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November 20, 2013

Farm Report: Big Game week

In the opening statement of his weekly press conference, Stanford coach David Shaw defended himself against criticism of his play calling in Stanford's 20-17 loss to USC. Shaw said that execution was to blame for the loss, not play calling.

"We did not deviate from our game plan," Shaw said. "We never have and we will not. Nobody complained when we threw the ball 25 times against UCLA and Washington State in victories. But I know how it is when you lose, everything's the head coach's fault and everything goes to play calling. Which doesn't make sense, but it's what some of you guys do and some of guys believe in. And that's fine. And some of you can say what you want, like 'It's all on Coach Shaw.' That's fine. That's my position. That's where I am. But to think the game goes down to red zone play calling when we've been close the top of the nation for years and been very good. We can't throw a slant on third down, so every incompletion or every interception turns into, 'We should just run the ball.' That makes no sense. So I'm comfortable with what we do. We've got to execute better.

"We can't get a field goal blocked and we can't throw an interception in the red zone. That's the difference in the game. It's not how many times we throw the ball and how many times we run the ball. You can't copy and paste one game plan to another. From what we did against Oregon to what we did against USC, (they have) completely different defenses. Completely different. And I want to give (USC defensive coordinator) Clancy Pendergrast some credit. He's very good. We were able to run the ball with some efficiency. Gaffney broke out a couple runs but really there was no hole. It was all Tyler Gaffney. And our guys did a decent job up front but we made some plays in the running game. But they had eight or nine guys in the box. So we're going to throw the ball. We have receivers that can make some plays. Did Ty Montgomery drop two balls? He did drop two balls. Besides that he played a hell of a game. It doesn't go up in the stat sheet but he blocked extremely well. Pratt came in and he made a couple nice catches. We've had guys that made some plays. So we're going to throw the ball and we're going to run the ball. It comes up every time we lose a game. We've lost six games in three years. Six games. And after every game we lose it's play calling, it's this, it's that. Say what you want. That's fine. We're not going to change.

"We've lost six games. We're not going to change. We're not going to lose confidence. We've won as many games in the last three years as anybody in the nation. We're going to keep doing what we do. I'm going to have confidence in my quarterback I'm going to have confidence in my receivers. We're going to go out and play."

Shaw also expressed confidence in the Wildcat play Stanford ran on 1st and Goal in the fourth quarter. Tyler Gaffney was tackled for a loss, and Kevin Hogan threw an interception two plays later.

"When it doesn't work, (people ask) why did you do that? When we do the Wildcat and we hand it to Kelsey Young and he gets 15 yards it's great," Shaw said. "When we do the Wildcat in the Rose Bowl and it ends up being a huge play for a long first down which leads to a touchdown, then it's great. We do the Wildcat against USC two years ago and it goes reverse pass to Ty Montgomery it's a huge pass, starts the game for us. We hadn't done anything up until that point. That starts the game. It gets us into the game two years ago at USC. Wildcat is part of what we do and it's been very, very efficient. We missed a block. We missed a block. It's OK. The world doesn't come to an end. We missed blocks on other plays. It's just all of a sudden when a play doesn't work in a game that we lose, it's playcalling. Why did you do this, why did you do that? We did it because we thought it was going to work.

"You go fishing and you come back with two fish, well I thought I was going to catch more than two fish. You go out to catch two fish and come home after seven hours, that's sports. I want to give those guys some credit. They played extremely well. They've been playing well. We played extremely well in spurts. Defensively, second half, great. Coach Mason, the defensive staff, defensive players, played great. Offensively we missed opportunities. We moved the ball and missed opportunities. And that's what it boils down to. That's what our guys have understood, we've played a lot of close games around here the last two years in particular. Almost every single game outside of like four games in two years has been a close game.

"When you have a close game you can't miss field goals, you can't get them blocked. You can't turn the ball over in the red zone. And that's what it comes down to. It's not which plays we call, which guys we use. Sometimes things work, sometimes they don't, and if you want to win games they have to work more often than they don't."

Shaw also took the opportunity to set the record straight about a photo that has made its rounds on the Internet of him standing outside USC's locker room. Shaw clarified that he was not waiting to congratulate every USC player on the victory, but instead, simply to share a handshake and a few words with Trojan head coach Ed Orgeron.

"Standing outside the USC locker room was not to just congratulate those guys for winning the game," Shaw said. "In all the insanity after the game I couldn't find Coach Orgeron, we couldn't find each other. So I went to the press conference after talking to my team and I wanted to go his locker room because I believe in the postgame handshake. I think it's right. I think it's a great thing about sports. I wanted to make sure that I got a chance to shake his hand after the game. It was nothing more than that. While I was waiting for him to come out they were going in to get him. He was very gracious. We had a really good conversation. First time we've ever spoken, actually. And as the guys passed, some of those guys are very nice young men and congratulated me on the way my team plays. So whatever pictures are circulating of me standing outside the USC locker room, it was not a meet and greet. It was me waiting to talk to Coach Orgeron."

Bouncing back against the Bears: Though its Rose Bowl and Pac-12 title hopes are likely dashed, Stanford doesn't anticipate having any problem getting mentally prepared for what is on paper a vastly inferior opponent.

"There's going to be energy and there's going to be fire because it is the Big Game, because there is going to be that Big Game atmosphere," Shaw said. "Playing in some of these and being a part of some of these, there's always a little energy. There's always something going on. We anticipate that Cal will do everything in their power to do whatever they can. We've shown that we're not impervious. We've shown that we have weaknesses. So don't think for one second that we cannot give this game everything we have."

Shaw said that Stanford's players have emotionally bounced back from the gut-wrenching USC defeat.

"Our guys have been great," Shaw said. "Our guys are unbelievably resilient and they have been. They always are. Our guys always bounce back. They get Sunday to get their schoolwork done and mope around, throw stuff. And when we come back on Monday, we had a great practice last night. We had one of our rallies that we're going to have, I heard it from my office. It was loud, guys are into it. The band, we had seniors that were there excited about going there. Guys can't wait to play in the Big Game. So these guys are a lot more resilient than non-athletes."

Added defensive lineman David Parry: "I think last Saturday against SC is enough motivation on its own. We've watched the film a little bit on Cal now over the past couple of days and I think they're a much better team than their record shows. We have on room to let off and take it easy on anyone."

Sizing up the Bears: This is far from a vintage Cal football team. The Bears are ranked last in the Pac-12 in scoring offense and scoring defense, and are dealing with numerous injuries to players that were once listed on its two-deep. Still, Shaw cautioned that the Bears are dangerous.

"You watch the USC game and outside of Nelson Agholor breaking it open that thing was back and forth for a while," Shaw said. "Cal game back and tied it. Flea flickers and reverse passes. They kept USC on edge until it was broken open and Cal couldn't recover. They have good receivers, they have good backs, they have speed and athleticism. They have an outstanding young quarterback. They can put points up if you're not ready for them."

A familiar face within the Stanford program plays an important role within Cal's program. Andy Buh, who was Stanford's co-defensive coordinator in 2008 and 2009, is in his first season in charge of the Bears' defense.

"There are some still similarities (to the defense Buh ran at Stanford)," Shaw said, "but it's not exactly the same. I think if anything he's doing more on third down, more exotic blitzes, things that make it tough on your protections. He's doing a lot more there. There are some things you kind of recognize from years ago in their base defense but it's still different enough that's it's easier to throw away those old memories because I don't want them to cloud what they're doing now."

Assessing Hogan: Quarterback Kevin Hogan finished with his lowest passer rating of the season in the USC loss, but Shaw was still mostly pleased with Hogan's performance.

"Outside of five plays he was really, really good," Shaw said. "And that's the difference between being good and great. I thought for the most part, the one deep ball he threw out of bounds he was trying to be safe to Michael Rector down in the redzone. Outside of that I thought he threw the ball really well. He made great decisions in the run game, great decisions pass protection-wise. Scrambled a couple of times and threw some really nice balls. The one to Jordan Pratt on the sidelines, the one to Michael Rector. A couple to Ty. Those were really good balls. If we connect on all of them then he had a hell of a day."

Hogan's completion percentage has dropped significantly this season, from 71.7 percent last season to 60 percent this year. Stanford's changing personnel and defensive adjustments have reduced his efficiency.

"I think it's a couple things," Shaw said. "I think it's been obvious people are playing our boot game. Every week it gets harder and harder to get him outside the pocket to get a completion. They're playing Ryan Hewitt for the things that Ryan Hewitt does. Those are high percentage passes, quarterback getting out of the pocket and finding Ryan Hewitt in the flat. Just about everybody that we've played has done everything they can to take those away. Every time we try it somebody's on Huey's back and somebody's in the quarterback's face. So defenses have done a good job there.

"Losing Zach Ertz is huge. Because that's a big-bodied tight end who's a phenomenal route runner finding holes in defenses and being the quarterback's quote unquote security blanket. But at the same time it's also a function of us throwing the ball deeper more. When you throw more deep shots you have a lesser percentage of completion. That's why they're lower percentage passes. But we've also hit more this year. Halfway through this year we hit more than we hit all of last year. Which once again, even when it's not complete sometimes it's still worth doing because it makes the defense defend it. That deep ball we threw to Ty on the first third down that was incomplete, it was dropped, changed how they played us on defense for a quarter-and-a-half. They played off, we were able to throw the ball quick to him, in front of them, we were able to get some other guys underneath him (like) Kodi Whitfield getting underneath him and catching a ball on third down. We were able to do some of those things because we took that deep shot and showed hey, you better back up. And they backed up and a couple of times they had the safety over the top which once again helps the running game. so even if we don't hit one of those, the fact that we're willing to do it, the fact that we can put Ty and Rector in particular out there, two guys that run in the 4.4's and say, 'OK, if you don't play them over the top we're going to launch it, that does effect what we do. Sometimes, we're not trying not to him them, but when you don't hit them at least the fact that you'll throw them and come back and throw them again, those are potentially game-changing plays, those do help. But they are lesser percentage than throwing shorter passes."

Injury updates: Stanford held Ty Montgomery, Jordan Williamson and Alex Carter out of practice on Tuesday. Williamson, who missed the USC game, will kick tomorrow and then be reevaluated .

"There was something going on in there," Shaw said. "He had a doctor's appointment the other day. They found what it was and I think we can get it rectified hopefully by Saturday. I'll know better hopefully by tomorrow. He won't practice today, he won't kick today. He feels very confident because the process we started, I think he already feels better, which is great. Last week was hard on him because he kicked really well during the week and then tried to warm up on Saturday and he just couldn't strike the ball. Thankfully we believe we've found the problem now."

Meanwhile, Ty Montgomery did some work on the side on Tuesday and will "probably" practice on Wednesday, Shaw said. Stanford will determine whether Alex Carter will practice on Wednesday based on how he feels.

Stanford intended to hold Tyler Gaffney out on Tuesday to give him a rest after he was given 69 carries over the past two games, but Gaffney insisted on practicing.

"He just said, 'no,'" Shaw said. "He feels great, ran out there and practiced and was fine."

Zach Hoffpauir, who has missed the last four games with a foot injury, was a full participant in Tuesday's practice and there's a "good chance" he'll be ready for the Big Game, Shaw said.

  • Junior cornerback Wayne Lyons said that he wasn't fully recovered from the foot injury that sidelined him for most of his freshman season until this summer.

    "This year I started feeling like I could move the way I really wanted to move," Lyons said. "Because sometimes I processed things and I want to move but then my body's slower than my reactions. So this year I'm really feeling like I can move and cut the way I really want to. I started feeling it during the training period this summer. We were grinding hard with Coach Turley and getting the confidence from all the hard work we put in."

  • David Parry identified sophomore defensive lineman Aziz Shittu as a young defensive lineman who has raised his game in recent weeks.

    "I'd say over the last couple of weeks Aziz Shittu has been putting a little bit more on film to try and climb back in there, looking for some playing time," Parry said. "I think bringing over Luke (Kaumatule) and (Blake) Lueders was kind of a wake-up call to him. I think that's helped him."

  • Shaw is glad that the Big Game will be played in late November like it usually is, not October like it was in 2012.

    "It's where it should be," Shaw said. "It should be in November. I think both camps are excited about doing everything we can to try and keep this thing late in the year."

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