No. 6 Stanford hopes ground attack surprises Duke

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No. 6 Stanford hopes ground attack surprises Duke

Sept. 8, 2011
No. 6 STANFORD (1-0) vs.DUKE (0-1)

Saturday, Sept. 10 on 12:30 p.m.
STANFORD (AP) -- Stepfan Taylor's eyes light up every time he sees a safety dropping into coverage or a linebacker cheating back to play the pass.It happens almost every play.With Heisman Trophy favorite Andrew Luck piling up yards passing, sixth-ranked Stanford's stout running game can be easy to overlook. Defenses rarely play the run, if ever, because most of the schemes revolve around stopping No. 12."People forget about the running game sometimes. Or a lot, actually," Taylor said, smiling. "With Andrew at quarterback, you've got to play the pass."At least that's what Stanford wants everybody to believe.While Luck has been toying with defenses in the air and at the line of scrimmage, the Cardinal have quietly put together one of the nation's best rushing attacks. All four tailbacks return from last season, and new coach David Shaw believes they could be scary good."We've got four guys who could start at most places," Shaw said. "We're as deep there as anybody in the nation."Stanford started off slow rushing in a season-opening 57-3 victory over San Jose State, especially in short-yardage situations. Taylor finished with 18 carries for 61 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and the Cardinal had 141 yards rushing as a team.One of the biggest goals in Saturday's first road test at Duke is getting the running game back to where it was a year ago. That mark would be a tough hurdle to clear for anybody.Taylor ran for 1,137 yards last year and would have had far more if not for former coach Jim Harbaugh's insistence on spreading the ball around. Only five other Stanford players have reached 1,000 yards, most recently 2009 Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart (1,871), who eclipsed the milestone twice.The Cardinal also finished just 58 yards shy of breaking the school's rushing record (2,837) set in 2009. Anthony Wilkerson, Jeremy Stewart and Tyler Gaffney all split time as Taylor's backup last season. And Luck finished second on the team with 453 yards rushing."They're just physical," said Duke coach David Cutcliffe, whose team lost 23-21 at home to Richmond in its opener last Saturday. "They're going to line up in two and three tight end sets and do a lot of shifts and motion to try to create support problems for you."All four backs are similar in style but took opposite paths up the depth chart.Taylor and Wilkerson had to shore up their blocking as freshmen. Stewart was all speed and no finesse. And Gaffney was a natural talent but had to balance being a two-sport player, juggling baseball and football - he has a .327 batting average in two years in the outfield.The one thing they all have in common: each believes they're the fastest."I like to think I'd win the race," Wilkerson said, echoing his teammates.Even though Luck grabs most of the headlines, gaining yards on the ground is at the heart of the style that Harbaugh - and now Shaw, the former offensive coordinator - have always espoused. The running backs all wear T-shirts that read: "Focus and Finish."The motto has spread to become part of the team's slogan."Since I've been here, it's always been run first," said Luck, who was 17 of 26 for 171 yards and two touchdowns last weekend. "It's sort of engrained and indoctrinated in us when we get here."When Harbaugh was at the helm, the rotation at running back was rampant.Shaw signaled in the opener that Taylor would be more than just the starter in name, showing he might increase the running back's carries this season to allow him to find more of a rhythm. Shaw also wants to keep fresh legs on the field, and with four quality backs, it can be a tricky scenario plugging in the right player.That's all part of the challenge.About the only thing tougher for Shaw is selling everybody on the idea that Stanford - with Luck at quarterback - is a run-first team. He plans to give everybody a reminder this fall."All the offseason talk, everybody knows how good Andrew is," Shaw said. "Which is fine, but we're a running football team. Our offensive football starts and ends with us running the football."

Sharks rue 'key moments' as they are knocked out by Oilers

Sharks rue 'key moments' as they are knocked out by Oilers

SAN JOSE – The clock said there was seven minutes and 48 seconds remaining in the third period. It was frozen there for a bit after Patrick Marleau’s goal brought the Sharks back to within a single score of Edmonton.

Filled to capacity, the Shark Tank came to life, ravenous for the equalizer. The next several minutes offered a reminder of the team’s thrilling 2016 playoff run, when the Sharks finished just two wins away from a championship while taking their fans along for a ride they had never been on in a quarter-century.

But those seven minutes and 48 seconds quickly wound down, leaving the Sharks worlds away from what they did just a year ago. The Oilers held on for a 3-1 win, ending the Sharks’ season in a first round series that lasted six games.

Other than Game 4, a Sharks blowout victory, all the games were competitive.

“There were just a couple key moments in the series,” Joe Pavelski said.

In Game 6, the key moments that won the game for Edmonton came early in the second period. Justin Braun’s point shot was blocked leading to Leon Draisaitl’s goal to open the scoring, and Chris Tierney’s pass to Paul Martin at the point was just off the mark, allowing Anton Slepyshev to glide ahead untouched for another goal. The scores both came within the first two minutes of the middle frame, and were just 56 seconds apart.

That was probably poetic justice in that the Oilers were the much more aggressive and hungry team in the first period, they just weren't rewarded on the scoreboard.

Joe Thornton agreed with a suggestion that the Sharks were “a little bit sloppy” early, “but we got better. I thought we played a great second period and pushed in the third period. Just not enough time left on the clock.”

The Sharks did seem to get their game going just after Slepyshev’s score, but couldn’t solve Cam Talbot more than once. Pavelski nearly tied it with 3:45 to go, but his backhander from down low glanced off of both the crossbar and the post.

Key moments.

“It felt good coming off the stick, it really did,” Pavelski said of his chance. “It was there.”

Connor McDavid’s empty net goal with less than a second on the clock capped the scoring, sending the Oilers and former Sharks coach Todd McLellan on to the second round. 

Other than Game 4, which they dominated 7-0, the Sharks managed just seven goals in the other five games. Brent Burns failed to record a point in five of the six games, while Pavelski had just a single assist outside of Game 4.

The depth scorers also failed to come through, no surprise after the Sharks got little from them for much of the season.

“They defended well, Talbot played well. They were all close games,” Pete DeBoer said. “You’ve got to find a way to win 1-0, 2-1 in the playoffs. It’s not realistic you’re going to get three or four every night. They found a way to win more of the close games than we did.”

Burns said: “Series was pretty tight. I think it’s like Pavs said, it’s just little moments here and there. So much is luck, just puck luck, creating that luck. It’s a tight series, back and forth.”

The Sharks face an uncertain offseason, as there is little reason to believe their current roster, as constructed, will be able to compete with an Oilers team that has not only proven to be better now but is only going to improve. Whether Thornton and Marleau return remains an uncertainty, too.

“This is a big summer. We’ve got some guys that are up, and the expansion draft and whatnot,” Logan Couture said. 

“Every year I’ve been in this league, the team has never been the same the next year. There’s always been changes. Unfortunately, that’s the way that this league works. We’ll see what happens this summer, and come back hungrier next year.”

In the meantime, the Oilers will continue their push for a Stanley Cup while San Jose’s visit to the final round last year will only become more and more of a distant memory.

San Jose Sharks fans may have just witnessed the end of an era

San Jose Sharks fans may have just witnessed the end of an era

Melodrama demands that San Jose’s exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs be portrayed as the very likely end of the Joe Thornton/Patrick Marleau Era.

It probably won’t work that way, and probably shouldn't as will be explained further down your reading, but when you get shoved out of the postseason in your own building, melancholy is the order of the day. Even if the melancholy isn’t for any player in particular, but for an entire era.

Nobody will blame Saturday’s 3-1 loss in Game 6 of the Western Conference quarterfinal on bad luck (although Joe Pavelski going crossbar/post on the final power play of their season was close enough to it), or unjust officiating, or even lousy ice (though that was a fairly clear by-product for those who like their hockey a little less sticky). Edmonton took advantage of two critical Sharks errors 56 seconds apart in the second period, Oiler goaltender Cam Talbot cheated the gods multiple times when the Sharks weren’t vomiting up chances on their own, and young legs joined up with growing know-how to make this a just outcome.

But for Thornton and Marleau, a quick round of 30-on-1 interviews asking them if they thought their days in Finville Heights had finally come to an end were their mutual introduction to yet another unfulfilling offseason.

And a team whose core is among the league’s oldest was just exposed for that very flaw by a team that, in head coach Todd McLellan’s words, “Grew up, learned how to get into the playoffs, how to get a lead, how to play with it, and how to deal with a desperate team at the end of a game. Now we’ll see what they have to learn next.”

That learning will comes against the Anaheim Ducks, who are 15-0-3 in their last 18 games, including four straight against the Calgary Flames.

As for the rest of it, Edmonton earned its advancement without a big series, or even a single big game, from Connor McDavid. Rather, their difference makers were Talbot, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (whose work with Jordan Eberle and Milan Lucic against the Marleau-Thornton-Pavelski line was the defining matchup) Leon Draisaitl (after a rocky start), Oskar Klefbom (their best defenseman), Zack Kassian (who made the most of his 15 minutes of fame), and Drake Caggiula (whose promotion to the McDavid line at the expense of Patrick Maroon helped wake up Draisaitl).

Plus, McLellan finally got to deliver a rebuttal for his firing by the Sharks two years ago. He didn’t, of course, at least not where anyone could hear it, but the exploding fumigant of the 2015 season never sat right with him as the one who paid the full retail price. Now, with this result, he can let the NHL’s Stanley Cup media guide do the talking for him.

That, and having the team of the future, while San Jose is trying to sort out its past. This is a closing window, one which stayed open a very long time and actually pried itself back open a year ago for the run that took them to the Cup final, but it is now clear that they play at a pace the modern game has outrun. Thornton is still hugely important (he remained an impact player despite the leg injury that cost him Games 1 and 2), and there are no clear young replacements for the central group.

This is why all the melodramatic speculations about Thornton and Marleau in particular and perhaps the entire era ignore one central truth – there are not nearly enough replacements for a reboot, or even a course correction. They may be stuck as what they are – a group whose veterans are still their best players, playing a game that younger and faster players are likely to do better. The Pacific Division, being easily the thinnest of the four, may allow one more year of status quo, but while the day of reckoning has not yet arrived, the method is now clear.

And Edmonton, young, impetuous, sprightly and McLellanized Edmonton, has been the instrument of San Jose’s education.