius Walker was a guy recruited in my class.  I look up to him as well and all of the success that he has had.  Just to play on the field with those guys, that's one of the things that is fun about football.  Big crowd, historic stadium - that's one of the things you get to have fun with at the Division I level.  I am pretty excited to go to South Bend, Indiana not because they were one of the final teams that recruited me down to the end, but more because it's a chance for me and my teammates to go into a hostile environment and play a tough game.  That's why we play football: competition.  So it's going to be enjoyable."

You guys protected Trent surprisingly - to us - well at the first of the year.  Then the last two weeks, it's been a major step back.  Can you give us some insight to what has been going on with the offensive line or at your position that has maybe regressed a little?

"I'm not sure if anything has really regressed.  Maybe we got away with some bad habits the first couple of weeks.  The first few weeks you play games, people don't have any film on you.  They don't see your weaknesses.  They don't know how to exploit you yet.  As the weeks go on, they see flaws in your technique.  People study film, so they figure out how to beat you.  I'm not going to say it for the offensive line, but for myself, maybe I got a little too complacent thinking that my technique worked just because I blocked fairly decently against Oregon.  I have known that I have to clean up my technique going into these future games.  I feel like that mentality helped me to pass protect a little bit better in the UCLA game.  I think the offensive line as a unit, we just need to look at the corrections on film.  Every game is different.  Every defensive line is different.  UCLA was a little bit faster than Oregon.  Oregon was a little bit bigger than Navy.  Navy twisted a lot more than most teams we faced.  Every game poses new challenges, and I think that as we get more games under our belt, we are going to start protecting better as a unit.  We started out pretty strong, and while we have not had the performances the last couple weeks, I think we are capable of being right back where we were at the start of the season and giving up very few sacks."

Allen, are you a player where confidence is pretty critical to you during games?  When you do have the sacks at your position, like you did against Mkristo Bruce, how does that affect you?

"I love to play with a lot of confidence.  But I like competition better than I like confidence.  I like going up against guys who are good.  I like testing myself against guys that are good.  That's one of the big things for me.  Defensive lineman versus an offensive lineman - in the trenches, it's really gritty.  You win some and you lose some.  The object is to just win more than you lose.  I think on the offensive line, and especially at my position at tackle having the responsibility of protecting Trent Edwards on the edge, it's something I take a lot of pride in.  I think that the offensive line has a lot of confidence.  I think that we're going to start to get our swagger back as these next weeks come because we know we're a pretty good unit and know what we're capable of doing.  I'm pretty excited to go to South Bend."


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