DESPITE SUFFERING back-to-back one-sided losses to UCLA and Washington State the past two weeks, Stanford is not allowing itself to feel demoralized as it faces No. 13 Utah in Salt Lake City on Saturday night.
"You don't have to worry about motivation if you have belief in who you have and what you're doing," said David Shaw, Stanford's Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. "We've got to go in and not be shy and not tiptoe into the stadium. We've got to go in there face first and give the best effort we have."
Said receiver John Humphreys, "We don't pay too much attention to what people say on the outside. Our mentality every week stays the same. The goal every week is to win. We just come back on Monday, regroup, learn from our mistakes, and do what needs to be done to get a good result on Saturday."
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THE PLAYERS' APPROACH is in details rather than the big picture.
"You try to win your one-on-ones when they're there," Humphreys said. "When they are there, you try to take advantage of them.
"This week, we want to emphasize running precise routes, playing physical, not letting guys get their hands on us, and winning our one-on-ones."
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Tristan Sinclair. Photo by Jim Shorin/ISIphotos.com.
SENIOR INSIDE LINEBACKER Tristan Sinclair is among those who grew up in the Bay Area with a goal of playing for Stanford. As his collegiate career winds down, he appreciates every moment.
"I still feel that all the time," he said. "Even though we've had a tough year, I still try to remind myself, I'm truly living out my dream here. Playing college football, that's all I wanted to do as a kid, especially at Stanford. I definitely feel it running out the tunnel or playing in a big game. It's a blessing every day to be here and to get to play college football. It's amazing."
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ONE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN the Washington State running game and Utah's is the way they run. The Cougars like to spread the field and run through gaps. The Utes play straight up and dare you to stop it.
"Utah loads the box and has big personnel," Sinclair said. "You know what to expect -- they're a heavy run and play-action scheme. Then it becomes, Who wants it more? Who's going to out-physical the other team?"
Sinclair said the defender's focus can't stray.
"The key to stopping them is adjusting to the shifts and motions," he said. "Getting lined up and getting your eyes to the right spot."
Jaxson Moi. Photo by Dave Elkinson/ISIphotos.com.
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STANFORD LOST FOUR defensive starters to injuries on the first series against Washington State and never recovered in a 52-14 loss. It's possible that some combination of those – inside linebackers Levani Damuni and Ricky Miezan, and defensive backs Patrick Fields and Kendall Williamson – could return for the Utah game.
"We need to put guys in position to be successful," Shaw said. "I put that on me. Utah's a tough opponent, they play hard and physical and that's the kind of game this is going to be. But we've got a lot of great guys who are going to work hard and come out and play their best football."
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BRENDON BARROW, the last remaining scholarship running back available last week, will miss the Utah game with an injury. That leaves converted safety Mitch Leigber as the lone running back on the depth chart, with no backup listed.
Leigber provided a gutty performance in his first extensive action at the position, against Washington State. He rushed for 23 yards on 11 carries, caught three passes for 32 yards, and did a good job in pass protection, picking up blitzers, though he fumbled once.
"The guys are excited for him," Shaw said. "He knows what to do. He goes hard. He's got a great passion for the game, and he's really smart. We're excited about the transformation he's made. He's doing a heck of a job and he's going to be better than he was last week."
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THE STANFORD-UTAH matchup pits the two longest-tenured coaches in the conference against each other. Shaw is in his 12th season as Stanford's head coach and Kyle Whittingham is in his 18th at Utah.
The key to longevity is, "You have to be aligned with the university," Shaw said. "You have to be willing to grow and change and adjust over time. You're not going to have the same team every year. There are certain principles that you're going to stick to, but also certain ways you have to adapt."
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Joshua Karty. Photo by Bob Drebin/ISIphotos.com.
JOSHUA KARTY, recently named semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award, remains perfect. The junior kicker is 14-of-14 on field-goal tries, with a long of 53, and 21-of-21 on extra-point tries. Karty is among 10 FBS kickers without a field-goal miss (minimum of one attempt per game). However, only one, North Carolina State's Christopher Dunn (18-of-18) has more attempts than Karty.
The Stanford record for highest field-goal percentage in a season is .933 (14 of 15) by Jet Toner in 2018.
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Salt Lake Tribune; Nov. 28, 1902.
THOUGH UTAH IS a relatively new conference foe for Stanford, joining the Pac-12 in 2011, the series against the Utes goes back 120 years. They first met on a snowy Thanksgiving Day in Salt Lake City, concluding the 1902 season with a 35-11 Stanford victory.
"Stanford worked like a well oiled machine and were quick as lightning in every play," the Deseret News wrote. "The manner in which they formed around a player carrying the oval, broke up interference on the other side, their running when the ball was punted and their line bucking was simply magnificent.
"The local team displayed admirable pluck, but they were never 'in it' for a moment."
Assuming this translates to rushing yards, the newspaper account under "Distances gained by carrying the ball," listed Stanford's A.B. McGilvray for 217 yards and Alfred Dole 109. There was no passing at the time and it's unclear if "distances gained" included return yardage, though measured against Utah's meager "distances" total of 79 yards, that doesn't appear to be the case.
If McGilvray's total was just for rushing, as it appears to be, his total should have been a school record until 1988, when Jon Volpe gained 220 against Washington. McGilvray's performance would still stand at No. 7 on Stanford's single-game rushing list.
The game was called "the biggest game in the history of the state," by the Deseret News. "The Leland Stanford team is undoubtedly the strongest aggregation of pig skin chasers that ever trod a Utah gridiron."