Trent Murphy has 14 sacks and 21.5 tackles for a loss this season. (Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)
Los Angeles — When Trent Murphy was a redshirt freshman, Stanford had just finished an 11-1 regular season and was preparing to face Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
The national media had descended on Miami wondering if head coach Jim Harbaugh was on his way out, either to the NFL or his alma mater, Michigan.
But Murphy had more pressing concerns. He was busy getting ready for a little vacation.
“Four years ago, I was packing for the events and for Disneyland and things like that,” he said.
Things have changed drastically for Murphy in the time since. The senior outside linebacker has become one of the most dominant defensive players in the nation, recording 14 sacks and 21.5 tackles for a loss among his 58 tackles in 13 games this season. He also has an interception, two forced fumbles and a blocked kick.
Murphy, a 6-foot-6, 261-pounder from Mesa, Ariz., was an All-Pac-12 first-team selection and ranked first in the nation with 1.1 sacks per game. He was an Associated Press second-team All-American and was a semifinalist for the Lombardi and Bednarik awards.
Not bad for a player who was a three-star recruit when he committed to Stanford.
Now he leads one of the top defenses in the nation in a matchup with Michigan State in the Rose Bowl on Wednesday. But the idea of having too much fun has long since passed Murphy.
“This year, I was packing for practice and making sure I had my vitamins, thinking about the stuff I needed to do, rolling out of ice tubs, how I was going to get that accomplished and it’s definitely a maturing and been there done that,” he said. “You’re going to be in a different environment but practicing normally for an entire week at the site so it gives you an upper hand and helps you be mature through the situation.”
Stanford is playing in its second straight Rose Bowl and fourth consecutive BCS game, and he’s hoping the hoopla surrounding the game gets the best of the Spartans.
“Hopefully they get distracted and having fun at Disneyland and those events,” said Murphy, “and gives us the upper hand in preparation.”
Michigan State has seen few 3-4 teams this season, though Ohio State ran it often in the Big Ten title game.
And as tough as the entire Cardinal defense is, the Spartans will know where Murphy is at all times.
“He’s an outstanding player,” Michigan State offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. “They move him around a lot. So, yeah, you’ve got to be aware of where he’s at, that he’s not the only guy. They’ve got a couple of linebackers inside, leading tacklers on the football team and obviously Murphy’s a guy that has a lot of tackles for loss and sacks and so forth.
“So you’ve got to be aware of a lot of those guys up front. And that’s the challenge for us is because they move guys around so much and there’s a multiple in what they do defensively that there’s going to be a challenge.”
Murphy has had plenty of help this season, including from inside linebacker Shayne Skov, who was a second-team All-American and had 100 tackles, including 10 for loss.
But it’s Murphy that has been busy terrorizing opposing quarterbacks, something he hopes he can do Wednesday against Michigan State’s Connor Cook.
“It’s a growing process, to be honest,” said Murphy, who has seen his sack total increase each season. “It’s something I’ve been improving on and just how to get better each year and moving forward. I don’t necessarily know when an offense recognizes it or when they are game-planning me, I don’t know that they do.
“We have so much talent on the defense I don’t think they can game-plan for me because if they do, you have Henry Anderson, David Parry, Josh Mauro, guys all over the place. So I don’t know which guy they pick to focus on, but I love gettin’ after the line and the quarterbacks — it’s fun for me.”