PALO ALTO, Calif. -- How important was Shayne Skov to the Stanford defense?
Consider: The linebacker didn’t play in the second half against Arizona and missed Saturday’s contest against UCLA while nursing a season-ending knee injury, and he’s still tied for the team lead in tackles. That’s how far ahead of the curve he was as a run-stopper.
But in his stead are Jarek Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley. The day after coach David Shaw announced Skov would miss the year, he proclaimed that Lancaster and Tarpley would rotate in at the starting spot. It was Lancaster who got the call against UCLA and, for the most part, he held his own.
They both took the ah-shucks approach when asked about their performance in Stanford’s 45-19 win over the Bruins. Yet both agreed that there is a lot of work still to be done.
“I thought they played well,” Shaw said. “I’ll watch the film and really evaluate it. Lancaster is slippery. He slides in there and makes some tackles. A.J. did a good job running over the top and making some plays as well.”
Lancaster made a standout play on UCLA’s opening drive. On second down at the Stanford 2-yard line, Lancaster stuffed UCLA running back Derrick Coleman. The Cardinal then made two more stops and held UCLA at their own 1. It was a major confidence boost for a team that said it was ready to move on without Skov, but had yet to prove it on the field.
The offense fed off of that and marched 99 yards for a touchdown.
“I’m proud of those guys,” said safety Michael Thomas. “They went out there on a big stage when the light was on them. They did their job. They played a hell of a game. But I think they have a lot to improve on, like the rest of the team.”
Lancaster finished with seven tackles -- five of them solo -- and a quarterback hit. Tarpley added three, and continued to look impressive on special teams.
From a depth and stability standpoint, the two looked more than ready to step in. UCLA was the best rushing team Stanford had faced this year -- and will likely face again until the big showdown with Oregon on Nov. 12.
Where it’ll need to improve is pass coverage. On UCLA’s 13-yard touchdown to tight end Joseph Fauria, Lancaster had the responsibility of following Fauria when he released off the line. He was about a step behind and couldn’t make the tackle.
That was a very teachable moment for Shaw. Lancaster is plenty quick, but his reaction and recognition will have to get quicker. That will come with more reps and game experience.
Skov will be missed. But if Lancaster and Tarpley continue to improve, his absence will be less visible.