Notebook: Washington State
STANFORD CONTINUES TO seek offensive balance despite the loss of last week's running back starter, Caleb Robinson, for Saturday afternoon's game against Washington State at Stanford Stadium. Brendon Barrow becomes Stanford's fourth starter at that position this season.
His backup will be Mitch Leigber, a sophomore who shifted from safety before last week's game against UCLA. As a junior at Laguna Hills (Calif.) High, Leigber rushed for 963 yards on 148 carries.
"He's a very good athlete, very physical, tough kid," said David Shaw, Stanford's Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. "He's got great hands, catches the ball well, did a great job running the ball in high school. On the defensive side, he was physical, great tackler, great speed to contact guy. So, we started recruiting him as an athlete, just leaning toward the defensive side.
"But the shape that our running back room is in, he was able to flip over and learned a lot. He got in a couple of plays and now we think he's in a position now where he can help us."
Shaw explained how Leigber was chosen to add depth to a thin position group.
"We've talked about Mitch before when we've had running back injuries, just because he was so athletic and physical as an offensive player," Shaw said. "I reached out to Mitch, didn't make it a mandate. He thought about it for a little bit, got back to me and said, 'Hey Coach, I'd love to do it.'"
The depth of the safety position allowed Shaw to zero in on Leigber because removing him wouldn't hurt the position group. That wasn't necessarily the case with other potential running backs.
"This is a short-term solution," Shaw said. "Mitch has done a great job at safety. He had a great spring and he's going to be at some point a starting safety for us. But there are a lot of guys on our team saying, 'Hey Coach, let me know if you need me.'"
As for the team's approach with yet another blow to the running back position, quarterback Tanner McKee said, "We're just going to have to take on the responsibility, take on the challenge. We're definitely up for it. We're missing a lot of our guys, but it's not something to dwell on. We've got to keep moving. Next man up."
Mitch Leigber. Photo by Grant Shorin.
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FIFTH-YEAR SAFETY Patrick Fields is a semifinalist for the Wuerffel Trophy, college football's top award for community service. While at Oklahoma last year, Fields was among three finalists for the award that went to Stanford quarterback Isaiah Sanders.
The connection between Fields and Sanders created by the Wuerffel Trophy contributed to Fields coming to Stanford as a graduate transfer. Sanders is among the few that blazed that path, after graduating with a B.S. in systems engineering from the Air Force Academy. Stanford football had only one graduate transfer, nose tackle Brennan Scarlett from Cal, before Sanders.
Fields, with bachelor's and master's degrees in economics in hand from Oklahoma, asked for Sanders' help in the application process and for his thoughts on the idea of being a graduate transfer.
"I have a really good relationship with Isaiah," Fields said. "And I have a lot of respect for the award, especially through Isaiah."
Fields was admitted to Stanford unbeknownst to coaches at the time. Because of Stanford's academic standards, incoming transfers are rare despite the nationwide use of the transfer portal. Fields is working toward a master's in management science and engineering.
Where does Fields, an organizer in large-scale community service projects in his native Tulsa, see himself beyond this year?
"That's a tough question," he said. "I like the idea of the opportunities I have, maybe in finance, that will give me the capital to do whatever nonprofit work I want to do in the future. I like the idea of having a professional career that would give me the ability to go into nonprofits without depending on investors or a board. I like the idea being able to impact Tulsa the way I want to, on my terms."
Patrick Fields. Photo by Glen Mitchell/ISIphotos.com.
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McKEE IS STANFORD'S biggest offensive weapon, but the Cardinal can't afford to be one-dimensional toward the passing game.
"We've got to be efficient," Shaw said. "We can't just be a dropback operation. We have to be able to run the ball, to be balanced, but at the same time utilizing one of our strengths, which is our passing game."
If Stanford's can move the ball consistently, it keeps the Washington State offense, quarterback Cameron Ward in particular, off the field.
"He can get hot on you," Shaw said. "You have to be in his face. You have to make him move and hopefully our secondary can match up and stay with their receivers."
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THE DEPTH CHART reveals the makings of an impactful freshman class. David Bailey (edge), Jaxson Moi (defensive tackle), and Jason Thompson (kickoff and punt returner) are listed as possible starters. Mudia Reuben (receiver), Sam Roush (tight end), Ernest Cooper (edge), and Jacob Lowe (long snapper) are possible No. 2's, and Ashton Daniels (quarterback) is a No. 3.
"I look forward to some of the younger guys getting bigger opportunities," Fields said. "You're getting an insight into what the future of Stanford football looks like, which is incredibly promising."
Daniels is Stanford's leading ground gainer among players available for the Washington State game. Daniels has 83 yards on 10 carries.
Reuben has four catches for 44 yards. He had a carry for 14 yards against UCLA and a catch for five yards. On his run, Reuben was knocked off his feet, caught himself with his arm and regained his balance to pick up additional yardage.
"Mudia's a stud," McKee said. "We all knew he had a ton of potential, just for how athletic he was. When he got here, he was super raw at receiver and we couldn't wait to see him develop and get better at his routes. Now that he's refining those things, his route running's a lot better, his understanding of the game is a lot better, and now he's able to get open and make those crazy athletic plays like the one that we saw on Saturday.
"I feel like he has a really high ceiling and he's just going to keep getting better and better."
Shaw has marveled at some of things Reuben has done.
"He came in the spring and just seemed to make one freaky play a day, minimum," Shaw said. "He's like plastic man. He just bends and twists and finds a way to get through difficult situations on his feet.
"There was a play in training camp: He was going for a deep ball and couldn't quite get there. There was somebody around his feet and he dove in the air, did a somersault, and landed back on his feet. Heck of an athlete."
Mudia Reuben. Photo by Karen Hickey/ISIphotos.com.
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McKEE SAID THE adversity he and the Cardinal has faced has helped him become better in areas that he wouldn't have anticipated.
"Being able to address the team after a loss, being able to give guys constructive criticism, or being a better leader in different ways," McKee said. "I feel like this has really helped me a lot grow as a person, as a leader, and as a quarterback. Just being able to adapt is huge."
As a captain and team leader, McKee feels his value is more than just through his performance, especially as the team has struggled in a 3-5 season.
"I'm trying to be that guy that guys can look at and be like, 'OK, we're good. Tanner's level-headed, so we can be level-headed,'" he said. "Being positive, being confident. We still have to be more consistent in the way we handle adversity and the way we bounce back, but I feel like we've shown we're able to do it. We just need to be able to do it more often."
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SATURDAY MARKS STANFORD'S fifth Set the Expectation Game. Each season, Brenda Tracy shares her message on sexual and relationship violence. Her story always is impactful.
"The first time she came, you could hear a pin drop," Shaw said. "The emotions that her story brings … and she does a great job of giving a direction for those emotions.
"Every time Brenda comes, it's not just the athletes, you also see the students wearing T-shirts, coming up to talk to her, and sharing their stories and telling her about the impact that she's made. It's been an overall positive thing that we'll continue to do."
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Benjamin Yurosek. Photo by Bob Drebin/ISIphotos.com.
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ASKED FOR HIS thoughts on what's gone right and wrong for the defense, Fields provided his thoughts.
"What's gone right is you have a group of men who are very resilient, which is probably one of the biggest accomplishments you can have in life," Fields said. "Football teaches you a lot -- adversity, courage. Whatever is thrown at us, even though the outcome isn't what we want, guys keep on fighting. Guys never look for an excuse or someone else to blame.
"Things that we can work on: Gap integrity in the run game and trusting in our work and everything that we put into it."
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AS OUTGOING CHAIR of the NCAA rules committee, Shaw said one regret about a change that has not happened, is abolishing the umpire. Shaw said the usefulness of the official is negated by their impact in the play.
"I'm in agreement with Coach," Fields said. "That's the frustrating part … even during play, you're trying to move those guys out of the way.
"The game is very protective of the offensive players, while the defensive players get the bad end of things -- running backs can facemask us, move our helmets whenever they're stiff-arming, we can get crack blocks. It's frustrating sometimes."
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AS THE 40th anniversary of The Play creeps ever closer (Nov. 20, 1982), the Stanford Historical Society is offering a program called Five Laterals and a Trombone: Cal, Stanford, and the Wildest Ending in College Football History, after the new book written by Pultizer Prize-winning journalist and Stanford band alum Tyler Bridges '82.
Bridges, author Gary Pomerantz (Cal grad and Stanford journalism lecturer), and others will be presenting and leading a discussion on November 15 from 4:30-6 p.m. at Cemex Auditorium. It is open to the public and available for viewing in-person or virtually. Contact the Stanford Historical Society to register.