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November 14, 2013

Notebook: Ground game paves the way

Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren has been working in football for the last 15 years, at multiple levels of college and in the NFL. But he's never been part of a game in which a team converted 14 times on third downs and was as efficient in short yardage situations as Stanford was in its 26-20 victory over Oregon last Thursday.

"Absolutely not," Bloomgren said. "I love it that we were able to do it. I love that we did well enough on first and second down to put ourselves in those situations. But no, I've never been a part of 14 conversions (and) the success we had in short yardage."

The inordinate amount of short yardage situations paved the way for some of Stanford's offensive linemen who aren't members of the starting five - Kyle Murphy and Josh Garnett, among others - to play major roles.

"What a great effort by everybody, and even guys that just stepped in in small roles in that short yardage and goalline stuff," Bloomgren said. "It's not like they just had small roles in the game. Kyle Murphy played 60-something snaps and Josh Garnett played 40-something snaps. Those aren't small roles. Those are big deals."

Stanford's run game was the beneficiary. Tyler Gaffney gained 157 yards on a career-high 45 carries, and the Cardinal amassed 274 total yards on the ground. Quarterback Kevin Hogan was a significant part of Stanford's ground attack as well, running for a career-high 57 yards.

"It's always something we've talked about," Bloomgren said. "It's been one of Kevin's best traits as a quarterback, his ability to steal us two or three third downs a game with his feet... He's always been great at taking those things and moving the chains. It was great to see him get back to that mindset. It's certainly not like it's a run-first thing and it's not any kind of mandate from us, but it was great to see him take advantage of what was there."

Sizing up USC: USC's defense has struggled against the pass at times this year, but the Trojans are among the conference's top teams against the run. USC allows only 3.6 yards per carry, and only two opposing running backs have surpassed the 100-yard mark against the Trojans this season.

"I think they have an exceptional defensive line," Bloomgren said. "When you look at No. 90, George Uko and No. 94, (Leonard Williams), I think those guys are great. No. 99 (Antwuan Woods) for them will remind Stanford fans of Terrence Stephens, a very active guy in there. He's about 6-foot, so he's a little undersized, 310 pounds. And those guys are so freaking active and they're so different than what we've been playing. We've been playing these two-gappers lately and we've been doing pretty well with it. It's hard to deal with those two-gappers, but these guys are more like what you would think of as a normal college football defensive line in the fact that they're up the field guys. They're going to jump off the football, explode out of their stance and try to create a new line of scrimmage. We have to prepare for that and that's a great challenge for us this week."

While USC's defensive personnel is similar to what it was a year ago, new Trojan defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergrast, who replaced Monte Kiffin in the offseason, has changed things up.

"They're definitely doing some things schematically different," Bloomgren said. "Last year when Monte was there they were more of a college 4-3 and they were always going to have an eight-man front, somehow get that safety in the box to be a factor in the run game. It was often TJ McDonald. TJ was down there a lot. Last year you had Dion Bailey playing down in the box as a 'Will' linebacker. Now he's playing safety and playing nickel. So he's playing a completely different position than maybe he's used to, but I think in high school he played safety so I don't think it's too new to him. He's doing a great job when they ask him to come down and be a party of the box. So there are a lot of similarities, but structurally it's different. For our fans, they're going to recognize it more as how Cal plays obviously because Clancy's there. So it looks a lot like Cal in terms of the spacing in the front and how they're trying to attack."

Countering Jumbo: Earlier this week, Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said that the Ducks considered implementing a jumbo defensive line package to combat Stanford's oversized offensive looks, before ultimately deciding against it.

Oregon wouldn't have been the first team to attack Stanford's offensive line packages in that manner. Bloomgren said that a few teams have trotted out Jumbo defensive packages to match up with Stanford, but that it hasn't been a widespread practice.

"They run out of bigger personnel that they trust before we do," Bloomgren said. "We just keep rolling big guys at them that find a way to get their job done."

The magic touch: Aside from a three-week stint at Texas A&M, Bloomgren has worked for three major college programs during his coaching career: Alabama, Florida State and Stanford. Those programs were ranked No. 1, No. 2 and No. 4, respectively, in the latest BCS standings.

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