NCAA

The Cardinal's unsung hero

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The Cardinal's unsung hero

Steve Berman
CSNBayArea.com

Ask a college football fan about Stanford, and if they even mention the defense you might hear names like Chase Thomas or the injured Shayne Skov. In the likelier event that the offense receives the focus, you'd probably hear names like Stepfan Taylor, Coby Fleener and, of course, Heisman Trophy favorite Andrew Luck. But if one takes a closer look at the 2011 Cardinal offense, a group that puts up nearly 50 points per game, it'd be a drastic mistake to overlook Stanford's offensive line. While the entire group is as big, strong and effective as any unit in college football, the line's leader is undoubtedly Jonathan "Moose" Martin.Stanford's left tackle might not be as well known among casual fans, but NFL scouts know all about Moose. According to Walter Football's 2012 NFL Mock Draft, Martin is currently slated to be chosen at No. 12 overall. Scott Wright's Draft Countdown has Martin going off the board at No. 10. FF Toolbox has Martin as a top-5 selection.With all the hype surrounding the supremely talented Luck, one could argue that Martin might be the safest bet on Stanford's entire roster to be an NFL starter for 10 years.After Martin made first team All-Pac-10 last year, he was a first team Playboy preseason All-America pick before the 2011 season. To say he's lived up to that billing would be an understatement. The 6-6, 304-pound Martin has protected Luck's blind side and opened up holes for Taylor and the rest of Stanford's deep running back corps to such a degree that he was recently named one of four finalists for the Lombardi Award, annually given to the nation's top lineman or linebacker. Thanks to Martin and the rest of Stanford's huge, powerful offensive line, Luck has completed over 70 of his passes this season and has only been sacked four times in nine games. Martin like most offensive linemen prefers run blocking to pass protection, and Cardinal runners average 5.7 yards per carry, 7th in the nation (Oregon leads the country at 7.0 yards per rush, incidentally). Beyond statistics, Martin is the leader of a group that sets the tone for Stanford. The Cardinal, unlike most that spread the field and live outside the hash marks, mixes complicated schemes (Stanford by all accounts makes their offensive players memorize more plays than any other team in the country) with old-school physicality.Martin, who originally committed to UCLA before the chance to play on The Farm changed his mind, is ranked so highly among potential pro prospects in large part due to his athleticism. His long arms and flexibility, paired with outstanding technique and intelligence (several members of Martin's family have attended Harvard) have made him invaluable to Luck and Stanford coach David Shaw.When Shaw moved up from offensive coordinator after Jim Harbaugh left to coach the San Francisco 49ers, it appeared Stanford would have a great chance at a successful season, especially with Luck returning. However, Martin was one of only two returning offensive linemen along with right guard David DeCastro, who in his own right is projected to be taken low in the first round or in the early second round of the 2012 NFL Draft. The way that Martin and DeCastro have anchored Stanford's o-line and integrated new starters David Yankey, Sam Schwartzstein and Cameron Fleming has been invaluable to the No. 4 team in the BCS standings.Many believe Luck's chances to clinch the Heisman Trophy ride largely on how he does in Saturday's much-anticipated matchup against Oregon. If that indeed comes to pass, a large reason why will surely be the way Martin protects Luck's blindside when he drops back to do so.

Steve Berman is the Bay Area Sports Guy and a contributor to CSNBayArea.com. Check out his blog and follow him on Twitter @BASportsGuy

Cal fights USC into fourth quarter, can't complete the upset

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AP

Cal fights USC into fourth quarter, can't complete the upset

BOX SCORE

BERKELEY -- Stephen Carr ran for a fourth-quarter touchdown two plays after Southern California's defense forced one of its six turnovers and the fifth-ranked Trojans won their 13th straight game, 30-20 over California on Saturday.

USC (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) has dominated the series with its in-state rival by winning 14 straight against the Golden Bears (3-1, 0-1), but this was one of the tightest matchups in years as the game was tied early in the fourth quarter.

Sam Darnold threw for 223 yards and two touchdowns for the Trojans but also had an interception and was under pressure for much of the day.

It was the defense that stepped up for USC, intercepting a pass from Ross Bowers in the first quarter to set up a field goal and then delivering the big play early in the fourth quarter after Chase McGrath gave the Trojans a 16-13 lead with his third field goal of the game.

Josh Fatu knocked the ball out of Bowers' hand and Uchenna Nwosu recovered the fumble at the 3. Carr ran it in two plays later from the 2 to make it 23-13.

Ykili Ross then intercepted Bowers' pass on the next possession, setting up Darnold's 4-yard TD pass to Deontay Burnett that put away the game.

Bowers finished 22 for 50 for 303 yards with one touchdown, four interceptions and two lost fumbles.

THE TAKEAWAY

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: The Trojans struggled for much of the game without starting RB Ronald Jones (ankle) and WR Steven Mitchell (groin) but managed to pull away late in their first road game of the season.

CALIFORNIA: The Bears used an improved defense to start 3-0 under first-year coach Justin Wilcox but this was supposed to be the test of how far they had come. Cal showed plenty by sticking with a national title contender for three quarters. A sequence on the opening drive of the second will haunt the Bears. Patrick Laird dropped a potential TD in the end zone and Matt Anderson then missed a 29-yard field goal that kept the game tied at 13.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

A win against an unranked team should do little to alter USC's poll position.

UP NEXT

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: Visits No. 18 Washington State on Friday.

CALIFORNIA: Visits No. 24 Oregon on Saturday.

From feeding homeless to doing the splits, Stanford's Phillips a rare find

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From feeding homeless to doing the splits, Stanford's Phillips a rare find

Stanford has a penchant for recruiting the overachieving student-athlete. Even among those standards, Harrison Phillips is a rare find. The senior defensive tackle helps feed the homeless every Friday morning at a local shelter. He often visits the kids in the oncology ward at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. He was named to the Pac-12 All Academic First Team and will graduate in December with a double major and a minor. He is a team captain and heir apparent to Solomon Thomas, the 49ers third overall pick in this year’s NFL draft.

“One thing you love about Harrison is, every day he’s going to get something done,” head coach David Shaw told NBC Sports Bay Area. “On the field, off the field, in the community, he’s always got a million things going on. But nothing ever suffers.

"He does everything at a high level.”

At 6-foot-4, 290 pounds, Phillips is a mountain of a man. His skill set is different than that of Thomas, but he can be just as disruptive. He plays over the center. He plays over the guards. His self-proclaimed job is to eat as many blocks as possible to keep the linebackers free.

“He’s such that hard point for us. He’s that guy up front that’s getting knock back, that force in the run game that you gotta have,” defensive coordinator Lance Anderson explained. “You have to have that strong solid point in the middle of your defense, and he provides that.”

Phillips had a game-high 11 tackles, five of them solo, in the Cardinal’s loss to USC. No other defensive lineman on the field had more than three.

“He’s outstanding against the run. He’s a very good pass rusher,” Shaw added. “He’s got a lot of tools that can work inside.”

Phillips main instruments of domination are strength, knowledge of leverage and abnormal flexibility for a man of his size.

“He can do the splits on command,” Thomas said laughing from in front of his locker after a recent 49ers practice. “He loves showing it off. We get on him for it. But he loves doing it.

And, according to Thomas, his former Stanford teammate loves to bench. So it comes as no surprise that Phillips’ upper body strength stands out.

“He’ll be really low in a position that you think he’d get knocked over in,” Thomas explained. “Because of how flexible he is, it’s not a problem for him to get in that position and stay there and move on from there. It definitely shows up on his film.”

No doubt, Phillips says, that ability comes from his wrestling experience. His high school curriculum vitae includes, “Nebraska State Wrestling Champion, Heavy Weight Division, Sophomore, Junior and Senior years.”

Phillips first year on The Farm, he vividly remembers his Stanford coaches testing him. Just a mere 245 pounds at the time, they put him up against Joshua Garnett and Andrus Peat, two offensive linemen now in the NFL and each well over 300 pounds.

“They’d double team me, almost 700 pounds on you, and I would somehow find leverage and be able to sit on some of those double teams,” Phillips said. “I think the violence that wrestling brings, and balance and being comfortable in weird positions, wrestling has a ton of scrambling, as it's called, you just know your body and know what you can do. I have tremendous flexibility, and I use everything to my advantage.”

One thing Phillips is not allowed to do is use his explosiveness away from the football field. At one time, Phillips could do a back flip off the wall, but he no longer attempts it.

“I’m not a big fan of the back hand springs,” Shaw said. “I’d like for him to stay on his feet.”

Phillips doesn’t argue. He lost his entire sophomore year to a knee injury, and doesn’t want to risk another. He has NFL aspirations and put himself in position to graduate in three-and-a-half years should he choose to enter the 2018 draft. But just as he has done at Stanford, he is looking to be more than just a name on a jersey should he play on a professional level.

“I want to build something that is really lasting,” Phillips said of his life goal, “and put my name on something to touch people’s lives and change people’s lives, pay it forward as much as I can.”