By Joseph Beyda
No. 5 Stanford is looking forward to the short break it gets to take from football over the next week and a half as the players take their finals and the coaches go out on the road to recruit.
“I think it’s great for us just because we play such a physical brand of football,” said head coach David Shaw in a Sunday press conference. “Tyler Gaffney actually gets to feel like a human being for the next 10 days or so. Ty Montgomery has covered more ground than just about anybody in the country every single game between kickoff returns and receiving and running reverses. He actually gets a little bit of a break.”
One of the players who will benefit the most from the time off is senior inside linebacker A.J. Tarpley, who was taken out of the Pac-12 Championship Game after he sustained a concussion in a collision with senior free safety Ed Reynolds. Reynolds was also evaluated after the play but was cleared to return.
Shaw said that after the break, the Cardinal will focus internally for a while before it begins to prepare specifically for its Rose Bowl opponent, No. 4 Michigan State. He noted that those practices will help younger players in particular.
Meanwhile, for Stanford’s fifth-year seniors, bowl season will serve as a culmination of some the most successful careers in Cardinal history. The former class of 2009 recruits have seen the Cardinal go a combined 54-12 since their arrival and are key members of the first-ever Stanford team to reach five consecutive bowl games.
“I don’t think that any of us were aware of the degree of success that we would have ultimately,” said fifth-year senior inside linebacker Shayne Skov. “But there was a confidence within the group of guys that we had… it was just a matter of getting the ball rolling, and we knew what this place could become if we were successful.”
“It’s a testament to those guys to come in and have their minds set on doing something that people said they couldn’t do,” Shaw added. “And every time a challenge came up, these guys didn’t back down from it. They ran straight at it. They locked arms, ran straight at it together.”
Another topic of discussion on Sunday was Skov’s third quarter hit on Arizona State backup quarterback Michael Eubank.
Defending a third-and-goal at the 1-yard line, Skov timed the snap count and leaped over the line just as Eubank received the ball, prompting a Cardinal stop and, later, a viral GIF. But Internet users weren’t the only ones impressed.
“I’ve never, ever been around a guy that’s been able to do that once, let alone four to five times,” said Shaw, the man with 19 years of coaching experience. “You can coach guys and tell guys what to do; when Shayne does that, that’s just all Shayne…he’s been able to guess right every single time he’s done that over the last four-plus years, and it’s uncanny. It really is.”
The skill first came to the forefront in a 2010 game at Notre Dame, when Skov charged through the Fighting Irish line and pummeled quarterback Dayne Crist. Although the South Bend crowd, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and even NBC’s broadcasters were shocked at the lack of an offside call, replay showed that Skov crossed the line of scrimmage at just the right moment.
Skov explained that he takes several things into account when timing the snap, such as the play clock, a quarterback’s body language and whether players have gone in motion. But he admitted that it’s a calculated risk, and that — contrary to Shaw’s praises — he doesn’t always guess right.
“[The] third down [against ASU], it’s what I call a relatively no risk, high reward, when the penalty’s, what, four inches closer to the goal line,” Skov said. “I just kind of felt that he was ready to take the snap, read his lips as the snap was coming, and went for it. Other than looking like an idiot for tackling a guy that doesn’t have the ball, I don’t think you have pretty much anything to lose.”
“It’s a hitting percentage thing,” he added. “If you’re hitting well, you keep getting the opportunities. As soon as you start missing, I’m not allowed to do it anymore.”
Contact Joseph Beyda at jbeyda ‘at’ stanford.edu.