Pac-12: Stanford Cardinal

Happy Friday!
A week ago, the official trailer for When the Game Stands Tall, a movie inspired by Bay Area football powerhouse De La Salle High was released.

It stars Jim Caviezel as legendary coach Bob Ladouceur, who guided the Concord, Calif., school to a famed 151-game winning streak from 1992 to 2004. The movie is based on the book of the same name written by Neil Hayes, who had unrestricted access to the team in 2002 -- the senior year of future UCLA and NFL star Maurice Jones-Drew.

[+] EnlargeBob Ladouceur
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports Bob Ladouceur coached De La Salle High to a 151-game winning streak from 1992 to 2004.
I grew up 20 minutes from De La Salle and have followed the program since elementary school, so it was an especially intriguing trailer for me, but the storyline should have mass appeal for Pac-12 fans, especially those at Oregon.

What jumped out quickly from the trailer was that the movie does not depict the year in which Hayes, then a Contra Costa Times sports columnist, spent with the team. Instead, it will focus heavily on the circumstances around the 2004 death of linebacker/running back Terrance Kelly, who was shot two days before he was set to leave to begin his college career -- along with De La Salle teammates Cameron Colvin, Jackie Bates and Willie Glasper -- at Oregon.

"It starts with the championship game in 2003 with T.K. and those guys as seniors," said Hayes, who served as an official consultant on the movie. "Then it goes into the offseason, [Ladouceur's] heart attack, T.K.'s death -- it was crushing for the community -- and then goes into the 2004 season."

For more worthwhile reading about Kelly's lasting impact, go here, here and here. His final game was the last of De La Salle's streak.

The Spartans opened the next season with a 39-20 loss to Washington state power Bellevue at CenturyLink Field. I was a sophomore at Washington State at the time, had read Hayes' book, and so had several of my friends. For them -- some from Hawaii, some from the Seattle area -- De La Salle was some sort of mythical creature, and at their urging we made the Pullman-to-Seattle road trip to see the game.

Nearly 300 miles to see a high school football game. As college students. That's the kind of allure De La Salle had.

Seven players currently on Pac-12 rosters attended De La Salle: Cal's Michael Barton and Austin Harper (freshman year only); Oregon State's Tyler Anderson, Terron Ward and Dylan Wynn; Stanford's Austin Hooper; and USC's Michael Hutchings. Three more will join the conference for fall camp: Sumner Houston (Oregon State), Kevin Griffin (Washington State) and Dasmond Tautalatasi (Arizona State).

As with any inspired-by-real-life movie, there are some creative liberties that don't follow reality.

For example, the movie will feature a game between De La Salle and Southern California's Long Beach Poly, the supposed No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country, which actually took place in 2001. Jones-Drew, then sans the Jones, had a game people still talk about, and, of course, re-live on YouTube.

"It's done for dramatic purposes and there are some new characters ... not every character comes from De La Salles," Hayes said. "But those liberties that were taken were done so with pure motives."

The football scenes were orchestrated by stunt coordinator Allan Graf, a starter on the offensive line for the 1972 USC national championship team that finished 12-0. Graf is a fixture in the industry and has been a stunt coordinator on several other football films including Friday Night Lights, Any Given Sunday, Gridiron Gang, The Replacements, The Waterboy, Jerry Maguire and The Program.

"This was some of his best work," said Hayes, in terms of how realistic the football scenes are.

At one point during filming, Ladouceur and longtime defensive coordinator Terry Eidson, portrayed by Michael Chiklis, traveled to Louisiana, where the movie was shot.

"You have all these movie stars there, but when those guys got there, they were the celebs," Hayes said.

Ladouceur retired following the 2012 season after 34 seasons with a career record of 399-25-3, but remains on staff as an assistant to Justin Alumbaugh, a UCLA graduate. Before deciding to remain on staff as an assistant, Ladouceur drew interest from 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh to serve in a consulting role.

USC coach Steve Sarkisian and LSU coach Les Miles have cameos in the movie, which includes some shots at Isidore Newman School, which produced Peyton Manning and Eli Manning.

ESPN 300: Top Pac-12 targets 

April, 16, 2014
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This recruiting cycle represents a huge year for talent in California, which means the Pac-12 should be able to put together some very healthy recruiting classes. In looking at the top five targets for the conference in the 2015 ESPN 300, it's no surprise that three come from Southern California. But if the Pac-12 wants to have a better overall finish in the recruiting rankings next year -- USC at No. 14 overall was the highest finish in 2014 -- the conference will need to reel in several out-of-area standouts, which is why the first two names on the list are here.


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I remember the stupid things, the mood rings, the bracelets and the beads, the nickels and dimes, yours and mine. Did you cash in all your dreams?
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STANFORD, Calif. -- Keeping with the theme of the spring, the Stanford defense further established itself as the team’s dominant unit in the Cardinal and White spring game.

The final score gave the defense a 47-23 victory, but with a quirky scoring system that rewarded the defense for making stops at certain points on the field, there's not much to glean from that number -- especially considering the defense added 14 points late for a pair of mishandled snaps.

Instead, here are three takeaways from the game:

[+] EnlargeKelsey Young
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsKelsey Young played well Saturday before leaving Stanford's spring game with an injury.
1. RBs Barry Sanders and Kelsey Young can be difference-makers.

Through the first session of spring practice, it was presumed that Remound Wright was in the lead to receive the lion's share of the snaps at running back in the fall. However, with Wright suspended for the second session for undisclosed disciplinary reasons, both Sanders and Young took advantage. Last week, it was Young who showcased playmaking ability, but on Saturday it was Sanders. He carried 12 times for 68 yards and caught a pair of passes for 19 yards.

"We’re all rooting for each other," Sanders said of the competition. "Of course it’s competitive, but we know if we’re all successful, then we’re going to have a successful team. Every time a different guy gets in there, we root for them and hope the offensive produces."

Cardinal coach David Shaw said Wright's suspension will have no impact moving forward and that's he a firm believer that as soon as a punishment is carried out, it's in the past.

Young exited early with an injury to his right arm after rushing for 27 yards on seven carries. Shaw said Young would have X-rays to determine the seriousness of the injury.

2. Defense will have depth.

It wasn't just the usual suspects who made an impact defensively for Stanford. While DE Henry Anderson, LB A.J. Tarpley, CB Wayne Lyons and S Jordan Richards all had their moments, lesser-known players such as LB Peter Kalambayi, DT Aziz Shittu, CB Chandler Dorrell and S John Flacco turned in solid days.

Shaw went as far to say that Shittu -- a four-star recruit in 2012 -- was the MVP of the spring. Through his first two seasons with the Cardinal, Shittu's impact has been limited. If he and DE Luke Kaumatule continue to improve, the defensive line will have a chance to have solid depth behind a starting unit that already figured to be among the best in the country.

Linebacker Kevin Anderson, who is expected to take Trent Murphy's spot at outside linebacker, sat out with a minor injury, which allowed Kalambayi to earn extended time with the starting unit. Much like Anderson's role a year ago, he figures to get significant time in the rotation.

"He's ready to play," Shaw said of Kalambayi. "He is fast, he is physical and we're excited about what he can do for us."

Both Dorrell and Flacco had interceptions of backup quarterback Ryan Burns.

3. Return of the tight end.

After the tight ends combined for just 10 receptions last season, it is clear that won't be the case again in 2014. Eric Cotton, in particular, showed he'll be a viable option to contribute as a receiver. He made a nice touchdown grab on a lob from Kevin Hogan to give the offense one of its highlights of the day.

Along with Cotton, Austin Hooper appears to have passed previous starter Charlie Hopkins on the depth chart. Shaw made a point to acknowledge both Cotton and Hooper following the game.

It'll be interesting to see how quickly highly-regarded tight end recruit Dalton Schultz is brought into the mix in fall camp. By most accounts, including rankings from ESPN.com, Schultz was the nation's top high school tight end and should factor into the competition.
And I said "What about Breakfast at Tiffany's?" … Well, that's the one thing we've got.

Offensive explosion plays: North

April, 10, 2014
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Just as defenses like to create negative plays for offenses, offenses like to create explosion plays -- plays of more than 20 yards.

So which Pac-12 offenses created the most explosion plays in 2013? And how? And who's coming back in 2014?

I appreciate you asking.

The number to the left is the team's national ranking. "TDs" is how many of the explosion plays produced touchdowns. The "returning in 2014" is the explosion plays produced in 2013 by players who return in the fall.

In the "lost" and "returning" categories, we list players who had five or more explosion plays in 2013.

We did the South Division on Wednesday. Here's the North.

3. Oregon (11-2)
2013 explosion plays: 106 (64 pass, 42 run)

TDs: 11 pass, 14 run

Returning in 2014: 64 (29 pass, 35 run)

Lost: WR Josh Huff (24); RB De'Anthony Thomas (111); WR Daryle Hawkins (6)

Returning: RB Byron Marshall (14); QB Marcus Mariota (13); WR Bralon Addison (10); RB Thomas Tyner (9); TE John Mundt (5)
6. Washington (9-4)
2013 explosion plays: 87 (53 pass, 34 run)

TDs: 8 pass, 7 run

Returning in 2014: 40(28 pass, 12 rush)
Numbers included suspended QB Cyler Miles and WR Damore'ea Stringfellow, who each contributed four explosion plays.

Lost: RB Bishop Sankey (24); WR Kevin Smith (14); TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (8)

Returning: WR Jaydon Mickens (10); WR Kasen Williams (6)
11. Oregon State (7-6)
2013 explosion plays: 84 (74 pass, 10 run)

TDs: 10 pass, 1 run

Returning in 2014: 42 (35 pass, 7 run)

Lost: WR Brandin Cooks (35); WR Kevin Cummings (5)

Returning: WR Richard Mullaney (10); TE Caleb Smith (9); RB Storm Woods (8); RB Terron Ward (5)
T37. Stanford (11-3)
2013 explosion plays: 68 (43 pass, 25 run)

TDs: 14 pass, 10 run

Returning in 2014: 54 (42 pass, 12 run)

Lost: RB Tyler Gaffney (11)

Returning: WR Ty Montgomery (18); WR Devon Cajuste (12); WR Michael Rector (11)
T64. California (1-11)
2013 explosion plays: 58 (50 pass, 8 run)

TDs: 8 pass, 3 run

Returning in 2014: 39 (33 pass, 6 run)

Lost: WR Richard Rodgers (11); WR Jackson Bouza (5)

Returning: WR Chris Harper (11); WR Bryce Treggs (10); RB Khalfani Muhammad (6)
T73. Washington State (6-7)
2013 explosion plays: 55 (52 pass, 3 run)

TDs: 17 pass, 0 run

Returning in 2014: 55 (52 pass, 3 run)

Lost: None

Returning: WR Dom Williams (11); WR River Cracraft (10); WR Vince Mayle (8); WR Gabe Marks (7); WR Isiah Myers (6); Kristoff Williams (5)

STANFORD, Calif. -- With just one practice remaining before Saturday's spring game, Stanford associate head coach and offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren is confident the Cardinal has taken significant strides towards replacing several pieces that left the team following last season.

[+] EnlargeMike Bloomgren
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsStanford OC Mike Bloomgren is pleased to see the progress his QBs are making this spring.
Bloomgren took some time on Tuesday and told ESPN.com some of his major impressions up to this point.

With QB Evan Crower limited in the second session [deviated septum], what kind of progress has redshirt freshman QB Ryan Burns made working with the second team and how has Kevin Hogan looked?

Bloomgren: It's been a little trial-by-fire for Burnsy a little bit, jumping in there with the second group from the time he got back last Monday. And our defense is not the easiest one to jump in there against and try to decipher everything they're showing you. He's done a much better job. Every day he's gotten better. We've gone from a week ago to not being able to take the center-quarterback snap to start a play to now where we're doing that consistently well. As far as No. 8 [Hogan] goes, No. 8's been great all spring with very, very few exceptions. Leadership has been great, the way he's seeing and thinking this game right is outstanding. The things he's doing with us from a protection standpoint, getting us in the right protection, making the right adjustment to routes and is just throwing the ball really well.

RB Kelsey Young looked really good in the open scrimmage … has that been a consistent thing?

MB: I think that might have been Kelsey's best day. It's great to see it. He's taking steps every day at the running back position. The thing that you saw was the explosive runs and the consistent runs out of Kelsey, which was great to see ... the leg drive and the way he was finishing runs was outstanding and the things that's he's doing is getting better at protection every day.

What has the transition been like for Young converting back from wide receiver?

MB: When you talk about what Kelsey's done for us, Kelsey's always been an explosive runner. We've loved getting the ball in his hands, whether it was on a speed sweeps or on a screen, but the thing he wasn't the master of was running the ball from seven yards behind the quarterback, and it's taken a lot of work and he's seeing things really well. He's slowed his footwork down. I'm really pleased with how he's coming along.

The offensive line is going to look a lot different, but are you confident it will still be a very good unit?

MB: We're breaking in four new starters, and I don't know if I've ever been a part of doing that before. I wouldn't say for a second that it's been easy, but it's probably been easier than any other four you could break in. The five guys we're working with right now -- being those five guys from the class of 2012, [RG] Johnny Caspers, [RT] Kyle Murphy, [C] Graham Shuler, [LG] Josh Garnett stepping in besides [LT] Andrus [Peat] -- and then you've got people working in that are doing a great job. Brendon Austin, when he's healthy has been really good, playing the best football of his career.

Are there inherent advantages of those guys all being from the same recruiting class?

MB: Absolutely, but again, we've always had that regardless of class. Our offensive line has been so tight. I don't necessarily think it's just a product of them being in the same class.

How has the group of young tight ends developed?

MB: Austin Hooper has really stepped up. Unbelievable job at the Y position. Eric Cotton is doing some unbelievable things as a movement tight end, whether it's lining up extended and running great routes or sticking his face in there doing a great job in the run game. Then you have Greg Taboada still learning, and he's learning a lot, doing great things. When Greg knows what to do, he's really hard to stop.

What are you looking forward to getting out of Saturday's spring game?

MB: It's just another chance for us to go out there in our stadium, to put on our gear [on] and go through the motions and exercise playing a football game. Whether you're talking about X's and O's, we'll probably be limited in terms of what we do, but I want to see us go out there and put our best foot forward and play incredibly hard and finish the plays.

Pac-12's lunch links

April, 9, 2014
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If I owned the Twins, I wouldn't even show up here. I'd just hire a bunch of scientists to do my homework. I mean, if you're rich you don't have to be smart. That's the whole beauty of this country.

The ball is tipped and there you are. You're running for your life. You're a shooting star.
They say defense wins championships. Well, creating negative plays typically makes for a winning defense.

We're defining negative plays as tackles for a loss, sacks, interceptions and forced fumbles (we went with forced fumbles instead of fumble recoveries). We're tallying how many of each that Pac-12 defenses produced in 2013 and -- more important -- how many of those negative plays were created by returning players.

We move on to the North Division. You can see the South here.

(Number in parentheses is number of negative plays made by returning players).

California

Tackles for a loss: 76 (43)

Sacks: 18 (13.5)

Interceptions: 5 (3)

Forced fumbles: 9 (4)

Key returner: Jalen Jefferson (6.5 tackles for a loss, 3 sacks, INT)

Key loss: DL Deandre Coleman (9 TFL, 2.5 sacks)

Breakdown: The Bears’ 2013 defense, perhaps the worst unit in team history, was hit so hard by injuries, these numbers aren't of much consequence. The big questions are if players such as DE Brennan Scarlett, DT Mustafa Jalil, S Avery Sebastian can put up numbers this fall after returning from injuries.

Oregon

Tackles for a loss: 70 (40.5)

Sacks: 28 (18.5)

Interceptions: 17 (8)

Forced fumbles: 17 (12)

Key returners: OLB Tony Washington (12 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles); CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (5 TFL, 3 interceptions, forced fumble)

Key losses: DE Taylor Hart (6.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles); CB Terrance Mitchell (5 INTs)

Breakdown: Mitchell's decision to enter the draft a year early hurts -- just as Ekpre-Olomu's decision to return was a pleasant surprise -- but the Ducks have plenty of numbers coming back. Washington led the 2013 defense in TFL, sacks and forced fumbles, and Ekpre-Olomu was a consensus All-American.

Oregon State

Tackles for a loss: 75 (43.5)

Sacks: 25 (11.5)

Interceptions: 19 (13)

Forced fumbles: 13 (7)

Key returners: CB Steven Nelson (6 INTs); S Ryan Murphy (8 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, 3 INTs, forced fumble).

Key losses: DE Scott Crichton (19 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles); CB Rashaad Reynolds (3.5 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 6 INTs, 2 forced fumbles)

Breakdown: Crichton led the Beavers in TFL, sacks and forced fumbles. His playmaking won't be easy to replace, though having a healthy D.J. Alexander and Michael Doctor at LB should help the front seven's numbers. Nelson and Reynolds tied for the Pac-12 lead in interceptions.

Stanford

Tackles for a loss: 109 (44.5)

Sacks: 44 (13)

Interceptions: 13 (10)

Forced fumbles: 15 (7)

Key returners: Kevin Anderson (6.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, INT); S Jordan Richards (4.0 TFL, 3 INTs, 1 forced fumble)

Key losses: OLB Trent Murphy (23.5 TFL, 15.0 sacks, INT, 2 forced fumbles); LB Shayne Skov (13 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles)

Breakdown: Murphy was among the most productive defensive players in the nation, Skov was the defense's leader, and guys like D-linemen Josh Mauro and Ben Gardner shouldn't be overlooked, so the Cardinal defense loses a lot of numbers. The biggest question is how well Anderson replaces Murphy.

Washington

Tackles for a loss: 74 (58)

Sacks: 41 (36.5)

Interceptions: 16 (8)

Forced fumbles: 11 (6)

Key returners: DE Hau'oli Kikaha (15.5 tackles for a loss, 13.0 sacks, 3 forced fumbles); CB Marcus Peters (3.5 TFL, 1 sack, five interceptions, forced fumble)

Key loss: S Sean Parker (3.5 TFL, 1 sack, 4 INTs)

Breakdown: These numbers reflect that the Huskies are in great shape with their front seven but the secondary is rebuilding. The Huskies should be plenty capable of putting pressure on opposing QBs, and that should help a secondary that will be young.

Washington State

Tackles for a loss: 75 (52)

Sacks: 21 (18)

Interceptions: 16 (3)

Forced fumbles: 17 (9)

Key returners: DE Xavier Cooper (13.5 tackles for a loss, 5.0 sacks, 2 forced fumbles); LB Darryl Monroe (8 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles)

Key losses: S Deone Bucannon (4.5 TFL, 6 INTs, 3 forced fumbles); CB Damante Horton (3.5 TFL, 5 interceptions, forced fumble)

Breakdown: Like their friends from Seattle, the Cougars return a lot of production from their front seven but they are rebuilding their secondary. In fact, Bucannon, a four-year starter, leaves some of the biggest shoes to fill in the Pac-12.

Video: Stanford's Shaw on scrimmage

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
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Kyle Bonagura talks with Stanford coach David Shaw about the highlights of the Cardinal's third open scrimmage of the spring.
Happy Friday!
STANFORD, Calif. -- With linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy off to the NFL and defensive coordinator Derek Mason and inside linebackers coach David Kotulski off to Vanderbilt, change is inevitable for the Stanford defense.

For some, that's code for "worse."

[+] EnlargeA.J. Tarpley
Tony Medina/Getty ImagesA.J. Tarpley, who was the 2009 Minnesota Gatorade Player of the Year, has been a key cog in the Cardinal's defense for the past three seasons.
Not for fifth-year senior inside linebacker A.J. Tarpley.

"Great players leave. We're not going to lower our goals," he said. "We're not going to say, 'OK, we're not going to be as good as last year.' I want this linebacking corps to be better than last year.

"I do feel that our linebacking corps has gotten better every year since I got here, so why not? Why can't we be be better than we were last year?"

Tarpley wasn't looking for a literal answer, but if he were, the fact that Skov was one of the nation's best inside linebackers and that Murphy led the nation in sacks would be on the list. Those aren't guys who simply get replaced without some level of drop off.

That isn't lost on Tarpley, either. He, perhaps better than anyone, understands just how valuable Skov and Murphy were to the Stanford defense. The part that isn't understood as well beyond the Stanford locker room is how Tarpley's role has been nearly as vital to the Cardinal's success over the past three seasons.

"We see it all the time and we've just marveled at how solid he is, how efficient he is," new defensive coordinator Lance Anderson said. "I think playing next to Skov is a reason he's been a little overshadowed, and then with Trent Murphy and Chase Thomas on the outside the last few years I think it's easy to get overshadowed."

Over the past three seasons, Tarpley is the Cardinal's leading tackler (216). If he replicates his 2013 total (93), he'll finish his career in the top 10 on the school all-time tackles list. Currently, only two other players who began their career in 1990 or later are part of the group: Skov (2009-13) and Chris Draft (1994-97).

Tarpley's near-immediate production came as no surprise to Stanford coach David Shaw, who said the former Minnesota Gatorade Player of the Year made a strong impression during his true freshman season during the team's scrimmages on Fridays.

"He just seemed to make every play," Shaw said. "Tackle after tackle after tackle, and if the ball was thrown anywhere around him he either picked it off or deflected it."

Both Shaw and Anderson credited Tarpley's instincts as a major factor in his success, which, coupled with good quickness, makes up for what wouldn't be described as elite athleticism. Anderson has Tarpley down for 4.75 seconds in his most recent 40-yard-dash.

"There's a lot of people that think I study tremendous amounts of film and know what plays the offense is going to run, but that's not the case," Tarpley said. "I believe I'm a pretty good athlete. I base everything off my quickness and just read plays to make things happen."

And if film study isn't the root of his ability to read defenses, what is? That's simple: video games -- the Madden franchise, in particular.

Tarpley is a firm believer that playing Madden -- a game in which he claims he's unbeatable -- has helped develop his understanding of the way angles, routes and coverages work.

"Looking at the plays in Madden you see passing concepts, you see zone coverages and how those work out ... where this guy is and who he's replacing and how things can occur," he said. "I really do think going through the plays on both offense and defense -- what beats what? -- I think that's helped me as a player. When I'm out there on the field, it's almost a [subconscious] decision in my mind how something should develop."

That understanding has allowed Stanford to regularly use him to cover receivers in single coverage with good results. Tarpley is the program's only player to record an interception in each of the past three seasons.

"He is one of the best coverage linebackers I've been around," Anderson said. "He has such good patience and a good feel for routes and what people are going to try and run. That is one thing that stands out. I don't know if I've been around anyone like him like that."

Tarpley's focus is on finishing his Stanford career strong, but he made it clear the NFL is also in his sights.

"I've always been doubted my whole career. No one's ever said how great I was going to be so I've always had that mentality with a chip on my shoulder," he said. "I'm going to dream about [playing in the NFL] every day until I can earn a spot there."

And if that doesn't work out, there's always the Madden pro leagues to fall back on ... or his Stanford degree.
I saw the sign and it opened up my mind.

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