No. 23 Stanford hosts Oregon in coaching reunion
STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — When Willie Taggart got the head coaching job at Oregon, one of the first calls he made was to Stanford coach David Shaw.
The two had spent three years together as assistants under Jim Harbaugh for the Cardinal, forging a friendship that carries over into their first meeting as adversaries on Saturday night when No. 23 Stanford (4-2, 3-1 Pac-12) hosts the Ducks (4-2, 1-2).
“Learned a lot of football from David Shaw while I was there and we kept in touch ever since,” Taggart said. “He’s been a good friend and someone I call on and especially when getting this job and talking more about the Pac-12. He’s one of the guys I can call on and get some help from.”
The two bonded on that Stanford staff from 2007-09 that included many strong personalities and four assistants who went on to become FBS head coaches. Taggart left after 2009 to take over Western Kentucky.
After three seasons there, Taggart spent four years at South Florida before returning to the Pac-12 this season with the task of turning around Oregon.
“He is himself,” Shaw said. “He’s not putting on an act to be someone else. Very early on we found that common ground that we had a similar personality.”
Here are some other things to watch:
SHORT-HANDED: The Cardinal will have to play the first half without two key defensive players. Defensive tackle Harrison Phillips and linebacker Peter Kalambayi were both ejected last week for targeting late in a win at Utah. The punishment carries over to the first half this week, dealing a big blow to Stanford’s front seven.
“Harrison is playing at an All-American level,” Shaw said. “It will be tough to miss for a half. I know he will be fired up to join us for the second half.”
DYNAMIC BACKS: This game features two of the top runners in the country. Stanford’s Bryce Love leads the nation with 1,240 yards rushing in six games with a staggering 10.55 yards per carry. Oregon’s Royce Freeman has been one of the best for four years. He has rushed for 4,800 yards in his career and is tied with LaMichael James for the most TDs (58) in school history.
“He had a good opportunity to play in the NFL. I’m not too happy that he passed that up,” Shaw said. “He’s physical, he can get the tough yards and has the ability to break long runs. We knew about him during the recruiting process. I was hoping he would come to us or somewhere far away.”
QB STABILITY: Kelley Chryst will once again be the No. 1 quarterback for Stanford. Chryst began the year that way but then got hurt in last month’s win at UCLA. K.J. Costello got the nod against Arizona State the following week and shared the duties with Chryst at Utah. But Shaw said Chryst’s performance against the Utes warranted him playing the majority of the game this week, although Costello could get a series or two.
“Keller made some big-time throws on third down to Trent Irwin,” Shaw said. “Those were big-time completions, NFL-type completions.”
SECOND START: Oregon freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister struggled in his first career start in place of the injured Justin Herbert. He completed 15 of 27 passes for 145 yards, two interceptions and one touchdown last week against Washington State and will have a tough task again when he faces Stanford’s stellar secondary led by ball-hawking safety Justin Reid, who is tied for the lead in the nation with five interceptions.
“The more experience you have the better you get with it,” Taggart said. “I just think guys around him have to play better in order for Braxton to play up to his potential. He’s going to need guys around him to step up and give us more.”
CLEAN POCKET: Stanford’s offensive line has stepped it up the past three weeks, allowing no sacks during this winning streak after giving up eight over the first three games. The Cardinal get a tough test this week against an Oregon defense that leads the nation with 24 sacks.
“We went back to basics, back to step one,” tackle A.T. Hall said. “We restarted and have been clean ever since. It’s getting comfortable. We’re getting in a groove. It was time to settle in.”