Minutes after his team upset USC Sept. 15, Stanford coach David Shaw offered what amounts to a mission statement for the Cardinal offense.
"If it's a tight game in the fourth quarter, we're going to run the ball," Shaw said. "We always talk about it. We don't have fat guys. We have big guys. Our guys have got to play four quarters. We've got to be ready in the four-minute drill to run the ball and run the ball and run the ball. With our fullbacks and our tight ends and our seven offensive linemen on the field, we've got to be able to do it."
Fat guys. Big guys. Whatever Shaw chooses to call them, he uses a lot of them. While most teams stick to the usual five, Stanford regularly lines up with six or seven offensive linemen on the field in addition to one or more of the Cardinal's monster tight ends. Sometimes the linemen line up alongside one another. Sometimes they slip on an eligible number and line up at fullback or tight end. Either way, their purpose remains the same: open holes for Stepfan Taylor and Stanford's backs. Saturday in South Bend, Stanford's heavy jumbos will take on Notre Dame's ferocious front seven in a test of wills.
The Cardinal aren't alone, though. While much of college football has moved toward a pass-happy spread offense -- playing as many receivers as linemen -- several teams have gone the opposite direction. They load up on linemen and dare defenses to stand in the path of the bulldozer. Last week against LSU, Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease liberally sprinkled in extra linemen. When the Gators, down by six in the third quarter, needed to break into the end zone, Pease made offensive line coach Tim Davis quite happy when he called for a package that used seven offensive linemen. The Gators ran a play known in football circles as Power, and tailback Mike Gillislee could have walked into the end zone.
"A lot of that is coach Davis," Pease said with a sly grin. "He just likes getting big guys out there. You know what they say. Mass kicks ass. I guess that's our theory behind it."
Adding linemen forces the defense to make all sorts of unpleasant decisions very quickly. Do the defensive ends line up wider than usual? If they do, they widen gaps and create running lanes. Also, with so many linemen spread across the line of scrimmage, it's easier to get a favorable angle to block a defensive lineman. Need to move the defensive tackle lined up on the outside eye of the guard? Just smash him with the tackle, then let the lineman lined up outside the tackle crush the linebacker behind him. Those wider gaps also allow linemen to come off untouched to hit much smaller linebackers. Without some interference from a defensive lineman, a linebacker can get smothered.
Stanford makes things even more difficult by using an unbalanced line, which can trick an unsuspecting defense into thinking an eligible tight end is an ineligible lineman. On the Cardinal's game-winning overtime touchdown play last week against Arizona, both tackles lined up on the right side and 6-foot-8, 265-pound tight end Levine Toilolo lined up next to left guard Khalil Wilkes. Meanwhile, guard Dillon Bonnell wore No. 96 and lined up on the far right side of the line -- slightly behind the line of scrimmage. The Cardinal also called Power. Wilkes pulled and found all the linebackers blocked, so he wiped out the Wildcats' safety. Bonnell, meanwhile, kicked out a defensive end. Taylor ran 20 yards for the game-winning score.
Using extra linemen makes schematic sense, but it also makes practical sense. Teams use a higher percentage of scholarships on offensive linemen than they do on any other position group. When a team has excellent receivers, the offensive coordinator tries to find a way to get them all on the field at once. Why not do the same with offensive linemen? If there are seven linemen capable of starting and only five starting spots, why not find a way to play the other two? At Stanford, Bonnell and 6-7, 280-pound freshman tackle Kyle Murphy have worn eligible numbers and provided extra beef. Murphy already has been targeted with a pass, so Shaw can also add the possibility of temporary glory to his arsenal of tools for recruiting elite offensive linemen. At Florida, top recruit D.J. Humphries was one of the two extra linemen (Ian Silbermann was the other) to take the field when the Gators went heavy. Neither of the Florida linemen slipped on a really big eligible jersey, but don't be surprised if Pease adds that to his repertoire at some point.
Even opponents love the challenge of facing jumbo opposition. Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o couldn't hide his excitement this week about the prospect of facing Stanford's big boys. "This is just old school, smash-mouth football," Te'o said. "It's football at its purest. It's going to be fun."
Meanwhile, when Florida faces Vanderbilt, the Commodores shouldn't be shocked if they must push through more than a ton of humanity blocking for Gillislee. "Seven guys. Three hundred plus," Pease said. "What's your math on that? Seven times three. That's 2,100 pounds coming at you. I don't know if I'd want that falling on me."
• Kansas State at Iowa State: Kanas State created its CKMVP campaign to tout quarterback Collin Klein for postseason awards, but, as these things usually are, the forced, generic nickname has been usurped by a grassroots campaign. In Manhattan, they call him Optimus Klein. That sounds much better. Klein is one of the best leaders in college football, and Optimus Prime is the greatest leader the universe has ever seen. As long as Klein never ends up throwing to Calvin "Megatron" Johnson in the NFL, the nickname should stick forever.
• Texas vs. Oklahoma in Dallas: Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops learned during Wednesday's practice that the NCAA had ruled Fresno State transfer Jalen Saunders immediately eligible. So Stoops immediately moved the 5-9, 160-pounder from the scout-team offense to the field where the first- and second-team offenses practice. As if the Texas defense didn't already have enough problems with a Sooners offense that looked much better last week at Texas Tech. Now, the Longhorns must also defend a speedy jitterbug who plays well in space and could add another dimension Oklahoma's offense. "He's played a lot of football and played it well," Stoops told The Oklahoman. "We're hopeful that he will be able to play [against Texas]. He's quick, got a great sense of space and the ability to get open."
• Auburn at Ole Miss: Auburn's only win is an overtime squeaker against Louisiana-Monroe. Ole Miss is an improved team looking for its first SEC win since Oct. 2, 2010. I'm just going to leave this Kevin Scarbinsky column crunching the numbers on Gene Chizik's buyout right here.
• West Virginia at Texas Tech: The Mountaineers have played two consecutive games at a high emotional pitch. Their 70-63 win against Baylor was the program's first Big 12 game. Their 48-45 win against Texas was their first challenging road test. Next week, the Mountaineers will face Kansas State in a matchup of the Big 12's best. So what about this week? I'd reference a certain Rebel Alliance Admiral here, but he's headed elsewhere Saturday.
• Oregon State at BYU: Beavers quarterback Cody Vaz could have transferred after Ryan Katz beat for him the starting job in 2010. He could have left after Sean Mannion beat him out in 2011. But Vaz stayed in Corvallis, and now he'll take over for Mannion, who injured his knee during last week's win against Washington State. Vaz hasn't played in a game since 2010, but he'll have to knock off the rust quickly against a BYU defense that has allowed only 8.8 points a game.
• Boston College at Florida State: The Seminoles are back... on the field for the first time since gagging away a win at NC State last week. You didn't think I'd break my pledge that quickly, did you?
• Florida at Vanderbilt: The Gators grabbed their biggest win of the post-Tebow era last week. Next week, they'll face South Carolina with a chance to take control of the SEC East race. So what about this week? That catfish-looking military leader might appear here any other week, but not this one.
• USC at Washington: You're not going to believe this, but it might rain in Seattle Saturday. Thursday, Washington coach Steve Sarkisian was asked about the possibility of playing in the rain for the first time at CenturyLink Stadium. "Our guys have had enough experience practicing or playing in the rain that this should feel OK," Sarkisian said. Of course they will. They live in Seattle.
• Kentucky at Arkansas: John L. Smith on a winning streak? It's going to happen.
• South Carolina at LSU: South Carolina sent a major message last week with a win against Georgia. Next week, the Gamecocks head to Gainesville with a chance to put a stranglehold on the SEC East. So what about this week? That's right, it's the Admiral Ackbar Special. LSU can't sneak up on anyone, but the Gamecocks appear to be better than the Tigers and have less to lose. As strange as it may sound, this game is much more meaningful for LSU. That's what makes it a trap for South Carolina. Of course, that Tiger Stadium crowd should remind the Gamecocks that this is a big game and an opponent not to be taken lightly. That could be the worst thing to happen to LSU. The Gamecocks run better on offense and rush the passer better on defense than Florida, and LSU couldn't handle the Gators in either aspect last week.
• Texas A&M vs. Louisiana Tech in Shreveport, La.: Johnny Football vs. The BCS Busters sounds like the title of the best college football flick since Necessary Roughness. Instead, we'll get a scoreboard-rattling clash between an SEC newbie playing one last game before it hits the teeth of the conference schedule and the team most likely to crash the rich guys' party at the end of the season. You'll be the feel-good story later this month, Aggies. You won't be Saturday night.
"Seventy-one points generally."
-- Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads to Ames Tribune on how many points it takes to win in the Big 12.
We see what you did there, coach. Iowa State probably won't need 71 points to shock Kansas State, but the Cyclones will need to play their best game if they hope to shock a Big 12 title contender for a second consecutive season.
A Kansas sports information official gently suggested this week to a reporter from student paper The University Daily Kansan that Jayhawks coach Charlie Weis might have a "kind of tone" in answering any questions from a reporter from that particular publication. Weis is angry because last week, the UDKpublished a cartoon predicting that Weis' terrible football team would get crushed by the excellent football team at Kansas State. Weis took to Twitter to complain that day. The warning came this week, after Weis' terrible football team got crushed by the excellent football team at Kansas State.
There are two lessons in this situation. First, the student reporter should learn that sometimes coaches get mad at what gets printed in a particular publication and take it out on the nearest representative of said publication -- whether that representative had anything to do with the offending material or not. This is great training for being a paid beat writer. Don't complain. Do your job. Just keep asking questions. Allow the coach to make himself look stupid if he gets snippy. The second lesson is that if you have thin skin and a mediocre career record as a head coach, it's a bad idea to take a job at a university with a good journalism school. The student papers that print sunshine-and-lollipops stories typically are attached to bad J-schools whose graduates don't find jobs. Kansas has an excellent journalism school. It has a horrible football team. If Weis doesn't want his team to get criticized on campus, then he should either seek employment elsewhere or win.
Not only does Stanford toss extra offensive linemen on the field, but it also plays a tailback with two personalities. In this video, Cardinal star Stepfan Taylor interviews rapper Kulabafi, which is roughly the equivalent of Sacha Baron Cohen interviewing Borat.
Texas and Oklahoma once again renew their rivalry while surrounded by the Texas state fair. These are the top five fried items I consumed while covering last year's game.
5. Deep-fried butter: This isn't as special -- or as disgusting -- as it sounds. You eat it pretty much every time you eat a doughnut.
4. Deep-fried bacon: Eat it at the fair if you aren't going to be in the College Station metro area at any point in your life. Otherwise, eat the life-changing fried bacon at Sodolak's Country Inn in Snook, Texas.
3. Deep-fried peanut butter, jelly and banana sandwich: The King would be proud.
2. Deep-fried Snickers bar: Don't look. Just eat.
1. The chocolate-covered deep-fried Twinkie: You lose, terrorists.
Georgia is off this week, but the clock is ticking on Athens institution Weaver D's. So if you happen to be passing through, grab some fried chicken. Automatic.