Editor’s note: The following is a Q&A between Andrew Wild, sports editor of The Daily Californian, and Jose Saldana, sports editor at the Stanford Daily. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Andrew Wild: Coming in between a huge matchup against Washington and next week’s game against Notre Dame, do you think there’s risk of this being a look-over game for Stanford?
Jose Saldana: I guess it could be, but I feel that this is the Big Game; there’s a definite electricity and atmosphere to this game. (Stanford head coach) David Shaw has spoken about that in his press conference; the players are excited and nervous about this game. He was talking about how there’s a lot of freshmen on offense and how they’ll have to adjust quickly because they could be kind of awe-struck by the atmosphere of the Big Game. I don’t think it’ll be a game they’ll overlook because the very nature of the game is hard to overlook.
AW: What does Bryce Love need to do to have one of his Heisman-level games and not a more underwhelming one like we’ve seen recently?
JS: I wouldn’t consider last week’s game underwhelming. His only truly underwhelming one was against Washington State, and that one was pretty tough because he was coming off an ankle injury. He was also against a really good defensive team in Pullman, Washington, in the cold. I think if he’s good to go Saturday, it’s all really up to the offensive line. Whenever the line has dominated, Love has found holes and gotten up into the secondary, and from there he can explode 50 yards in the end zone. That speed is just so back-breaking; even against Washington State, he scored a 52-yard touchdown. It’s more on the offensive line opening holes for him, and against Washington, they did that. He could have had another 50-yard touchdown if he has been fully healthy.
AW: The offense as a whole has been pretty hit and miss thus far. What’s the biggest factor in determining that game to game?
JS: Execution on the offensive side of the ball. The offensive line was dominated against San Diego State and USC, and that really hurt the quarterback play; those defenses were really getting to our quarterback and Bryce Love in the backfield. That’s really what stopped us, we had a lot of long third downs that we couldn’t convert. In the beginning, that’s what the problem was, but Stanford is a different team at home. At Oregon State, we played really badly, although that was partly due to the new coach galvanizing the team. But the inconsistency is largely due to the offensive line. The defensive line for Wazzy dominated, and that really hurt. And when Stanford’s at home, the offensive line seems to dominate more and do better at the line of scrimmage. It really comes down to the trenches.
AW: Do you think David Shaw is just supremely confident in his ability to beat Cal in the midst of this win streak? Are the fans the same way?
JS: There’s always a confidence because Stanford’s been winning for so long, but there’s also a nervousness. There’s a feeling after Washington State that Cal could come to Stanford and pull off the win, but there’s a comfort in being at home. Stanford averages 40+ points at home, and it just got a great win over Washington at home. If this had been on the road, I think people would have had a bit more anxiety, but at home there’s a lot more confidence. But Cal is definitely not overlooked. I think the players will be engaged, and it would take a huge effort to stop Bryce Love; I think all of our confidence is in him.
AW: Who’s the defensive player Cal fans should be watching out for?
JS: It’s probably Harrison Phillips, he’s the senior defensive tackle. One reason is that Cal running back Patrick Laird has been really good and Stanford’s running defense isn’t really good. Teams have had success running on Stanford. It really takes a big effort from Phillips to stop people. He leads the team in total tackles and forced fumble recoveries and sacks, so he’s been a dominant defender. I think Cal will try to run on Stanford, so Phillips will need to be big in order to fill up those gaps and stop Laird from running free like (Oregon’s) Royce Freeman did or Stephen Carr of USC.