Monday, October 17, 2011
Stanford defense always on alert
By Kevin Gemmell
PULLMAN, Wash. -- It happened ... again. And the defense responded ... again.
That's three straight games where the Stanford defense had to make a play -- or a few -- in the opening minutes of a football game.
Against UCLA, it was a four-down, goal-line stand that netted zero points for the Bruins despite a first-and-goal from the Stanford 4-yard line on the UCLA opening possession.
Against Colorado, it was a fumble on the opening kickoff that put the defense in their own territory. A blocked field goal returned for a touchdown by Max Bergen swayed the momentum back in Stanford's favor.
And again against Washington State, Andrew Luck was intercepted on his first pass of the game. The defense tallied two of their six sacks on that first possession and forced a five-and-out.
"Wherever they get the ball, it's our job to stop it," said co-defensive coordinator Jason Tarver. "We don't care where they get the ball, that's what we do. Our job is to keep them from scoring points and get the ball back in the hands of Andrew. That's it. That's what we do."
It was an unusual first 30 minutes from the Stanford offense, which unsuccessfully shied away from its tight ends in lieu of getting the wide receivers more involved in the offense. And there was a rare fumble from running back Stepfan Taylor -- his first in 219 carries.
"I was surprised to see our offense turn the ball over, but not fazed," said defensive lineman Ben Gardner, who forced a fumble, broke up a pass and had three tackles, including one for a loss. "We remained confident the whole game. We know how hard it is to stop our offense and we know how they wear on your through four quarters. Our offensive line is big and physical. As a D-lineman taking on those double teams, by the third and fourth quarter, you're not having too much fun out there. We remained confident in our offense and we know if we get them the ball, they're going to put points on the board."
And that's exactly what happened. Washington State did score off Taylor's fumble in the second quarter, but they were blanked the rest of the way. The defense held Washington State to 48 yards rushing and limiting WSU quarterback Jeff Tuel to just 145 yards in the air.
Meanwhile, the offense exploded in the second half behind four touchdown passes from Luck and a big second half from tight ends Levine Toilolo, Coby Fleener and Zach Ertz. Even if it hadn't, Stanford's minute-man defense said they would have been up to the challenge.
"We're always ready," said cornerback Johnson Bademosi, who had five tackles and forced a pair of fumbles. "Whether the ball is on our side of the half or their side of the half. It's an opportunity for greatness. We can be backed up on our 1-yard line. Whatever. We have to show up. But we knew our offense would get going and they did."