NCF Nation: Alex Carter

No. 5 Stanford hosts No. 15 Washington on Saturday. History scholars are not welcome.

Two years ago, Stanford ran all over Washington -- setting a school record with 446 rushing yards in a 65-21 win. That game was, for all intents and purposes, the beginning of Washington’s 2011 defensive downfall that crested with an Alamo Bowl embarrassment against Baylor.

[+] EnlargeStanford's Stepfan Taylor
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesStanford and Washington don't expect much carryover from last season's game, a defensive struggle won by the Huskies, when the teams meet Saturday.
Last year, in a rapid change of fortunes, it was Washington’s defense that rose to the occasion and held Stanford’s offense to 170 total yards, zero offensive touchdowns and just 65 rushing yards in a 17-13 win. The Cardinal were coming off of a then-shocking 21-14 win over No. 2 USC. That game might have been, for all intents and purposes, the beginning of the end of the Lane Kiffin era. But that's another story for another day.

So what does the recent history between these two teams mean? Squat. Diddly-squat, to be exact. This is a very different Washington defense than the one that rolled over two year ago. Just as Stanford’s offense is completely different than the one that struggled to move the ball last year in Seattle.

“We’re definitely a new football team,” Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. “From two years ago we’ve made some pretty significant changes on the defensive side of the football from the staff standpoint. And I think offensively we’ve made some significant changes in scheme and style of play that has changed us dramatically over a two-year period.”

Indeed, Washington’s defense under Justin Wilcox has improved dramatically over the last season and a half. Through four games this season the Huskies are allowing fewer than 11 points per game. Offensively, the new up-tempo scheme is producing almost 600 yards per game, and the Huskies average nearly 40 points per contest.

Though the feeling of last season's loss still lingers for some Stanford players, it won’t be a factor in Saturday’s matchup.

“Disappointment,” said Stanford defensive back Alex Carter in talking about last season's meeting. “I know we felt like we had really given up an opportunity for our team to make a statement. For us, I think we just realize that last year was last year. It happened. This year we’re a different team with a different mentality. We’re just focused on this game.”

As for finding little tricks and intricacies from last season's game? Stanford coach David Shaw said don’t count on it.

“I never take the previous year’s game too seriously,” he said. “We look at them from a schematic and personnel standpoint. They have a lot of film from this year. We go back and watch a lot of schematic things, but what actually happens in games, there’s never a carry over. Last year when we played them, we didn’t think we were going to go in there and rush for 300 yards cause we knew they were a more sound, physical, athletic defense. We knew it was going to be tough sledding, just like it was, and just like we believe this year is going to be tough sledding also.”

So far, things have gone according to plan for both teams. The Huskies (4-0 overall, 1-0 Pac-12) have successfully negotiated a nonconference slate that included a win over Boise State and road win against Illinois. And despite the weather last week, they handled Arizona 31-13.

Stanford (4-0, 2-0) has looked explosive offensively, averaging more than 41 points per game. Quarterback Kevin Hogan ranks fifth nationally in QBR and the offense -- while still run-based -- has become more wide receiver-centric in the passing attack.

“They’ve changed some,” Sarkisian said. "Two years ago Andrew Luck was the quarterback and they were doing their thing with Andrew. They've worked themselves into Kevin Hogan and they have a lot of variety. Defensively it’s a lot of the same faces, just more mature. They pose a great deal of challenges for us.”
Stanford's secondary is going to be young next season. Not exactly breaking news, but that's the reality when four seniors, three of them starters, graduate. But the players returning also have some experience and quality playing time, which should help compensate for their youth.

In other words, there no excuses.

"I think [defensive coordinator Derek] Mason might have been a little more tolerant with us last year, a little more patient," said safety Jordan Richards. "Not anymore. We've all been here and have a full season under our belts. This is on us -- and coach Mason is making sure we know that."

[+] EnlargeJordan Richards
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireJordan Richards is one of many young Cardinal defensive backs that will have to replace three senior starters.
The back four -- two cornerbacks and two safeties -- have to be getting tired of hearing how good the front seven is going to be. They are so experienced. This guy is back and that guy is back. It gets old. And if the front seven is considered Stanford's defensive strength, by virtue of elimination, the back four can't be.

That perception is something the group is looking to alter. But first they'll need to settle some competition. Gone are safeties Delano Howell and Michael Thomas. Gone are cornerbacks Johnson Bademosi and Corey Gatewood.

Terrence Brown and Barry Browning are back at cornerback, along with the highly-touted Wayne Lyons who is returning from a foot injury. Usua Amanam should also be in the mix and don't be surprised if Alex Carter makes an immediate impact when he arrives in the summer. Also returning are Richards and Devon Carrington at the safety spot along with Ed Reynolds, who is also returning from injury. Kyle Olugbode has also seen reps this spring.

Richards was one of the true freshman called into action when Howell went down for several games with a hand injury. He started three games for Stanford last year -- the most brutal stretch of the season that included at USC, at Oregon State and home to Oregon. Tough detail.

"It was, at times, a blur," Richards said. "And other times, I felt like I was in control and the game slowed."

The telling part of that quote is the "at times" portion. Richards notched eight tackles in his first start against USC. Then a couple of games later he watched Oregon run all over the Cardinal. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. In his second year, he's striving for more consistency. And having had the chance to learn behind Thomas and Howell, he thinks he's found it.

"I learned how to see the game from those guys," Richards said. "As a freshman, you come in with tunnel vision. You need to learn to see how things move around. Now it's a transition. You've been here for a year, you learn to read formational cues and the game slows down a lot more. You know what the offensive tendencies are. That's the biggest difference. You're not a deer in the headlights anymore. You just go out and play and try not to over think it."

Brown has the most experience at cornerback, followed by Browning who started three games last season. According to Richards, Brown and Reynolds have taken on the leadership roles vacated by the departed seniors.

"As a group, it's been TB and Ed," Richards said. "Those guys have been around. But we all know what's at stake, and we're all trying to be leaders and be on our game as a group because we know that we are going to be young and people are going to try to come after us."

Like in Week 3, when the Cardinal host USC -- a pass happy offense with the Heisman front-runner at quarterback, the top wide receiving duo in the country and possibly the No. 1-ranked team in the nation. So this group is going to have to find a way to come together quickly.

"That's what the spring is all about," Richards said. "We're working hard to be a cohesive group. Coach Mason is pushing us and I think we're going to come together."

Were Pac-12 recruiting needs met?

February, 2, 2012
Every team had needs going into 2012 national signing day. Last week, Ted Miller looked at the needs of each team in the North Division and South Division. Here’s a look at whether those needs were met.

Arizona: Either Javelle Allen or Josh Kern -- both Texans -- could be the long-term answer at quarterback. Noticeably missing is the lack of an impact linebacker. But there is some good depth to the offensive line.

Arizona State: Nice pickup with running back D.J. Foster. Richard Smith and Josiah Blandin boost the wide receiving corps. Nine JC signees? We’ll see.

Cal: QB Zach Kline (No. 2 QB) is the jewel of the class, and receiver Darius Powe could be an immediate impact player. Cal wins the award for bipolar recruiting season, but this is still a solid class.

Colorado: If Yuri Wright can keep his thumbs in check, he’s a huge addition. He and Kenny Crawley boost a secondary sorely in need of playmakers.

Oregon: Arik Armstead headlines a diverse class that, as expected, is heavy on speed and addresses depth across the board. Next to duct tape, few things are quick fixes than a juco kicker.

Oregon State: No. 1 offensive guard Isaac Seumalo and tackle Garrett Weinreich fill immediate needs on the line. A lot of unproven commits on a defense that still needs help.

Stanford: Business should be booming in the Stanford cafeteria with seven new offensive linemen. And they get to grow with and block for Barry Sanders. Noor Davis and Alex Carter are elite defensive playmakers.

UCLA: Four ESPNU 150 players, headlined by athlete Devin Fuller. Who said Jim Mora wasn't cut out for college? Keeping Ellis McCarthy in Southern California -- and out of red and gold -- is big time.

USC: Don't cry for this tiny class. It features seven ESPNU 150 players and adds speed on defense with Jabari Ruffin, size on the offensive line with Max Turek and Jordan Simmons and athleticism with wide receiver Nelson Agholor. Another great haul for Troy.

Utah: A quarterback of the future is needed, and Travis Wilson (No. 39 QB) and Chase Hansen (No. 43 QB) should have a heck of a competition in the coming years. Lots of help and depth added to the offensive line.

Washington: A shaky recruiting season was saved at the last minute by the commitment of Shaq Thompson and the ability to hold quarterback Cyler Miles. Brandon Beaver helps a secondary that was one of the worst in the conference.

Washington State: Running back Robert Lewis and receiver Alex Jackson could prove to be money in the Mike Leach offensive overhaul. A few juco transfers should be stopgaps until depth develops and Leach's plan comes together.