Stanford linebacker Blake Martinez contacted his former high school teammate, current Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey, with a request prior to the Wildcats' game against Oregon last month. At the time, Stanford needed Oregon to lose one of its two games to open the door for the Cardinal to win the Pac-12 North.
"I texted Ka'Deem and I told him, 'Dude, do what you need to do,'" Martinez said.
Carey responded: "I got you bro. Just wait."
48 carries by Carey and 42 Arizona points later, the Wildcats had topped the Ducks. Hours later, Stanford completed its blowout victory over Cal in the Big Game.
As a result, Martinez and Stanford will face Arizona State, in the Pac-12 title game on Saturday.
The Pac-12 Championship game will mark the second time the Sun Devils and Cardinal have met this season. After storming to a 29-0 halftime lead, Stanford won the first meeting 42-28.
Some of the postgame discussion, however, did not focus on Stanford's first-half dominance. Rather, it centered on Arizona State outscoring Stanford 21-3 in the fourth quarter.
"I think they're good," David Shaw said. "You can't ever look at it any other way than other teams have good players and good coaches also. And any time a team ever comes back, (the question is raised about) what do you do wrong. Sometimes it's they're really good. We held them down for a half and it was great. But there's no way you hold down a good team for that long. It wasn't surprising to us necessarily. We did what we always do, typically. We get a lead and try to run the ball and run the clock out and hopefully they run out of time, which was the case. They came out in the second half and they were on fire. We didn't have a wholesale substituion. We replaced a quarterback and a receiver and a guard, and that was it. But besides that they came back and they just played well. They played that second half the way they played all year."
Arizona State, which is ranked ninth nationally in scoring offense is led by quarterback Taylor Kelly, who's thrown for 3,337 yards and 27 touchdowns this season. Kelly was 30-55 for 367 yards when the Cardinal and Sun Devils played earlier this season.
"I think he's just a dynamic quarterback that keeps fighting the whole game, plays with that moxie you want your quarterback to play with, that confidence," Shaw said. "They have big-play receivers, they have good backs, they're physical up front. They're a good, complete team."
The Sun Devils' offense is expected to be without one of its biggest weapons on Saturday, however. Running back Marion Grice, who rushed for 996 yards and 14 touchdowns this season, will likely miss the title game with an ankle injury.
Shaw said that Grice's absence won't impact Stanford's preparation.
"We know whoever they put at running back they're going to be determined to run the ball also," Shaw said. "For us it's still schematic, it's not just personnel."
Still, both Stanford and Arizona State have implemented some new ideas since they first met.
"The idea (is) that we haven't seen these guys in a long time," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "Let's reintroduce ourselves to them personnel wise. Let's go back and watch the film. They've played a lot of football since we played them last. They've drawn up a lot of blitzes since we saw them last, which we spent a lot of time on last night watching. We have to treat it as a new team, a new game. We're a little different than we were early in the season. We've been through a lot more, positive and negative. This is just a new game and we're excited to be in it."
Pac-12 awards announced: The Pac-12 announced its awards for the 2013 season, and several Stanford players earned recognition. Seven Cardinal were awarded first-team all-conference honors: David Yankey, Trent Murphy, Ed Reynolds, Shayne Skov, Trent Murphy, Ben Gardner and Ty Montgomery (as a kickoff returner). Tyler Gaffney, Andrus Peat, Khalil Wilkes, Cameron Fleming and Joe Hemschoot (special teams) were named to the second-team. Josh Mauro and Jordan Richards were among the Stanford players snubbed on the all-league teams; each earned honorable mention.
Gardner was the probably the most unexpected of Stanford's players to earn first-team honors. The fifth-year senior missed Stanford's final four game of the season with a torn pectoral muscle.
"I do know this," Shaw said. "He has a lot of respect around the league, obviously, being voted in as a first-teamer. He's one of those guys when you walk about before the game, and it's one of the reasons why I love him, before the game he's not one of those guys that catches your eye, you say 'Oh wow, look at that guy.' But after the game you look back and say, 'Man, how did that guy get in the backfield so many times?' He's that difficult to account for because of his speed, because of his quickness, but also because of how smart he is. He reads linemen. he read quarterbacks. He reads backfield sets. Sometimes he's down there he's calling out plays before it happens and he knows the snap count and he jumps the snap count."
"(The first-team recognition is) from the coaches in the conference which I think makes it really special."
In other awards news, although Trent Murphy leads the nation in sacks and has far superior stats to Arizona State's Will Sutton, Sutton was named the conference's Defensive Player of the Year over Murphy.
Shaw thought Murphy was deserving.
"I would say I think Will Sutton is one heck of a football player," Shaw said. "I would never say anything to disparage him. He's going to take a lot of our time in the next five days to prepare to play him. (But) I don't know that anybody in our conference causes more problems than Trent Murphy, leading the nation in sacks. I would say that it's a little bit of a disappointment. But I'll never say anything bad about Sutton because I think he's a great football player. Not a good football player, I think he's a great football player."
Shaw was also surprised that sophomore left tackle Andrus Peat did not earn first-team honors. Arizona State's Evan Finkenberg was the only offensive tackle who made the first team. The other four first-team linemen were of the interior variety.
"(I'm a) little surprised that Andrus Peat wasn't first-team all-conference," Shaw said. "I don't know that I've seen a left tackle as good as him. But hey, he's young, he'll be on that list hopefully for the next couple of years."
Shaw had no qualms with the selection of Todd Graham as the conference's top coach, however.
"That's who I voted for," Shaw said. "Best record in the conference. So he got my vote, too… I thought he deserved it."
Gaffney vs. Gerhart: Some of the similarities between Tyler Gaffney and former Stanford running back Toby Gerhart, who rushed for a school record 1,871 yards in 2009, are uncanny. Both are two-sport stars, baseball outfielders who succeeded on the gridiron with a powerful running style. But there are differences between the two players.
"They're still different backs," Shaw said. "They're both big, physical backs. Gaffney's a big back at 220 and Toby's 235. Toby was a different animal. But I'm excited for Tyler. He's put on film that he's a potential high round pick in the NFL because that's how NFL backs run. He's done it every game. He's caught the ball out of the backfield, he's pass protected. He's come back and shown that he's a complete back. I'm excited for him. I think this is maybe even more than what he envisioned coming back for. He's put the work in and he deserves it."
Given Gaffney's production, it's easy to forget that Stanford was at one point expected to use a running back by committee approach. But even though Gaffney was listed as a co-starter with Anthony Wilkerson for much of the season, the San Diego native separated himself from the rest of Stanford's running backs early on.
"It's just consistency," Shaw said. "You hand him the ball, he's going to get more than what they play's blocked for. He's going to get more. He's going to churn those yards. He's going to break tackles. He's going to run through guys. He's going to turn a four-yard gain into an eight-yard gain. He's also one of those guys who gets stronger as you get into the fourth quarter. I always want to keep him right around those 20 carries. But carries 25, 26, and 27 are really special. He doesn't get tired. He doesn't shy away from contact. He takes it and delivers it and he loves it. I think when you have a guy like that your sideline feeds off of him."
Gaffney has rushed for 1,506 yards (5.2 yards per carry) and 17 touchdowns so far this year. He had 791 rushing yards in the three seasons prior.
"I would like to say I'm a much better back (than before I took a year off to play baseball)," Gaffney said. "I think I've kind of gotten a grasp on the offense. I've come to the realization of what we're trying to do on each run play, each pass, play, where I fit in. Every week I meet with the coaches individually about the game to figure out what I can do I can do better. (I ask them) what was your guys' thinking behind this play, maybe what I should look for. At this point I meet with the coaches and I'm answering my own questions as I'm asking them… The game has slowed down a little bit more every game."
As was the case with Gerhart, Shaw thinks the NFL is a better fit for Gaffney than professional baseball.
"Yes. I do," Shaw said. "I've seen him play baseball for a couple of years. I know he's good. He has a lot of tools. And he's an outstanding hitter, he's a great baserunner. I think he's a really good fielder. But I think he's an NFL back. I don't know where he'll get drafted, but it's going to be in the first couple of rounds if he can run the 40-time that we think he's going to run. You put the film on and you see a guy that can take 20 carries and pass pro on third down and comes from a pro-style offense and plays against good competition on defense. He's a guy that's going to play on Sundays."
While acknowledging that he "would love to play in the NFL," Gaffney said that he hasn't made a final decision about his professional future.
"(The NFL is) an opportunity that doesn't knock non many people's doors," Gaffney said. "After this week… I'll probably have a little better hint for you but until then it's Pac-12 Championship and we're going to grind and we're going to get better and I'm not going to think about my future until then."
Injury updates: Stanford expects defensive lineman Josh Mauro to play in the championship game. Mauro was held out of Stanford's win over Notre Dame with a leg injury.
"I believe so. I hope so," Shaw said. "We're going to be cautious with him again. He already feels better now than he did on Saturday, which is great. Saturday he was probably about 80 percent but he couldn't get that explosive push off. He believes he'll be able to do it. We probably won't practice him today and maybe not even tomorrow. But then we'll look at Wednesday getting him out there and getting him to run around. He feels optimistic. He wanted to play last week and he just knew he couldn't do it, but I believe he'll play this week."
The health of Jordan Williamson, who was perfect on two field goal attempts and two PAT's in Stanford's win over Notre Dame, continues to improve, but Williamson still isn't ready to handle kickoffs in addition to plackicking.
"He won't kick off," Shaw said. "Maybe (he'll be ready) by the time we get to the bowl game. But he's feeling a lot better. He's kicking a lot better. He's confident. But the violence of his kickoffs, it's pretty impressive a lot of the touchbacks that he's had. We don't know if we're ready for that violence, if his leg can handle that without reinjuring himself but right now the way he's kicking the ball, the PAT's, the field goals, it's still smooth. It's not straining at all. There's no range of motion issue. There's no pain right now. So we'll leave it the way that it is."
Ben Gardner has started light workouts as he begins rehabbing from his pectoral injury. But he won't start upper body lifting for around another month, Shaw said.
News broke that Washington coach Steve Sarkisian had accepted the head coaching job at USC shortly before the start of David Shaw's press conference. Shaw didn't have much in the way of reaction.
"Got a big game this week," Shaw said. "I'm not worried about anybody else."
Blake Martinez attended high school in Tucson and grew up rooting for Arizona. Suffice it to say, the Sun Devils weren't his favorite program.
"I was always an Arizona fan because my dad would have season tickets every year," Martinez said. "I wouldn't say (I hate Arizona State), I would just say dislike."