Support independent, student-run journalism.

Your support helps give staff members from all backgrounds the opportunity to conduct meaningful reporting on important issues at Stanford. All contributions are tax-deductible.

Cardinal look to reduce penalties, find solutions for USC talent

By

David Shaw made no effort to hide his displeasure at some of the officiating calls on Saturday while on the sideline at the Stanford-UCF game, a 31-7 Cardinal victory. Three days later, it’s quite apparent that those hard feelings still haven’t subsided.

“A couple of [the penalties] were legitimate things we have to clean up,” Shaw said, leaving a telling pause after the word “legitimate.”

He chose his words particularly carefully regarding one of the penalties he was most displeased about, a personal foul called in the second half against sophomore defensive end Solomon Thomas, who was flagged for taunting after a sack of UCF quarterback Bo Schneider.

“I don’t think I’m unclear at all at what the rule says,” Shaw said.

Shaw was under the impression that taunting was an act directed towards other players or the opposing bench, and that Thomas’ celebration, which involved the sophomore briefly blowing a kiss at the crowd, did not meet that standard.

“We tell our guys to celebrate with each other. We do,” Shaw said. “That’s what we’ve done here, that’s what we’ll continue to do. We’ll continue to preach that. Our guys know that, our guys understand that.”

“There are things we could have done better in the two incidents we did have,” Shaw continued. “But at the same time, I watch a lot of college football, too. There’s a lot of stuff going on that’s not getting called that’s a lot more extravagant than what we’re getting called for.”

Even without the taunting, it was an ugly day for the Cardinal from a penalty standpoint, with Stanford being flagged 12 times for 137 yards, including several holding calls, a costly chop block and many pass interference penalties.

Although Stanford has traditionally played very clean football, particularly on the offensive line, where holding calls were once a true rarity, the newfound prevalence of penalties has proved costly for the offense through the last season-plus, with holding calls frequently bringing back big gains and putting the offense in insurmountable positions to kill momentum.

In fact, the eight times Stanford was penalized for 68 yards in last season’s matchup against USC were a big reason why Stanford saw so many of its promising offensive drives stall, resulting in the Cardinal only putting up 10 points despite gaining 413 yards of offense.

Shaw has certainly made cleaning up some of those penalties a priority leading into this week’s looming matchup with USC, although he wants the offensive linemen to still approach the game with the same mindset and not be too preoccupied with playing a clean game.

“There are some things we can clean up, technique-wise,” Shaw said. “Coach Bloomgren has addressed those with the guys. But we’re not going to play timid. We’re going to play aggressive and be physical. You’ll get a couple of penalties a game, and that’s fine.”

***

Stanford-USC has been one of the most hotly contested matchups in the conference in recent memory, with each of the last five matchups between the Cardinal and Trojans having been decided by one score.

The significance of the big matchup — possibly Stanford’s toughest draw of the season — against the No. 6 Trojans on the road certainly isn’t lost on the players even though they’re still trying to treat the Trojans as just another team on their schedule.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a rivalry, but it feels that way,” said fifth-year senior cornerback Ronnie Harris.

“It definitely means something,” added fifth-year senior quarterback Kevin Hogan. “It’s a big game for our program. I know all of our guys are ready to go. We’re excited to get out there and start working. It’s definitely a big game.”

For Hogan, who has lost to the Trojans in each of his two career starts against them — a 20-17 road loss in 2013 and a 13-10 home loss in 2014 — Saturday will represent his last chance to pull out a win against a team that Stanford last beat as a huge underdog in 2012.

In that 2012 game, Josh Nunes started under center for the No. 21 Cardinal, who stunned the then-No. 2 Trojans at home 21-14. Hogan, then a sophomore, sat on the bench that game as the third-string quarterback, though a few months later he would assume the starting quarterback spot and later lead the Cardinal to a Rose Bowl victory.

“The fans rushed the field — it’s one of those games you definitely remember and you want to try and recreate those as much as possible,” Hogan said. “That’s what we’re going to try and do.”

“First thing Monday, when they come in, they know we have a very good opponent and we know that we have very few people that think we have a chance to find a way to win,” Shaw said. “I try to guide that. Attitude doesn’t win football games. Preparation does.”

***

With Stanford recruiting more effectively than ever, USC is one of few teams in the conference that can match up talent-wise on both sides of the ball with the Cardinal. However, with the Trojans back to full strength scholarship-wise after the expiration of their NCAA sanctions, stud athletes like Adoree Jackson are going to look to make life very difficult for Stanford on Saturday.

“We’ve got some special athletes on our team, but [Jackson] is pretty rare,” Shaw said. “That guy’s pretty rare to do what he can do on both sides of the ball.”

Shaw compared Jackson’s potential to that of Charles Woodson, whom Shaw worked with during his time at the Oakland Raiders.

“It’s pretty scary to see where he’s going to be in a year… He’s only going to get better.”

That’s not to say that Jackson has a shabby team around him, either.

“They’re bigger up front on both lines this year,” Shaw said. “They feel bigger now on the defensive line and they’re playing really well and they’re healthy.”

Cody Kessler, USC’s third-year quarterback, has also risen to the tops of many NFL Draft boards over the last few seasons, particularly after breaking out with a monster 2014 season in which he passed for 3,826 yards with 39 touchdowns and just 5 interceptions.

Kessler has gotten off to a hot start this season as well: he’s completed 79 percent of his passes and notched 7 touchdown passes while not having thrown an interception yet.

Shaw says that the key to shutting down Kessler with a young secondary will be for his defensive backs to understand the scheme and where their help is. Shaw also wants his defenders to funnel into either the sideline or areas where their teammates will be waiting to help.

With a talented, well-rounded quarterback like Kessler, though, that’s likely much easier said than done.

***

Short Takes:

  • The jet sweep handoff that freshman running back Bryce Love took while cutting across the Wildcat formation on Saturday was not planned at all — that ball was supposed to go to Christian McCaffrey, as it did on all of the other “conventional” Wildcat plays in the game. The snap was mistimed and hit Love in the helmet, and instead of getting out of the way, he “just stole the ball,” according to Shaw.
  • Shaw is leaning towards splitting his punting duties between junior Alex Robinson, who will take most of the punts, and freshman Jake Bailey, who will specialize in “sky punts,” the shorter punts meant to pin opponents back deep in their own zone.
  • Johnny Caspers will likely be Stanford’s center in some short-yardage sets moving forward, and Shaw expects to use more combinations of offensive linemen in general throughout games. He specifically singled out David Bright as a lineman that could see increased action.
  • Senior kicker Conrad Ukropina earned a full scholarship after the UCF game. According to Shaw, that was consistent with his scholarship policy regarding walk-ons throughout his tenure as head coach at Stanford, which involves a player earning a scholarship once he becomes a starter or a key rotating contributor. “I wanted him to go take the job and keep the job, and he’s done that,” Shaw said.

Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dhpark ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Do-Hyoung Park '16, M.S. '17 is the Minnesota Twins beat reporter at MLB.com, having somehow ensured that his endless hours sunk into The Daily became a shockingly viable career. He was previously the Chief Operating Officer and Business Manager at The Stanford Daily for FY17-18. He also covered Stanford football and baseball for five seasons as a student and served two terms as sports editor and four terms on the copy desk. He was also a color commentator for KZSU 90.1 FM's football broadcast team for the 2015-16 Rose Bowl season.