LOS ANGELES – When asked about his most pressing concern two days ahead of the Rose Bowl, Stanford head coach David Shaw needed no time to gather his thoughts and formulate a response. The biggest concern was Montee Ball, the star senior running back who will do battle with the third-best rushing defense in college football in Tuesday’s Rose Bowl.
“We watched so much film, and I have so much respect for what he’s done at Wisconsin the last few years,” Shaw said at a press conference Sunday morning. “We’ve always looked at their film and how they run the ball, and the different things that they do. And you always see no matter what they run, he’s so patient, he’s got great vision, great balance.”
Shaw added that Ball’s career mirrors that of another accomplished player lining up opposite No. 28 – Cardinal tailback Stepfan Taylor, who rushed 1,442 yards in his senior campaign. The two seniors both anchor their respective offenses with a physical style that invites contact from defenders, creating a matchup Shaw described as “strength against strength.”
Taylor and Ball’s performance in The Granddaddy of Them All is magnified by the fact that both Stanford and Wisconsin have inexperienced quarterbacks starting under center. Cardinal freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan didn’t grab the reigns of the offense until the final four games of the season but proceeded to win each one, all the victories coming against ranked opponents (Oregon State, Oregon and UCLA twice).
Hogan has countered his three interceptions in the five games where he has seen significant time on the field with 964 yards and eight touchdowns. Shaw said his young quarterback has shown tremendous growth since preseason training camp.
“His athletic ability is something you can’t teach,” Shaw, in his second season as Stanford’s head coach, said. “When he gets out in space and makes a guy miss or breaks a tackle, that’s such a plus.
“When you have a quarterback that you don’t have to call the perfect play for and he can still make plays when nobody’s open, he can run for 15 yards. When nobody’s open, he can buy time in the backfield until a guy can get open.”
The Cardinal’s athletic 6-foot-4 quarterback has proven himself a dangerous threat with his own legs, collecting 145 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns since assuming the starting role.
Starting opposite Hogan will be Wisconsin’s Curt Phillips, who took over the starting role in place of the injured Joel Stave Nov. 10, the same day Hogan made his first career start.
The Badgers’ fifth-year senior has not been called upon to lead the offense through the air, never crossing the 200-yard mark in a single game and throwing for 457 yards total in those four games. When he does elect to throw downfield, he will have to keep a watchful eye on the Cardinal’s freshman phenom in cornerback Alex Carter.
A four-star recruit out of Ashburn, Va., Carter has started the last seven games for Stanford, forcing three fumbles and logging 39 tackles on the year.
“They go through the initial testing, and he had combine numbers for a 17-year-old freshman, NFL combine numbers – 40-inch vertical, 10-foot-4-inch broad jump, he’s running in the 4.4 range,” Shaw said. “Just an explosive, physical athlete, very strong.”
Carter will likely defend Wisconsin’s top receiving threat in Jared Abbrederis, a critical test for a cornerback preparing to step onto the biggest stage of his young career.
Shaw praises ‘The Godfather’
The Wisconsin football team has a new nickname for Barry Alvarez, and it’s fair to say Shaw is a vocal supporter of it.
Players have now taken to calling the Badgers’ interim head coach – who will be looking to improve his Rose Bowl record to 4-0 New Year’s Day – “The Godfather.”
Shaw worked alongside Bill Callahan, Wisconsin’s offensive line coach under Alvarez from 1990-94, for five years with the NFL’s Oakland Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles.
“I think it’s awesome,” Shaw said of Alvarez’s latest nickname. “I think that’s a huge sign of respect, I have that respect for him. I have for years since the first time I heard his name since he took over the Wisconsin program, since [I] went to the Philadelphia Eagles and met Bill Callahan.
“Bill Callahan told me I can’t tell you how many stories about Barry Alvarez, and building character in that program, building toughness in that program, how they recruited, how they played.”