Pac-12: Aziz Shittu

Healthy line fuels Stanford defense

September, 25, 2014
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Stanford is allowing a nation-best 4.3 points per game. The Cardinal defense is the only unit in the country to have not surrendered a touchdown drive of 75 yards or longer. Heck, it's only given up one touchdown in 12 quarters of football.

Washington offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith has been watching film of Stanford's sturdy crew all week, and from his perspective, the viewing sessions have been "depressing."

Wait, what the heck is going on here?

Stalwarts Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov, Ed Reynolds, Ben Gardner, and Josh Mauro have all left for the NFL. Defensive coordinator Derek Mason filled the head coaching opening at Vanderbilt.

[+] EnlargeAziz Shittu
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezStanford's defensive line battled injuries last season, but Aziz Shittu and the unit are healthy and dominating this season.
Wasn't this team supposed to suffer a defensive a dropoff? On the surface, two and two don't seem to add up.

Two major road tests at Washington and Notre Dame loom for Stanford, but early indications suggest the defense is successfully weathering the significant loss of star power. And an answer as to how Stanford is defying expectations is becoming evident: The team is actually healthy along the defensive front this time around.

Decimated in 2013

Coach David Shaw understands the fundamental importance of a sturdy line within the 3-4 defensive scheme.

"My dad (Willie Shaw) always used to tell me, 'if you give me a choice between a great cornerback and a great defensive lineman, I'll take the great defensive lineman,'" he said. "Because a great defensive lineman can make an average corner look great."

At this point last season, the decimation of Stanford's defensive line was well underway, so there was a severe shortage of those desired game-changers on the Farm.

End Henry Anderson had suffered a significant knee injury which would sideline him until November, tackle David Parry was straining through a lower abdominal issue that had him nowhere near full capacity, and Ikenna Nwafor -- Parry's backup at tackle -- was about to succumb to a foot injury that would force his medical retirement.

The misery didn't end there. Just a week later against Washington, stalwart defensive end Ben Gardner began battling searing pain in his arm. He fought through the issue for three weeks, but eventually saw his college career end when he tore his pectoral muscle while trying to corral Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion with that arm.

Outside of Josh Mauro, the Cardinal didn't have a defensive lineman in the regular rotation that was playing at close to 100 percent last season. Shaw's staff reacted by converting outside linebacker Blake Lueders and tight end Luke Kaumatule to the line, but Lueders was still significantly underweight for his new position, and Kaumatule didn't yet know the playbook.

The leaks in the dam were apparent. In a particularly brutal two-week stretch, players labored in the second half versus Washington and then scuffled to find any real footing in first half of the team's loss at Utah, during which the Utes easily racked up over six yards per carry. Stanford eventually patched up the leakiest of its defensive problems, but players and coaches both admit that was a smoke-and-mirrors solution that placed tremendous pressure on the team's linebackers and secondary.

An offseason of rest pays dividends

The Stanford defense is built on a fully healthy foundation now. Parry is finally at 100 percent and somersaulting his way to backfield tackles in WWE-wrestler style, and Anderson has considerable bounce back in his step after spending the offseason shedding about eight pounds and regaining his original explosiveness. Gardner and Mauro are gone, but Lueders has had a chance to put on the 20 pounds of extra strength needed for the defensive end position, and Aziz Shittu and Kaumatule have both earned spots in the line's rotation.

All of these developments have allowed Stanford to assuage the losses of Murphy and Skov on the second level.

"Henry Anderson and David Parry are playing at the best levels of their career," Shaw said. "You see all those tackles for loss, and then you see the linebackers making a lot of plays as a result."

Stanford is averaging a sack on 12.5 percent of opponents' passing attempts. That's the best figure in the Pac-12, and it's more than three points higher than the one Stanford's sack-happy 2012 team, the national leader in tackles for loss, posted.

"You see David Parry getting whammed and getting double-teamed because [the opponent] has to account for him," Shaw said. "Then Henry's up in the quarterback's face pushing the pocket."

Washington makes a case

This Saturday's showdown at Washington presents an intriguing matchup. Though Stanford leads the Pac-12 in the aforementioned sack rate, the Huskies lead the nation in total sacks. They have registered 19 in four games. Behind six-foot-two, 339-pound wrecking ball Danny Shelton, Washington will try to make a claim that it features the best front seven in the Pac-12.

Stanford offensive lineman Josh Garnett, whose father played for the Huskies, thinks that working against his own team's finally healthy unit has prepared the Cardinal well for this trip to Seattle.

"Our guys are definitely healthy now," Garnett said. "And if we can run our plays on those guys [in practice], we can run our plays against anybody. You see their pass-rush moves, and then you see them stoning people in the run game on the next play, and it's very impressive."

So keep an eye on the battle up front this Saturday. If Stanford proves that it can pack up and travel with the same eye-popping pass-rush fury and run-stopping proficiency it's shown early in this season, the raging battle in the Pac-12 North will have become that much more fascinating.
Over the last two weeks we’ve been taking a look at some players who had big springs for their respective teams. Some are upperclassmen finally coming into their own, some are younger guys taking advantage of open spots on the depth chart, while others are leap frogging some older players and making a name for themselves. Regardless, there were plenty of impressive performances in the Pac-12 this spring. All of these players are going to play a big part for their teams this fall, but which player do you think will be the most crucial to his team’s success in 2014? Rank them 1-12 here.

Here’s a breakdown of the players we’ve profiled over the past two weeks:

Arizona: WR Cayleb Jones -- The Wildcats might have the deepest wide receiver group in the entire conference, but could a Texas transfer become the most important one of the bunch? With a year spent studying the offense and learning from the sideline, Jones could be a major factor.

Arizona State: LB D.J. Calhoun -- The early enrollee ended the spring listed as a starter with Antonio Longino at the weakside linebacker position. With the Sun Devils trying to replace three starting linebackers, could Calhoun become a significant contributor as a true freshman? Seems likely.

Cal: RB Daniel Lasco -- Lasco found himself taking some extra reps this spring as Khalfani Muhammad (last season’s leading rusher) split time between the Cal track and football teams this spring. During his career he has been slowed by injury, but now that he’s finally healthy and taking more reps, could he battle Muhammad for the lead spot this fall?

Colorado: WR Bryce Bobo -- Colorado fans should feel encouraged by Bobo’s spring game performance (five catches, 132 yards) as they head into the summer wondering who can replace Paul Richardson's yardage. It’s highly unlikely that it’ll be one single player, but could Bobo carry a large part of it?

Oregon: WR Devon Allen -- When he wasn’t running for the Oregon track team this spring he was running circles around some Ducks defensive backs. The redshirt freshman could prove to be a huge player for Oregon as they look to replace last season’s top-three receivers as well as injured Bralon Addison’s production.

Oregon State: WR Victor Bolden -- Could Bolden be a possible replacement for some of the yardage lost by Biletnikoff Award winner Brandin Cooks? He has seen most of his time on special teams, but could step up as a big contributor in the fall as QB Sean Mannion looks to have another very big season for the Beavers.

Stanford: DL Aziz Shittu -- The sophomore, who can play every spot on the defensive line for the Cardinal, has received high praise this spring. Coach David Shaw said Shittu was, “probably the player of spring for us.” If it’s good enough for Shaw, is that good enough for you?

[+] EnlargeNelson Agholor
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsHow will USC wideout Nelson Agholor follow up his stellar 2013 season and excellent spring?
UCLA: CB Fabian Moreau -- He was a big contributor to the Bruins last season but during this spring season Moreau became a better leader for UCLA. Coach Jim Mora has given Moreau high praise and if the Bruins are able to take the South Division title next season, a bit part could be because of the breakout year Moreau could have.

USC: WR Nelson Agholor -- Chances are if you’re a USC fan, you know who Agholor is. If you’re not -- then he was the guy who played opposite Marqise Lee. But this spring Agholor took the steps to go from good WR to great WR, and next fall, the fruits of his labor could be on display for the entire conference to see.

Utah: RB Devontae Booker -- Booker is right on the heels of RB Bubba Poole, as displayed by his spring game performance (2 touchdowns, 19 carries, 103 yards). But between Booker, Poole and Troy McCormick, the Utes could have a three-headed monster at running back that Pac-12 teams would not enjoy having to face.

Washington: LB/RB Shaq Thompson -- He was the second-leading tackler for the Huskies last season so it wasn’t a defensive breakout spring for him. But considering he started getting offensive reps, it was a breakout spring for him as a running back. UW needs to replace Bishop Sankey’s yardage, could Thompson’s spring give him a jump start to do so?

Washington State: WR Vince Mayle -- The converted running back had a big spring for the Cougars. This spring Mayle got close to becoming quarterback Connor Halliday’s safety net. Considering Halliday threw for more than 4,500 yards last season, being his safety net would mean major, major yardage next fall.
We continue our look at breakout players from spring practice. Today, the Stanford Cardinal.

Breakout player: DL Aziz Shittu

2013 statistics: Recorded five tackles in 10 games, including one in the Pac-12 championship game.

[+] EnlargeAziz Shittu
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezStanford coach David Shaw said DL Aziz Shittu was "probably the player of spring for us."
The case for Shittu: Over the past two years, Shittu has been an interesting player to watch progress. He arrived on The Farm after a high-profile recruitment that included just about the entire Pac-12 and several national powers. He had the type of profile that made it seem plausible for the Atwater, Calif., native to contribute early in his college career.

It didn't exactly play out that way. Stanford pulled his redshirt midway through his freshman season in 2012, but Shittu held minimal roles the past two seasons. After a strong spring, it appears that will change this season.

Shittu is listed at defensive end, but he can contribute at all three spots on the defensive line, which will be without Ben Gardner and Josh Mauro, both of whom are beginning their NFL careers. Among the players Shittu will compete with for snaps are Blake Lueders and tight-end convert Luke Kaumatule. DE Henry Anderson, a potential All-American, and DT David Parry, a one-time walk-on, both return.

Stanford coach David Shaw was complimentary of Shittu throughout the spring, especially after the spring game when he called him, "probably the player of spring for us."

Other spring breakout players:

Arizona: WR Cayleb Jones

Arizona State: LB D.J. Calhoun

Cal: RB Daniel Lasco

Colorado: WR Bryce Bobo

Oregon: WR Devon Allen

Oregon State: WR Victor Bolden

Stanford retiring Elway's No. 7

August, 6, 2013
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Soon, there will only be one "No. 7" associated with Stanford.

The school announced Tuesday that it would retire John Elway's No. 7 jersey. Elway, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1983 NFL draft, went on to a Hall of Fame NFL career and is now the executive vice president for the Denver Broncos. A two-time conference player of the year, Elway threw 77 touchdowns during his four-year career (1979-1982) and still holds the school's single-game record with six touchdown passes against Oregon State in 1980. He was a consensus All-American as a senior.

“Through the years the No. 7 has meant so much to the Stanford community, most recently with the record-breaking career of Toby Gerhart,” said Stanford head coach David Shaw in a statement. “Current student-athletes Ty Montgomery and Aziz Shittu both will wear the No. 7 jersey and be the last two to put it on for Stanford University.”

Elway's number will officially be retired at halftime of the Nov. 7 home game against Oregon -- adding nostalgic fuel to one of the most anticipated college football games in 2013.

Elway joins Ernie Nevers (No. 1) and Jim Plunkett (No. 16) as the only Cardinal players to have their numbers retired.
Stanford head coach David Shaw has a lot to smile about after hauling in a top-15 recruiting class on Wednesday. With six ESPNU 150 players -- including three of the top offensive linemen in the country and athletic playmakers on both sides of the ball -- Shaw said his team fills much-needed holes and adds depth at other spots.

Here's part two of a Q&A with the second-year head coach.

Q: Alex Carter was recruited as a cornerback. Is that set in stone, or could we see him at safety or as a wide receiver?

A: Alex Carter is fast, quick and strong. He is a corner for us. He could physically play five positions. He could play running back or safety or receiver or corner. He could even play a gun-run quarterback which a lot of guys are doing these days. But for us, he's a lockdown corner. He's excited about getting that opportunity to play against some of the best receivers in the nation in our conference and we know he'll be up to the challenge.

Q: You said back in December that recruiting a quarterback wasn't a priority in 2012. Is it safe to assume it will be a priority in 2013?

A: I think that's pretty safe to assume. We've got a good cast of quarterbacks here. Some of them are four-star guys who threw for a lot of yards in their high school career but haven't gotten a lot of opportunity. The opportunity is here now, this spring and this fall. We'll see what happens through the rest of this year's recruiting process. If we don't get a top-flight quarterback in this class, we're already in the process of communicating with, we believe, about four of the top five quarterbacks next year.

Q: There were some players who were forced to switch their commitment because they weren't admitted academically. How difficult is it for you as a coach to make that phone call and tell a kid with an outstanding GPA that he doesn't meet the standards of Stanford University?

A: That's the hardest thing about this process for us, is that every single offer that we make and everything that we tell all of these guys is that the offer is contingent on their admission to Stanford. There are guys where we have a strong feeling he'll get admitted, and he doesn't make it. That's part of here. The one thing I rest on, personally as an alum, during the process, our admissions people have been pretty much on. They have done a great job as evidenced by our graduation rate. They seem to pick the right people to go to school here. Sometimes it does hurt. It's not just football. It's in every single sport. But it's our job to bring the highest number of qualified candidates we can find and our admissions people will pick the ones they believe are ready for school here and those are the guys that we play with.

Q: Only two players from California. Does that matter? (Writer's note: Interview with Shaw was conducted about 30 minutes prior to Aziz Shittu of Atwater, Calif. announcing his commitment, giving Stanford three players from California).

A: Not at all. We just can't be bound to a region, even if it is close to home. We've had some years with four guys, others where it's two or three. We have to look at the United States and say 'that's our region.' Wherever we can find guys, that's where we have to go. It wasn't just a down year for us regionally out West, but it was an up year where it's usually a tough spot. Across the nation, there were a lot of guys that were great football players with high academic accomplishments and those are the guys that we go after.

Q: Conner Crane looks like Coby Fleener's little brother. Any chance you put 60 pounds on him and turn him into a tight end?

A: (Laughing) He's got more of a thin frame than Coby did. Coby had a lot of room to gain the weight and put the meat on. Conner is a little thinner so I don't anticipate him making the switch to tight end. I know he's a tall, fast receiver that plays against the highest level of competition in Texas and averages over 17, 18-yards a catch for his career. I can't wait to get him in a Stanford uniform.

Q: Going to put you on the spot. Who do you think of this class can make an immediate impact next season?

A: There are going to be multiple guys. It's hard to say. We have some open spots on the offensive line. We have guys here that can compete and we're bringing in guys that are going to compete. We've got some receivers coming in that have some unique abilities. I think Conner, Dontonio Jordan, Kodi Whitfield, Michael Rector. I think those four guys as a class are probably the most underrated group of receivers in the nation. Conner Crane has the speed and downfield ability. Michael Rector is at 6-1, 6-2 and can run every route in the book and change direction. Dontonio Jordan is outstanding in the punt return game and in the slot. Kodi Whitfield is a big, physical receiver. A lot of people came in late and tried to get him to switch because they saw what he could do.

Huskies land Tosh Lupoi

January, 16, 2012
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"Boom!" went Pac-12 recruiting.

Tosh Lupoi, the best recruiter in the Pac-12 and one of the best in the nation, is leaving California for Washington, where he has been named defensive line coach and defensive run game coordinator.

Washington recruiting has been sagging of late, while Cal has been surging. That could change almost immediately. (See this immediate reaction from a Bears recruiting site.) Lupoi, the youngest full-time coach in Cal history when he joined the staff at the age of 26 in 2008, spent the past four years as the Bears' defensive line coach.

Here's the official release from Washington.

“Coach Lupoi is a terrific young coach and a dynamic recruiter,” Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said in the release. “He will have an immediate impact with our team both on the field and in recruiting.”

Immediately, a couple of A-list recruits tweeted about Lupoi's move, including safety Shaq Thompson, who is committed to Cal, and defensive lineman Aziz Shittu, who has yet to commit.

On a day when it appears the Huskies lost offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to Alabama, Sarkisian's staff appears to have taken another step forward, particularly when you include the hiring of Justin Wilcox away from Tennessee as defensive coordinator.

Links: Breaking down Aziz Shittu

October, 19, 2011
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A few news and notes from We Are SC:

Kyle Williams writes : Williams got a chance to see Atwater (Calif.) Buhach Colony defensive tackle Aziz Shittu this summer at USC's Nike camp. He was impressed.

Garry Paskwietz writes: This week's roundtable goes down memory lane, looking at the best victories for USC over Notre Dame.

Garry Paskwietz writes: After playing for USC against Notre Dame, Kennedy Polamalu, Joe Barry and Sammy Knight return to the rivalry as assistant coaches.

Stanford lands A-list D-lineman

May, 2, 2011
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Stanford has landed a big-time commitment on its defensive line.

ESPNU 150 Watch List defensive tackle Aziz Shittu of Buhach HS (Atwater, Calif.), one of the top players on the West Coast, has become the Cardinal's third commitment for the 2012 class.

Shittu (6-foot-2, 275 pounds) picked Stanford over an array of other suitors, including Arizona, Arizona State, California, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Northwestern, Oregon State, Tennessee, UCLA, Southern California, Washington and Washington State.

ESPN's Craig Haubert said of Shittu, "Stanford picked-up a verbal from one of the top defensive line prospects in the state of California. Aziz Shittu is a big man who can be tough against the run, but also can help rush the passer. He is capable of firing out low and knocking blockers back to help collapse the pocket, but the big man can also attack blockers as well and use his weapons to work past them to apply pressure. Shittu looks to give effort and can be a disruptive defender and is a nice in-state pick-up for the Cardinal."

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