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Practice notes: Defense prepares for Cougar air assault

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Stanford’s practice on Wednesday night ended with the temperature under 60 degrees, and most coaches were wearing jackets or sweatshirts. On Saturday against Washington State in Pullman, the temperature will be about half that, as the high is forecasted to be 36 degrees with some snow possible. Cardinal coaches and players addressed the added degree of difficulty and what they must do to adjust to the weather after practice.

“It’s not pleasant. It’s really something you just have to put in the back of your mind and really not think about it much,” junior cornerback Quenton Meeks said. “We just have to go out there and handle our business and not let the weather be an excuse.”

Head coach David Shaw was more optimistic about the tough forecast. “The good news is, it’s not gonna rain. Rain is harder than snow. If it’s cold and snowy, it’s not that bad because the ball doesn’t get slick.”

Stanford’s defense may well embrace the Pacific Northwest cold. Even in slightly chillier than normal conditions last week on the road against Oregon State, they performed admirably, holding the Beavers to 14 points and forcing two turnovers.

“I thought the kids played really hard and got a couple key takeaways,” Cardinal defensive coordinator Lance Anderson said about his unit’s performance last week.

The defense has been trending upward the last few weeks, holding its last three opponents to under three touchdowns. The defensive development has been a key element of Stanford’s current five game win streak.

“Each week we’ve gotten better at just doing our job,” Meeks said when asked about the improvement. “And if we do our jobs, plays are gonna come to us.”

Along with solid overall play, the defense has managed to collect quite a few turnovers over the course of the season. Stanford is ninth in the country with 12 interceptions on the season to go along with six fumble recoveries, two of which came against Oregon State. The first kept the Cardinal in the game, and the second set up the offense for the game-winning drive.

When asked about the turnover proficiency, Meeks gave a lot of the credit to defensive backs coach Duane Akina. “We have the best secondary coach in the nation. He coaches us to see the game fast. Once we see the plays, he tells us to just go make them.”

Meeks made a big play of a different type late in the game against Oregon State. With the Cardinal desperately needing a stop on third down, he took on his blocker and made an incredible tackle while falling down to stop the Beaver swing pass dead and get the Cardinal defense off the field.

“It was probably one of my favorite plays that I’ve ever made in my entire life playing football,” Meek said about his highlight tackle. “It was pretty fun.”

Stanford will need a lot of those “fun” plays to slow down the potent Washington State passing offense on Saturday. The Cougars passed for over 600 yards on an unbelievable 84 attempts last week against Arizona.

Both Shaw and Anderson asserted that one of the main keys to slowing down Washington State’s air raid attack is getting pressure on the quarterback.

“What we’ve seen in the past where we’ve had success [against Washington State] is we’ve got to get a little pressure on the quarterback,” Anderson said. “They’re good at what they do. We’ve got to get some pass rush.”

“You have to try and pressure the quarterback, but you have to do it smartly,” Shaw added.

Stanford’s secondary will face the Cougars without one of their top players. It was recently announced that senior starting cornerback Alijah Holder is out for the rest of the season with a leg injury.

“Alijah’s my brother. It was tough to see that on the field,” Meeks said about the injury. “Anytime you lose a leader like that, it’s gonna be tough. But we got great players coming into that role. Alameen Murphy’s gonna do a great job for us”

Anderson also expressed confidence in Murphy’s ability, saying, “He’s been solid all year long.”

David Shaw provided some better news on the injury front, saying that Bryce Love did take part in practice Wednesday. “Bryce got a chance to participate a little bit. It was a good sign to see him run around a little bit in more of a football fashion.”

Shaw still could not confirm that Love will play on Saturday against Washington State. If he does, the Heisman candidate will get his first chance this season to play in front of a daytime national television audience. The game is at 12:30 p.m. and will be broadcasted by Fox.

 

Contact King Jemison at kingj ‘at’ stanford.edu.