Okwo Reverses Course

The twists and turns of this Stanford season continue to confound. Senior inside linebacker Michael Okwo practiced Tuesday afternoon, left the team on Wednesday and then returned to practice on Thursday. What exactly took place in this bizarre week for the Pac-10's leading tackler? We piece the puzzle together with new details.

24 hours after shocking teammates and coaches by leaving the team, Stanford senior inside linebacker Michael Okwo pulled another surprise out of his hat by returning late Thursday.

The Bootleg spoke yesterday midday with Cardinal head coach Walt Harris for official comment on Okwo's status with the team, after the defensive standout had quit.  "That's still up in the air right now," Harris answered.  The second-year Cardinal skipper was correct to reserve commentary on Okwo's departure at that time.  Later that afternoon, just before the team's final full practice of the week, Harris and Okwo had a reported hour-plus sitdown meeting.

Okwo afterward rejoined the team and took part in Stanford's practice that evening.  It is unclear what subject matter was discussed during the player-coach meeting.  Neither Harris nor Okwo are currently available for public comment.  Stanford team rules during the season limit player interviews during the week to Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons.  Harris speaks with the media for the last time mid-Thursday, as well.  The Cardinal community will have to wait until Saturday's post-game interviews in Seattle for any comments to possibly shed light on this week's strange events.

Yesterday was Walt Harris' 60th birthday.

After watching him leave the team Wednesday only to return 24 hours later on Thursday, one might surmise that Okwo had only temporary reasons or intentions for leaving.  He however sent a letter late Wednesday to the breadth of his teammates declaring his departure from the team, also attempting to explain himself.  Okwo is a philosophy major at Stanford.

It is not yet known what Okwo's status will be for Saturday's game at Washington.  Beyond the obvious ramifications of his quitting the team, albeit ultimately reversed, Okwo missed a Wednesday practice.  Harris has in the past described a team rule whereby a player must practice on Wednesday to start on Saturday, and must practice on Thursday to play at all.

Okwo's 2006 tackles
Navy 10
Washington State 15
@ UCLA 11
@ Notre Dame 12
Arizona 13
@ Arizona State 5
USC 6
@ Washington ??

Michael Okwo is the leading tackler not only for Stanford, but also in the Pac-10, at 10.29 tackles per game.  Okwo missed the first two games of the 2006 season after breaking his hand midway through training camp in August, on a fluke play where he tipped a pass during a scrimmage.  The shattered bones required surgery, and Okwo was out the next month.  He played his first game in Stanford's third week of the season, versus Navy, and Okwo notched a new high for his college career with 10 tackles despite playing with his forearm in a cast.  Okwo astonished by tallying double-digit tackles in his first five games.

The past two games, Okwo's productivity has waned.  He had just five tackles at Arizona State and six last week versus USC.  Okwo was averaging 12.2 tackles per game prior to those two performances.

Harris earlier this season in several comments to the media recognized Okwo as Stanford's best defensive player.  Though the senior inside linebacker appeared to overpursue in some instances last week against USC and did not have one of his best games this season, Okwo and the Stanford run defense collectively had their best performance of 2006.  USC entered the contest ranked in the top half of the conference running the ball at 152 yards per game, while Stanford sat dead last in Division I-A against the run with 255.5 yards per game allowed.  The Trojans had to run the ball on their final possession in the closing seconds, despite a 42-0 lead, picking up 17 yards on three carries to pass the century mark and finish the game at 108 yards net rushing.  Stanford had allowed 200-plus yards in seven of its eight previous games.

The forecast for Saturday's game at Washington calls for rain and cold.  Coupled with the Huskies' quarterback injuries and woes, as well as Stanford's infamously horrific run defense, Washington is expected to run the ball heavily against the Cardinal.  Stanford is battling a wave of injuries on defense, and Okwo would be critical to the Cardinal's chances of stopping the run.  His instincts and explosiveness, plus the design of the 3-4 defense to let linebackers make plays, make Okwo the focal playmaker in the middle of the field for Stanford against the run.

Washington is reeling with five straight losses, making this Saturday's contest at Husky Stadium the likely best chance for a win in the remaining Stanford schedule.  The Cardinal are currently 0-9 and will play their final two games versus Oregon State and at Cal.


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