Stanford Football: Doak Walker

Pac-12 players to watch during the bowls

December, 19, 2013
12/19/13
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The Pac-12 plays nine bowl games and every game is important, but here are five players upon whom the spotlight will shine just a bit brighter this bowl season.

USC DT Leonard Williams

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl vs. Fresno State on Dec. 21

The skinny: Williams, an ESPN.com first-team All-American as a true sophomore, will lead the Trojans defense against QB Derek Carr and a high-flying Fresno State offense that wants to prove it can score on anyone. The Bulldogs ranked No. 1 in the nation in passing yards and No. 5 in scoring, but it's perhaps most impressive they've yielded just 11 sacks, which is ninth-fewest in the nation. Williams will head into the 2014 season as a preseason All-American no matter what. But he can show folks why and make a resounding statement for himself if he can get to or at least consistently harass Carr in the pocket.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesA healthy Marcus Mariota would boost Oregons chances against Texas.
Oregon QB Marcus Mariota

Valero Alamo Bowl vs. Texas on Dec. 30

The skinny: This is pretty simple: Will Mariota be 100 percent against the Longhorns? If so, will he return to his midseason form, when he was the nation's best player and the leading Heisman Trophy candidate? That means using his legs to stress the Longhorns, both with designed running plays in the read option and scrambling on passing plays. If Mariota is back to his old self, he will put himself firmly in the 2014 Heisman race. And the Ducks should roll.

Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey

AdvoCare V100 Bowl vs. Boston College on Dec. 31

The skinny: Another simple one: Carey, the nation's No. 2 rusher, versus Andre Williams, the nation's No. 1 rusher and winner of a Doak Walker Award that should have gone to Carey if the award were truly about the nation's best running back (hush, Washington fans). Both offenses rely heavily on their workhorse running backs. Both teams have middling run defenses. The guy who leads the winning effort is probably going to be the guy with the best rushing numbers.

UCLA offensive line

Hyundai Sun Bowl vs. Virginia Tech on Dec. 31

The skinny: The Hokies are almost always good on defense because coordinator Bud Foster is one of the nation's best defensive minds. This year's unit is A-list, giving up just 17.4 points per game, which ranks eighth in the nation. The Hokies are fourth in the nation in total defense, yielding a meager 4.34 yards per play, and eighth in run defense. The Hokies also have 37 sacks, which ranks fifth in the nation. The Bruins' young offensive line -- three freshmen starters! -- yielded 34 sacks, which ranked 107th in the nation. This will be a tough matchup for UCLA.

Stanford QB Kevin Hogan

Rose Bowl Game Presented by VIZIO vs. Michigan State on Jan. 1.

The skinny: Hogan has been hot and cold this season but mostly solid. He played well in the Pac-12 championship game victory at Arizona State but threw two interceptions in November games against USC and Notre Dame. The Spartans might offer up the best defense he's seen all year, perhaps the nation's best overall unit, in fact. Most notable: Michigan State owns the nation's best run defense, yielding 80.8 yards per game and 2.7 yards per rush. While the Cardinal probably will challenge the Spartans with perhaps the nation's best offensive line and RB Tyler Gaffney, it's difficult to believe the going will be easy. Hogan will need to turn in an efficient, mistake-free performance in what might be a very low-scoring game. The Spartans also rank second in the nation in pass efficiency defense.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
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Taking stock of the final week of the regular season in the Pac-12:

Team of the week: UCLA was coming off a tough loss to Arizona State, while Ed Orgeron and USC were the toast of the City of Angels after a 6-1 run, post-Lane Kiffin. But the Bruins went into the Coliseum and delivered a decisive smackdown to the Trojans, 35-14. The 21-point margin of victory was the Bruins' largest in the rivalry game since 1970. The Bruins own the momentum with a second consecutive win in the battle for L.A.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUCLA quarterback Brett Hundley was flawless against the Trojans, throwing for 208 yards and rushing for 80 more.
Best game: The Civil War was tension-packed to the very end, with Oregon prevailing 36-35, scoring the winning touchdown on a 12-yard pass from Marcus Mariota to Josh Huff with 29 seconds remaining.

Biggest play: While Huff's last TD reception provided the winning margin, perhaps even bigger was his 12-yard TD reception on a fourth-and-11 play that gave the Ducks a 30-29 lead with eight minutes left. That sort of aggressive fourth-down play calling hasn't always paid off this year for the Ducks, but in this big instance, it did.

Offensive standout: Washington RB Bishop Sankey rushed for 200 yards and a TD on 34 carries in the Huskies' 27-17 win over Washington State in the Apple Cup, gaining 139 yards in the second half, when Washington took over the game. He lost just 2 total yards, and he also caught a 40-yard pass. Sankey finished the regular season with 1,775 yards rushing, which broke the school's single-season record held by Corey Dillon (set in 1996).

Offensive standout II: Huff caught nine passes for a season-high 186 yards -- 20.7 yards per catch -- and three touchdowns in the Ducks' nailbiting win over Oregon State. As previously noted, Huff's last two touchdowns were clutch fourth-quarter grabs that won the game for Oregon.

Defensive standout: Stanford CB Wayne Lyons had two interceptions to go along with his three tackles in the Cardinal's 27-20 win over Notre Dame.

Defensive standout II: Washington DE Hau'oli Kikaha had a team-high 11 tackles, with 2.5 going for a loss, and two sacks in the Apple Cup.

Special teams standout: Washington kicker Travis Coons, one of the goats of the 2012 Apple Cup, was 2-for-2 on field goals against Washington State with a career-long 48-yarder. Also, three of his six punts were killed inside the Cougars' 20-yard line.

[+] EnlargeTerron Ward
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesTailback Terron Ward, who rushed for 145 yards, and the Beavers couldn't pull off the upset vs. Oregon.
Special teams standout II: UCLA CB Ishmael Adams had kick returns of 37, 47 and 46 yards against USC, the last of which set up a third-quarter touchdown drive that killed USC momentum after the Trojans had closed within seven points. He also had six tackles on defense.

Smiley face: Stanford and Arizona State both took care of business with cold-blooded dominance, which means the Pac-12 championship game features two highly ranked teams for the first time.

Frowny face: With BCS chaos taking over this weekend, Oregon and Stanford surely are asking, "What might have been?" Both started the season with national title aspirations and often looked like teams that could finish No. 1. But in a year when the Pac-12 was as deep as it's ever been, neither could bring its A game nine times this season. Or even eight. And guess what? It's Arizona State which is favored to take home the top prize in the conference and play in the Rose Bowl.

Thought of the week: Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey should be invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony and he should win the Doak Walker Award over Boston College's Andre Williams, even though Williams leads the nation in rushing. For one, we know that leading the nation in rushing doesn't earn you the Doak Walker Award automatically because it didn't happen last year when Carey led the nation. The short argument is Carey is a better running back than Williams, who is very good but not nearly the NFL prospect Carey is. But let's face it: Williams has stuffed the ballot box and has been stuffed by good defenses (though he did distinguish himself against Florida State and Virginia Tech). He had 263 yards against Army, 295 yards against New Mexico State, 339 yards against NC State and 263 yards against Maryland. Both Boston College and Arizona played USC, and Carey had 138 yards against the Trojans, while Williams had 38 yards. Williams had 70 yards against Clemson. Carey, meanwhile, has eclipsed 100 yards in 15 straight games, the longest such streak in a decade. Further, he has faced four Top 25 opponents in 2013 and averaged 161.0 yards per game with at least one touchdown in each game. Carey's 200-yard games? They came against Utah, owner of the nation's No. 22 run defense, and Oregon. If the Doak Walker is about who is the best running back in the nation, there's no question here: It's Carey.

Questions for the week: Is the Sleeping Giant finally -- finally! -- awakening? If Arizona State wins the Pac-12 championship on Saturday and advances to its first Rose Bowl since the 1996 season, it's reasonable to begin wondering whether coach Todd Graham has taken one of college football writers' long-term speculative storylines -- why isn't Arizona State a national power? -- into the realm of reality.
Toby Gerhart preceded him at Stanford. Then came Oregon's LaMichael James, casting a big shadow for two seasons. While 2012 seemed like it set up well for Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor to finally see his name on the college football marquee, he's nonetheless looking up at Oregon's Kenjon Barner, Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey and UCLA's Johnathan Franklin in the pecking order of Pac-12 running backs.

Taylor has practically become famous, in fact, for being overlooked and underrated. It's a perception that is frequently noted just before a coach or player praises Taylor for his all-around skills as well as his character.

"For some reason, I don't know why, I think he is extremely underrated," said Oregon coach Chip Kelly, whose Ducks play host to Taylor and Stanford on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeStepfan Taylor
Ed Szczepanski/US PresswireStepfan Taylor needs just 203 more yards to become Stanford's all-time leading rusher.
Said Stanford coach David Shaw, "He epitomizes what we are all about."

Taylor, a Doak Walker Award semifinalist, is hardly anonymous. You don't become the first player in Stanford history to record back-to-back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons and be known only as What's His Name.

He is 169 rushing yards from reaching 4,000 in his career and 203 yards from breaking the school's career rushing record held by Darrin Nelson. Taylor’s 36 career rushing touchdowns are third all-time on The Farm. He needs one more to tie "Touchdown" Tommy Vardell for second.

Taylor presently ranks 22nd in the nation and fourth in the Pac-12 with 106.1 yards per game. He's also the Cardinal's second leading receiver with 28 catches for 184 yards and two scores. Last week in the win over Oregon State, Taylor fumbled for the first time in nearly a calendar year, snapping a streak of 261 consecutive rushes without a fumble dating back to Nov. 26, 2011.

Oh, and he can block, too.

"He's the best pass-blocking running back in our conference, and it's not even close," Shaw said.

You put this all together, and the most popular conclusion is that Taylor's payoff will be in the NFL, where his toughness, ability to run between the tackles and diversity of skills will be more fully appreciated.

"Oh, gosh, I think he's a really, really good player. I really like him," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "I think he's an NFL back. He's powerful, he's quick, he's smart, he's durable. He just keeps pounding at you. Of course, that's kind of Stanford's mentality, and he fits into it really well."

Riley knows firsthand. The Beavers own one of the nation's toughest run defenses, but Taylor gashed it for 114 yards on 19 carries in a 27-23 victory last weekend. However, it was a screen pass at the end of the third quarter that earned Taylor the most kudos. He took the short dump pass 40 yards for a critical touchdown that started the Stanford comeback, and just about every Oregon State defender had a shot at him but couldn't get Taylor down, most notably safety Anthony Watkins, whom Taylor dispatched with a brutal stiff-arm at the 12-yard line.

As for Taylor being underrated and underappreciated, the person who seems to care least about that is Taylor.

"I don't really think about that," he said. "I feel like people who watch football recognize what I do. I just go out there and play my game, control what I can control. That's the main thing. And try to get the win. That's my main focus."

Said Shaw, "He's the last person who wants to talk about himself."

Taylor might have to talk about himself if the Cardinal upset the No. 2 Ducks. By just about every estimation, Taylor will have to come up big for Stanford to have a chance. Stanford must run well and possess the football against a beaten-up Oregon defense, thereby keeping the Ducks' explosive offense on the sidelines.

Oregon pounded the Cardinal the previous two years, both times handing Stanford its only regular-season loss. While Taylor said, "It's the next game on our schedule; it just happens to be Oregon," he also admitted veteran Stanford players might have something of a "chip on our shoulder" when it comes to the Ducks.

And Taylor might be ready for his national close-up.

If he were to put up big numbers in a win over Oregon on Saturday, here's a guess that he'd become suddenly popular among fans of many college football teams, including Notre Dame, Kansas State and Alabama.

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