No. 19 Stanford hosts Wake Forest
STANFORD – The task of shoring up the defense at Stanford began soon after last season ended with the hiring of longtime NFL assistant Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator.
Fangio immediately brought in an aggressive style and pro schemes to a defense that often struggled to slow down the opposition a year ago.
The move appears to be paying off so far. The 19th-ranked Cardinal have allowed just one offensive touchdown through two games and are coming off a 35-0 win at UCLA that was their first road shutout since 1974.
“We’re not getting so hyped about it,” safety Michael Thomas said. “We love the face that we could pitch a shutout, especially in the Rose Bowl. It’s the Rose Bowl man. We’re not getting high and mighty. We feel like we’re just getting started. With this defense, we feel like there’s more to come.”
The Cardinal (2-0) should get their stiffest test so far when they take on Wake Forest (2-0) on Saturday night. The Demon Deacons have scored 107 points in two games, putting up big numbers against both Presbyterian and Duke.
With freshman Tanner Price running the offense, Wake Forest has had a propensity for big plays. The Demon Deacons have scored eight offensive touchdowns on plays of at least 20 yards, including an 81-yard pass from receiver Marshall Williams to Chris Givens against Duke and Devon Brown’s 85-yard run in the opener.
“You can’t go into a football game knowing that the only way you are going to score points is through big plays,” coach Jim Grobe said. “Some of the defenses we play will be more stingy, so we just have to be more consistent.”
Stanford has been particularly stingy this season in a far cry from how the defense played a year ago. The Cardinal allowed 31.4 points per game last season with four of their five losses coming in games where they scored at least 27 points.
Coach Jim Harbaugh brought Fangio on after co-defensive coordinator Andy Buh left for a job at Nevada. Fangio had spent the previous 24 years in the NFL, including as linebackers coach in Baltimore under Harbaugh’s brother John.
Fangio put in a 3-4 defense and wanted his players to be less passive this season after the defensive backs too often gave opponents too much room last year. The offensive players noticed the difference right away in spring ball and now the rest of the nation is getting a chance to see it.
“There’s a belief in it and our players have an identity that is really forming,” Harbaugh said. “You can see that out there with the confidence they’re playing with and how they’re executing. Vic is top shelf. I’m learning a lot of football from him.”
Fangio will have a tough task against Wake Forest, which runs some triple-option, zone reads and spread passing that is much less common in the NFL.
Dealing with that offense will require plenty of discipline from a Stanford defense that has prided itself on aggressiveness this season.
“They look very explosive,” Turner said. “This is the type of team that is very dangerous. One guy in the wrong spot or gap and that’s when the big play busts. A team like this is very dangerous.”
The game time presents another challenge, with kickoff scheduled for just after 8:15 p.m. PDT to accommodate the television broadcast on ESPN2.
This is believed to be the latest kickoff in Stanford history, with the players talking about how antsy they will get sitting around the hotel all day waiting for the game. It will be even tougher for the Wake Forest players with the game starting at 11:15 p.m. EDT.
“It’s definitely going to be tough for us, but that’s why we go through camp,” linebacker Riley Haynes said. “That’s why we do things we do. If you don’t go up to Stanford mentally ready, they’re going to take advantage of it because that’s a great team. We’re going to have to get enough sleep and be able to get hyped enough but I think we’ll be ready because Coach Grobe always has us ready mentally.”
The late start time perhaps is a fair turnabout from last year’s meeting that kicked off at noon EDT in North Carolina. The West Coast Cardinal actually started fast in that game, taking a 17-3 halftime lead.
But the Demon Deacons rallied to win it 24-17 on Riley Skinner’s 2-yard run with 2 seconds left in a game that still stings for Stanford because of some questionable penalty calls.
“That was a really tough loss on the road,” said receiver Ryan Whalen, who caught two TD passes. “This is one of those games we had marked on the calendar. It provides a tremendous opportunity this week to go out and get a win.”
– AP sportswriter Aaron Beard in Winston-Salem, N.C., contributed to this report.
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