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Stanford defense gears up to stop ‘well-oiled machine’ Iowa offense

Fifth-year senior defensive end Brennan Scarlett (center) has been going up against his brother, Cameron, in practice since the younger Scarlett has been tasked with emulating Iowa running back Jordan Canzeri in practices. (DON FERIA/isiphotos.com)

Iowa’s power-run-first, ask-questions-later offense may not be flashy or sexy, but it certainly couples with a stiff defense to get the job done — and it’s hard to argue with a 12-1 record and a runner-up finish in the tough, physical Big Ten conference.

Sound familiar? It’s almost reminiscent of the 2012 Stanford team that rode running back Stepfan Taylor and a talented and well-coached but “old-school” offense to a Rose Bowl berth (and eventual victory) as well.

That’s nothing new for the Rose Bowl — for the third time in four years, Stanford’s defenders will be facing an offense that reminds them a lot of their own offense, which means that this game is going to be decided in the trenches in a style of football that would bring tears to the eyes of some of these players’ grandfathers.

They know that Iowa wants to run the ball. Iowa knows that they know that. They’re just daring the Cardinal to stop them.

“They’re going to run the ball and stick to their guns,” said fifth-year senior defensive end Brennan Scarlett. “That’s what we’re prepared to defend. I’m sure anybody who’s watched them this season knows what’s coming.”

What they know will be coming involves an incredibly disciplined offensive line that minimizes mistakes, a powerful and speedy running back in the 5-foot-9, 192-pound Jordan Canzeri and a “deceptively athletic” quarterback in C.J. Beathard, who, much like Kevin Hogan, isn’t asked to do much but plays his role incredibly well.

“They’re probably one of the best-coached teams we’ve seen on film,” said senior defensive end Aziz Shittu. “Technique-wise, these guys are sound. Coming off the ball, they’re all together in unison, able to get on guys and move them — you see the line of scrimmage move all over film.”

Luckily for the Cardinal, this is really nothing new for them — even though they face a lot of spread and option offenses throughout the regular season in the varied landscape of the Pac-12, they face a similar pro-style attack during fall ball and spring practices, when their own base offense is what they’re going up against every day.

This gives them at least some baseline degree of familiarity for the scheme, which admittedly doesn’t translate perfectly to Iowa’s unique flavor of the offense but helps them identify their points of emphasis when preparing for such an offense.

“We look at this team as our offense, and we look at those little things during our fall camp to see, hey, this is what we’re good at, this is what we’re bad at,” said senior inside linebacker Blake Martinez. “And then mold it to Iowa, because obviously, Stanford and Iowa have different kinds of game styles.”

“It’s kind of like playing our offense in spring ball again,” added fifth-year senior cornerback Ronnie Harris. “I love that. I love getting in the box and messing with the big guys a little bit. It should be a fun time.”

Shittu pointed out that Iowa doesn’t present too many looks, but is good at mixing things up and running different kinds of plays out of the same formations, as opposed to against spread teams, where the formations will sometimes tip the defensive linemen off as to where a run might be going.

In addition, the individual talent of Canzeri is hard to replicate on a practice field, although scout team running back Cameron Scarlett has been doing his very best Canzeri impression over the last week.

“[Cameron is] a great running back,” Martinez said. “He has that full package where you can kind of do the power and run it straight at you or he can run that spread offense game. It’s been great to see and he’s helped us out all season on those different looks.”

According to Shittu, the presence of his brother on the scout team has absolutely made the elder Scarlett hit and trash-talk harder during practices, and if Stanford’s defense has its way, that’ll carry through to the Rose Bowl, when it’s the real Canzeri taking handoffs for Iowa instead of Brennan’s younger brother on the other side.

Cameron or not, the entire Stanford defensive line is excited to play up to what Shittu believes is its true potential for a second consecutive game after a strong showing against USC in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

“I think we’re capable of playing like that week in and week out,” Shittu said. “I don’t want to speak to USC’s preparation, but we came out ready to go and that’s what happened.”

Regardless of what Iowa specifically plans to do on Friday, stopping the Hawkeyes is going to be predicated on stopping the run — and given how this Stanford front seven loves physicality and doesn’t shy away from contact, they’re ready to get their hands dirty and have some fun with it.

“It’s definitely something I look forward to,” Shittu said. “It’s going to come up and be smashmouth football. The game’s scheduled for three and a half hours but it’s probably going to end in three the way both teams are going to run the ball. I think the first team to stop the run is really going to be the team that comes out with this one.”

“It’s crazy to see how well-oiled of a machine they are,” Martinez said. “It’s good to go against them and see how we can destroy that.”

 

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

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