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September 25, 2013

Farm Report: Week Four

Stanford's fall term began on Monday, and with it, Cardinal's players took on the added responsibility of a full course load.

"Schedules won't be finalized honestly until some point next week, but this is the week where we try to accommodate the guys as much as possible," Stanord coach David Shaw said. "My thing is when you're in school you're in school, when you're in football you're at football. So use your time wisely, but when it's football time there's nothing else that exists in the world. You're playing football."

Still, there are some academic obligations that will come before football. For instance, redshirt junior offensive tackle Cameron Fleming is an Aeronautics and Astronomics major who has a regularly scheduled afternoon lab that will force him to miss parts of practice.

"We adjust," Shaw said.

"We never make them choose between football and school. We do both"

And then there's the case of fifth-year senior Ben Gardner, who's already completed his degree requirements, and won't have to stress in the classroom this term.

"I'm one of the few guys, if not the only guy, who has already finished all my requirements," Gardner said. "It's going to be a pretty easy quarter for me. I just need to have enough units to be considered a student-athlete. I'm here to help any guys that need any advice on what classes to take, what different professors are like. The younger guys are excited. It's always a fun time when people start to show up on campus again and when the campus starts to come to life."

Yankey out due to family issue: Starting offensive lineman David Yankey will miss the Washington State game due to a family issue, David Shaw said after practice on Tuesday. Yankey will be away from the team this week attending to the matter.

"(David has) a family situation that he's got to go take care of," Shaw said. "He's in our thoughts and prayers. He's OK. He's with his family. He'll be with his family this week. We hope to get him back soon... We'll rally around him in spirit but we're going to go back, go out and try to win a game without him."

Sophomore offensive guard, Josh Garnett, who graduated from Puyallup High School (about 30 miles outside of Seattle) will make his first career start at left guard in Yankey's place.

Garnett expects to have a large contingency of family and friends at the game. Some have already started ribbing him about the game.

"I'm already getting everyone sending me pictures of their tickets saying, 'Get ready to lose,'" Garnett said. "It's pretty funny. It should be fun."

Injury updates: The condition of senior fullback Ryan Hewitt, who suffered a knee bruise last month, continues to improve.

"He'll probably get some more (reps) this game," Shaw said. "He came out of the game (against Arizona State) feeling pretty well. He felt well last night. We didn't practice him last night, but he felt good. He's getting back to full speed."

Hewitt took another positive step in practice on Tuesday afternoon.

"Hewitt looked great," Shaw said. "Hewitt looked normal."

Sophomore linebacker Blake Martinez is still wearing a knee brace on his injured knee, but is moving better and could return within two or three weeks.

"He's running now and he's on the couple weeks watch," Shaw said. "Two weeks from now would be great. I don't know if that's possible. Three weeks from now we may have a shot."

Senior cornerback Barry Browning, who was injured late in the fourth quarter against Army, practiced in a non-contact jersey on Tuesday afternoon. His status for Washington State has yet to be determined.

"If he goes no contact the rest of the week then it might be hard for me to play him," Shaw said. "But it looks like he'll be completely cleared to go next week. We'll see what he's able to do tomorrow. But I'd still keep him as a 50/50 but leaning towards maybe not going."

With Ed Reynolds out for the first half due to suspension, Stanford's secondary depth will face a major test if Browning is unable to play. Senior Devon Carrington will start at safety, but will likely rotate at cornerback again once Reynolds returns.

"The best thing is Devon Carrington has played everywhere," Shaw said. "It's a natural fit for him. He went into safety when Ed was ejected and did a great job. He'll cover us there. Barry would be great to have so at least we get our three-man rotation at corner, which is what we've been doing a good job of, and then in the second half we can get Ed back and have Devon still be able to rotate in at safety and rotate in at corner. So Barry's a key to helping us still have a rotation to keep guys fresh against a team that's going to throw the ball a lot."

Shaw added that he felt the punishment for Reynolds' targeting penalty was "just," and that he hadn't seen Reynolds make a similar play in high school or during his time with Stanford.

Coping with Anderson's absence: Stanford's defensive line has had to adjust to the absence of fifth-year senior defensive end Henry Anderson, who injured his knee in the Army game. Anderson is expected to miss somewhere in the neighborhood of five more weeks.

The Cardinal front operates differently without him.

"It's a little bit different," Ben Gardner said. "We obviously miss Henry. It puts a little bit more pressure on Josh (Mauro), myself and (David) Parry to carry the load a little bit more. But that's what we prepared for throughout the offseason conditioning program, situations like this. We tried to prepare our bodies to go the long haul and play 80 snaps a game if need to. We've got three guys still healthy that have played a ton of football for us and are very experienced players. There's no better way for the younger guys to get acclimated to the college game than trial by fire, being able to go in there and play and see what you can do. That's how I started out as a player and I think that's the best way to do it."

Sophomore Aziz Shittu has emerged as Stanford's fourth defensive lineman in Anderson's absence. He received significant playing time throughout the Arizona State game last weekend.

"He's the next guy in line and he's got to play meaningful reps for us," Gardner said. "He's a guy that's shown everything we need him to show in practice in spurts. He's got good versatility. He can play the different spots. He played well against ASU and was in on a couple tackles. I think he's just going to keep on getting better with the more reps he gets and I think if he keeps playing well he'll get more reps."

Two more second-year linemen - Ikenna Nwafor and Nate Lohn - have also risen up the defensive line depth chart.

"After (Aziz) it's probably Ikenna and Nate Lohn," Gardner said. "They're probably a little bit behind Aziz but just like him they'll get better with game reps. That's really the only way to adjust to the speed of college football. You have to get in the game and you have to go because it's so much different than practice. We're looking forward to hopefully those guys improving so they can take a little bit of the reps off the three guys who will be playing the bulk of them."

Though he's yet to see meaningful game action, Nwafor might be the most physically gifted of the bunch.

"He's massive, first of all," Gardner said. "And he can really move. We were running the 40 and he was one of the fastest three defensive linemen that we've got. He can really get out and go when he wants to. The difficult thing for him is he's so tall that it's tough for him to stay bent and keep his feet moving. When he learns how to do that really the sky is the limit for him as a player. We've never really had a guy with his raw athleticism and size come through here."

Sizing up Washington State: Through four games, one thing is apparent about the 2013 Washington State Cougars: They're not the conference doormat they were under Paul Wulff. Washington State is 3-1, including a victory over USC and a closely contested defeat at Auburn.

The Cougars' success has been fueled by a defense ranked No. 13 in the nation in points allowed.

"The one thing no one talks about ever when you're talking about Mike Leach is defense, and defensively they're playing really well," Shaw said. "They're playing really hard, they're playing extremely sound defense. You don't see a lot of big runs and passes. You see guys where they're supposed to be that are making tackles. They have athletes. They have guys that can run and guys that are impressive. So that's one huge factor I think in how well they're playing."

Stanford got a taste for Washington State's defensive potency when the teams played last season. In a 24-17 Cardinal win, the Cougars limited Stanford to an average of 3.2 yards per carry on the ground.

"They played (the run) extremely well," Shaw said. "Their safeties are very active, very physical. We did not move them as much as we had hoped, so it was tough sledding. That's not going to of course ever talk us out of running the ball, it just let us know that we need to do a better job of it."

Washington State isn't lacking on offense, either. The Cougars average more than 30 points per game and rank 16th in the nation in passing yards per contest.

"You see the offense, it's clicking," Shaw said. "You see guys with a great understanding, and not that it didn't happen last year. You see them moving the ball. One thing I remember about Texas Tech was those balls were thrown in to tight windows. Guys didn't have to be wide open because of the repetition, because of how often they did it and how much confidence they have in each other. The ball gets fit in (tight windows) and the guy catches the ball and turns it up and next thing you know it's a 15-yard gain. You're starting to see those plays."

Stanford expects a heavy dose of the Cougars' aerial attack on Saturday.

"They're going to spread us out," Ben Gardner said. "They're going to throw it 60 times, probably. They're going to try to get the ball out quickly. We were able to get 10 sacks last year but they've only given up seven sacks all season this year. I think some of the teams that have played them this season so far have used some of the pressures that we used on them last year and they've seen them and adjusted to them. We're going to have to show some new looks to them. It might be a little bit frustrating because he's going to be getting the ball out quickly. But we have to keep coming and make tackles on their playmakers in space and then when we get the chance to hit the quarterback we have to hit him and put him down."

The crowd could also play a factor on Saturday. Instead of playing at Washington State's campus in Pullman, the teams will meet at the notoriously loud Century Link Field in Seattle, the stadium in which the Cardinal suffered one of its two defeats a year ago.

"I don't know what the attendance was for the UW game blast year but that was not a full stadium, but it was loud," Shaw said. "I don't know how you do that with a half-full stadium, but (I'm) anticipating that there are going to be even more people most likely than there were to watch us play UW last year with all the people traveling from the Palouse and the Cougar alums that are in Seattle getting a chance to see (their team play)… We have to be cautious that the noise is a factor and prepare for it."

Stanford on Sunday: Stanford fans saw plenty of familiar faces in Sunday's 49ers/Colts game. They also saw a familiar play.

The Colts' final touchdown, a bootleg run by Andrew Luck, was the same play utilized by Kevin Hogan the previous day on the Cardinal's game-clinching field goal drive.

"It was pretty funny," Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan said. "Same play."

David Shaw had a chance to watch a significant portion of the game, which featured more than a dozen former Stanford players and coaches, on Sunday night.

"(I had) so many mixed emotions," Shaw said. "I learned just to watch those games and watch what happens and try not to really root for anybody. One of my best friends Is the WR coach of the Niners. I feel for him. You're going into battle with an arm and a leg tied behind your back without two of your top receivers and your top tight end.

"Everybody's talking about Kaepernick. It's not Kaepernick's fault… Everybody in the Bay Area needs to relax a little bit. The NFL season is a long season, and when the Niners are healthy they're as good as anybody playing football anywhere."

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