A.J. Tarpley would have looked more comfortable if he were getting a root canal. It was the redshirt freshman's first crack at a postgame news conference, and sitting among media-savvy veterans like Andrew Luck and Michael Thomas, Tarpley looked almost out of place.
If he keeps playing the way he did Saturday night, this won't be his last time being a spokesman for the defense.
The middle linebacker turned in the performance of his young and bright career in Stanford's 56-48, triple overtime win against USC. While it was not a night for defensive stars as the teams combined for 104 points and 948 yards of total offense, Tarpley stood out.
He logged his first career interception, picking Matt Barkley in the second quarter which led to a Stanford field goal. He forced a fumble (which USC recovered). He tallied nine tackles and recovered Curtis McNeal's fumble on the game's final play in overtime. It was a veteran performance from a non-veteran.
"The kid was everywhere," said head coach David Shaw. "The things we saw when we recruited him -- you could say what he doesn't have -- but he finds a way to get to the ball. He has a nose for the ball. He avoids blockers and finds a way to make a tackle. The ball's on the ground, he finds a way to get to the ball. He gets off blocks and gets to the ball. The kid has great instincts, and we think he'll be a heck of a football player."
He also has pretty good media instincts -- understanding that Saturday wasn't a night to pat the defense on the back.
"It was a helluva ballgame," Tarpley said. "The teams battled all the way through. In a place like this, we knew it would be a tough game. I don't know if you can credit the defense too much. We just gave up 50 points."
Well, 48. But still, some of Tarpley's individual plays go beyond noteworthy.
His interception of Barkley in the second quarter was textbook, instinctual linebacking. Tarpley picked up tight end Randall Telfer off the line, saw him breaking to the outside, anticipated the pass and made an athletic, diving catch.
"I was just playing off my man and (Barkley) happened to throw it my way," Tarpley said. "Any of our linebackers could do that."
So far they haven't. Tarpley's pick is the first from the linebacking corps this season. The Cardinal now have four interceptions -- two from Thomas and one from cornerback Barry Browning.
And then there was the clincher. Terrence Stephens stripped McNeal in triple overtime and sent the ball shooting into the end zone. Tarpley fell on it to seal the victory and was mobbed by teammates.