Cardinal D learning lessons from shootout

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
12:00
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After Stanford yielded 617 yards of offense and 48 points to Arizona, there obviously was some disappointment from Cardinal coach David Shaw and some of his defensive leaders.

The message was twofold: (1) Don't hit the panic button yet, and (2) 'Tis better to learn from a win than a loss.

"We felt like we got away from what we do, which is an attacking defense," defensive end Ben Gardner said. "We didn't play our style of football. We're still a confident bunch. We still believe we can stop any offense in the country."

And now the pressure is on the defense to step up on the road against No. 7 Notre Dame after the offense bailed it out in a high-flying affair last week in Palo Alto, Calif.

"It teaches you some lessons," Gardner said. "You need to bring your lunch pail every single day, and you need to make tackles and dominate the line of scrimmage. Those are things we typically do but we didn't do [against Arizona]. And when things went badly, we weren't able to stop the bleeding. That falls on me and Chase [Thomas] and Shayne [Skov]. Moving forward we have to make sure everyone is staying focused and, when things start going badly, we rally and stick together."

No doubt, Saturday's game was a teachable moment. It was the most yards the Cardinal defense had allowed since Oregon ran up 626 yards against the unit in 2010. Against the Irish, the Cardinal will see another spread offense -- although it's a different variation than the one they saw last week against Arizona and the one they'll see later this season at Oregon. Notre Dame is more north-south in its attack.

[+] EnlargeChase Thomas
Cary Edmondson/US PresswireStanford's defense took a beating against Arizona, but Chase Thomas came up with the key pick.
"Some of our stuff is built to handle different offenses," safety Jordan Richards said. "We didn't put in a whole new defense for Arizona, and we're not going to put in a whole new defense for Notre Dame. We have some wrinkles here and there, but it's nothing out of the ordinary."

Aside from actually getting a win last week, there are a couple of positives that can be drawn from the performance. After the Cardinal cut the 14-point deficit to seven with 6 minutes, 34 seconds to play, the defense made a three-and-out stop, which gave the offense a chance to go on a 14-play, 79-yard drive that ended with a game-tying touchdown run by Josh Nunes. It was Arizona's first three-and-out since its second possession in the first quarter. Between the three-and-outs, Arizona scored on seven of eight drives.

Then, in overtime, there was the tipped ball by Henry Anderson and interception by Thomas that set up Stanford's game-winning score.

"When we absolutely needed the stop, we were able to pressure the quarterback and make a play," Shaw said. "We've got some long guys up front, and we were able to tip some passes. I think our coverage also got better in the fourth quarter. It's also reassuring to know that when our defense is down, they can come up and make plays. And if our offense gets in a shootout, we're equipped for it."

Most aren't projecting a shootout this Saturday. Both teams rank in the top 20 in rushing defense (Stanford at No. 6), and the Irish have the No. 2 scoring defense in the nation. And Stanford's road woe (singular, since it has had only one road game) has been well documented.

Gardner knows what's at stake and what his team is up against.

"We embrace it," he said. "Playing at Notre Dame is one of the best road trips in college football. We love playing those rivalry games in front of a packed stadium. There's no doubt we have to be on our P's and Q's this week in practice in terms of communication. We need to pack our defense."

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