STANFORD -- Lost amid the praise for Stanford's defense and the fretting over its offense this season has been a largely stellar performance by the special teams.
Not lost amid the emotions of the Big Game is the fact that the man responsible for Stanford's special teams used to work at Cal.
Pete Alamar spent seven years on Jeff Tedford's staff. He's not much interested in discussing his departure after the 2009 season other than to say, "Jeff decided to go in a different direction."
Alamar coached at Fresno State for two years, then joined the Cardinal staff in 2012 as a dedicated special teams coordinator. He doesn't split time overseeing an offensive or defense unit. All he does is coach special teams.
"It's the greatest change of field position in the game," Cardinal coach David Shaw said recently. "Why wouldn't you" have a dedicated coach.
"Pete has done really well as far as utilizing the guys we have."
The Cardinal leads the nation in kickoff returns, leads the conference in kickoff coverage and is in the top half of the Pac-12 in most other major statistical categories.
The glaring exception -- field goals -- is largely due to an injury to starter Jordan Williamson. His replacement, freshman Conrad Ukropina, has missed two of four field goal attempts and had one blocked by USC.
"We've made a big commitment to kickoff returns," Alamar said. "We talk all the time about creating a short field for our offense and a long field for our defense -- put the opponent in position where it has to drive the ball a long way."
The importance of special teams is underscored by the presence of several starters on each unit. Star linebacker Shayne Skov, for instance, plays on the punt team.
"It's the most important play in football," Alamar said.
The same goes for cornerback Alex Carter. The talented sophomore suffered a concussion against USC and won't play in Saturday's Big Game.
"He's feeling really good and is back on the (recovery) progression," Shaw said. "He should be fine for Notre Dame."
Veteran Devon Carrington will start in place of Carter, with Ronnie Harris and Barry Browning in the rotation.
Skov leads the Cardinal in tackles. Murphy leads the nation in sacks (1.2 per game) and is second in tackles-for-loss (1.8 per game). He also has three deflections, a blocked kick, a forced fumble and a Pick 6 (against Washington State).
"He deserves all recognition he can get," Shaw said. "He's a game changer.
"It was one thing when Chase Thomas was on the other side and you had double trouble. Now, with everybody gearing their protections for him, and knowing where he'll line up, he still gets to the quarterback."
For more on college sports, see Jon Wilner's College Hotline at blogs.mercurynews.com/collegesports.
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