Stanford surprises by doing it with defense


Stanford surprises by doing it with defense


STANFORD -- (AP) One linebacker spreads black paint all across his face. Another screams after every sack. The safeties regularly jar helmets loose, dancing and smiling in celebration.

Apparently Stanford's defense is trying to get noticed.

On a team with Heisman Trophy favorite Andrew Luck anchoring a high-scoring offense, that isn't always easy. Even Luck isn't sure why there isn't more fuss made about the performance of his defensive teammates.

"They've definitely outplayed us right now as a unit," he said. "It's awesome to be on the same team as them."

The defensive starters haven't allowed anyone into the end zone yet, another sign of an emerging strength that is making Stanford twice as dangerous. The Cardinal rank second in the nation in run defense (28.5 yards) and 11th in scoring defense (8.5 points) per game this season, showing they can be every bit as dominant as their star quarterback.

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Of course, blowout victories against inferior opponents such as San Jose State and Duke -- outscoring both by a combined 101-17 -- are hardly the measure of a strong defense.

The first major test for sixth-ranked Stanford (2-0) and its surging defense comes Saturday night under the lights in the desert, facing a fast-paced Arizona (1-1) team that prides itself on piling up points. The Pac-12 opener for both teams is a matchup that has typically been one determined by offense, a trend the Cardinal hope to break.

Easier said than done.

Wildcats quarterback Nick Foles has thrown for 810 yards and six touchdowns in two games this season. He also had 415 yards passing and three touchdowns in a 43-38 victory over Stanford the last time the two teams faced each other in Tucson.

Going a third straight game without allowing an offensive touchdown this season for Stanford's first-team unit is an unlikely feat. Yet a veteran-stacked defense believes it's within reach.

"That's definitely our goal," safety Michael Thomas said. "That's definitely something we talk about and we take pride in."

There was no area that figured to be impacted more by the coaching turnover this offseason than the defense.

When Jim Harbaugh left for the San Francisco 49ers, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio - known by players as "Lord Fangio" - departed with him. The move figured to hand Stanford a catastrophic blow in the booth and on the field.

After all, the Cardinal ranked 110th nationally in pass defense and 90th nationally in overall defense in 2009. Now they're among the nation's best.

"The bottom line is we have better defensive players than we've had before," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "And they have a lot of pride on the performance that they put on film."

The Cardinal appear to be on the same path that Fangio first carved out.

New co-defensive coordinators Derek Mason and Jason Tarver have split duties - Mason calls the plays from the booth, Tarver is on the sidelines and also gives input - and made the staff transition seamless. Unlike the slow starts the offense has had in the first two weeks, the defense has hardly had a hiccup.

That is, except for maybe the eye black on linebacker Shayne Skov's face smearing in the North Carolina heat or teammate Chase Thomas vomiting at halftime because of a stomach bug.

"Might have been too much barbecue," Thomas said.

Not that anybody noticed.

Thomas already has 3 12 of the team's eight sacks. Stanford has recovered four fumbles and allowed just 57 yards rushing in two games, allowing only one defensive touchdown against Duke -- and that came late against the second- and third-string units.

About the only thing Stanford's defense doesn't have yet is an interception, largely because opponents haven't tried to throw the ball deep down the field. They'll certainly have their chance in the pass-first Pac-12, starting in the dry air of the Arizona desert.

"You've got these guys getting all the stats these first two games," safety Michael Thomas said. "Now we finally get a chance to get our hands on the ball and make some plays. We definitely accept the challenge."

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from A's loss despite five home runs

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from A's loss despite five home runs


Hit five home runs, and a team has to like its chances of winning.

The A’s simply couldn’t keep up with the Houston Astros’ bats, however, in an 11-8 loss Wednesday night that snapped Oakland’s four-game winning streak. Khris Davis went deep twice, and Ryon Healy, Jed Lowrie and Matt Olson all went deep as the A’s set their season high for home runs.

But Houston racked up 17 hits against Jesse Hahn (3-6) and four relievers and evened this three-game series at a game apiece. It was the second time Hahn has gotten knocked around by Houston inside of a week.

The A’s took an early lead, 5-4, in the third on the second of Davis’ two homers, part of a four-run rally for Oakland. But the Astros answered right back with five runs in the bottom half, and the A’s never recovered from that momentum swing.

Hahn’s struggles continue: Hahn was trying to rebound after the Astros hung nine earned runs on him last Thursday at the Coliseum. Things didn’t improve Wednesday at Minute Maid Park, as the right-hander lasted just two-plus innings and allowed six runs on nine hits. Is this a case of one team simply having Hahn’s number or do the A’s make a move and try someone else in the rotation? It bears watching.

Krush Davis x 2: It was apparent early this would be a slugfest, with Khris Davis homering twice within the first three innings as the A’s tried to keep pace. He led off the second with a shot to left field, then came back with a three-run blast to left in the third that put Oakland up 5-4. The homers were his team-leading 20th and 21st.

Reddick-ulous night: Josh Reddick filled up the stat sheet against his old team in every way imaginable. He went 3-for-4 with three RBI and two runs, and twice caught the A’s by surprise by stealing third base. For good measure, he turned in an excellent running catch in right field to rob Yonder Alonso.

Strange offensive night: What to make of this night offensively for the A’s? They hit a season-high five homers but also struck out a whopping 17 times. No matter … you can’t hang this one on the offense, because …

The pitching staff just couldn’t hold things down: Josh Smith was called upon to hold down the fort after Hahn departed in the third, but Smith was tagged for three runs on four hits. Daniel Coulombe and John Axford also got touched for runs. Rookie Michael Brady did turn in 1 1/3 scoreless innings.

Cubs outfielder vows he didn't give Trump the middle finger at White House

Cubs outfielder vows he didn't give Trump the middle finger at White House

WASHINGTON – Albert Almora Jr. didn’t use Wednesday’s Oval Office photo op as a subtle form of political protest, but it did sort of look like the Cubs outfielder gave President Donald Trump the middle finger, at least from that angle in an image that went viral on Twitter.    

“There was two fingers! Look closely, there was two fingers!” a veteran player yelled across the room as reporters gathered around Almora’s locker inside the visiting clubhouse at Nationals Park. 

“Guys were giving me a hard time about it,” Almora said, “but I pointed out the second finger. We’re all good.”

In another White House visit that didn’t look nearly as unofficial or informal as the Cubs said it would be, one snapshot became Almora with part of his left hand in his pocket. Almora stood near Kris Bryant – who held a 45 Wrigley Field scoreboard panel – and Trump at his desk with the World Series trophy.

“Obviously, it’s unfortunate,” Almora said with a laugh. “I’m getting ready to take a picture and I’m posing there. But you guys know that I would never do that to the president of the United States. 

“I respect everybody. It is what it is. We laugh about it now, but there’s definitely two fingers out there.”