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December 28, 2013

Stanford prepares for top-ranked Spartan D



Just how good was Michigan State's defense in 2013? The Spartans didn't allow an offense to gain 400 or more yards once all year. They're ranked No. 1 nationally in rushing defense and No. 5 nationally in passing yards allowed.

Put simply, Michigan State's defense has made moving the ball consistently virtually impossible for opposing offenses.

"They're a big, physical strong defense, and they believe in playing team defense more than I've ever seen - more than any team we've faced," Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney said. "They don't go away from their scheme. They don't go out of their own jobs. They understand where they fit into the defense, and they're not going to let anything slide by going out of their own job in the scheme."

Michigan State's star-laden defense feasted on the spread attacks which have become increasingly popular in the Big-10 conference and across the nation.

"I think one thing that all comes to mind (about the Big-10) is power, smashmouth football and kind of running the ball downhill that we all are used to," Bloomgren said. "One thing that we noticed as a staff is we've had a chance to watch every single game this year, so all 13 of their games, and there's not a lot of fullback in the Big Ten anymore. It's kind of different than what I imagined, to be honest with you. I noticed a little bit when we watched film on Wisconsin last year but maybe even more so this year.

Still, the Spartan defense is well equipped to handle the smashmouth style that Stanford is so well known for using.

"Up front with the front seven they're a very physical front," Stanford offensive lineman David Yankey said. "Their D line is extremely physical. They like to get into the offensive linemen, cause a lot of trouble, get a lot of penetration, just kind of make plays not really work the way you want them to, and then their linebackers are great athletes, can move around really well and make tackles along with their safeties coming down."

Added Yankey: "Their D tackles are awesome. I don't think they get enough credit, you know. And sometimes that's a by product of playing next to someone who is really good. And so they cause a lot of penetration. They come off. They get into the offensive linemen. They get under their pads and usually drive them around, do what they want a little bit, and they're the ones who are causing the disruption so the linebackers and safeties can make plays. So sometimes they don't always get credit because they're not getting the actual stat but they're the reason the play is happening in the back field."

But Michigan State's defense won't be at full strength on January 1. Spartan senior linebacker Max Bullough, a player Tyler Gaffney called the "heart and soul" of Michigan State's defense, was suspended for the 100th Rose Bowl game due to a violation of team rules.

Aside from removing one of Michigan State's most physically gifted defenders from the field, the suspension could be a major blow to the communication and coordination of the Spartans' defensive efforts; Bullough was a quarterback of sorts for the unit.

"He's an outstanding football player," Bloomgren said. "That's the first thing I think you start with by saying about him. The thing that they're going to miss, judging by the film, is he looks like a coach out there. He's making this check and that check, and in terms of his performance, they've got other people that can step in and play football. There's no doubt about that. I think they'll probably miss his leadership. I feel like he was probably the quarterback of their huddle, and in addition they'll just miss some of those checks at the line of scrimmage. But again, they're a great football team. They're a great football team, and they don't do it with just one player or one middle linebacker. (Kyler Elsworth) has played some throughout the year, and they've got guys that are great contributors in special teams and situational football on defense. I imagine they are going to be able to plug somebody in and play football."

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Though it might be overshadowed by the clash between Stanford's running game and Michigan State's front-seven, the best individual matchup in the 100th Rose Bowl might be between the nation's top defensive back, Jim Thorpe Award winner Darqueze Dennard, and Stanford's top wide receiver, Ty Montgomery.

With 937 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns, Montgomery has a chance to become Stanford's first 1000-yard receiver since Troy Walters in 1999. In Dennard, he'll often be covered by a cornerback who intercepted four passes this season and was a consensus All-American selection.

"(Dennard is a) very willing tackler, willing to come up, force the run," Bloomgren said. "But in addition to that a guy that just locks people down. All year on film he's done a great job. Not allowing people to even catch the ball. Playing at an unbelievably high level.

"Very similar to - I don't want to get into comparisons. But he's a guy that does for their defense what a guy like Darrelle Revis did for ours in New York (with the Jets). That's got a ton of value. Ton of value."

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Mike Bloomgren took Stanford's "Nerd Nation" mantra to a new level in his Friday morning Rose Bowl press conference. In addition to wearing the customary Stanford polo shirt, Bloomgren donned Google Glass. The Cardinal offensive coordinator said that footage captured by Google Glass was for Stanford's website.

"First off, it's a way for me to pay homage to Nerd Nation, which has been the Stanford thing all year long," Bloomgren said. "Secondly, Stanford, how much do you know about Stanford? Really hard to get in, great school, absolutely, and it's right in the heart, kind of the epicenter of the technology universe, OK, and these are Google glasses from right there. One thing we tell recruits all the time when we're in their homes is come to Stanford. Your summer interns can be at a place like Google or on any of those venture capitalist firms. A special place like Google, we have a great relationship with them, and mostly why I'm wearing them up here is probably because I'm the one on our staff that's most likely to buy these, so I'm kind of trying them out, as well, because I'm a big tech guy. I'm really excited about this product. I think it's really, really cool, and last but not least, I kind of wanted to flip the camera back on these reporters. They're not used to that. So I've got it back on them, so if they misspeak or if they basically go on a 30- or 60-second rant like some coaches do up here at the podium, we're going to put them on SportsCenter."

While much of the Stanford community has grown fond of the program's "Nerd Nation" identity, the rest of the nation is still catching on. Tyler Gaffney was asked to explain what, exactly, the term signifies.

"That's just something we, I guess, throughout the years have come up with about Stanford's community. We embrace what we do," Gaffney said. "Everyone else considers us we're just school guys that happen to play football. You know, nerds.

"We've embraced that aspect, but it's more than that when it comes - everyone at Stanford has their niche. They have their reason they're at Stanford, they have their reason that they're successful, and guys on this team, there's countless guys on this team that football - if football doesn't work out for them at the next level, they're going to be very successful in what they do, whether it's running a company, a CEO or whatnot. They're going to be successful, and I think as a whole Nerd Nation, just really embraces that as our team will embrace being a nerd and being successful at it."


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