Stanford Preview


Stanford comes into the Big Game reeling after a heartbreaking (well, I assume it is for them…) loss to Oregon. Stanford’s mantra is that of a blue-collar, physical team – they’ll play smart, line up a bunch of OL and tight ends on offense and run it at you, make tackles and outhit you. The one flaw with them is their speed and athleticism, something they realize and you will not catch the Cardinal pretending to be something they’re not. In last weeks game, , Oregon’s speed on both sides of the ball overwhelmed Andrew Luck and company. Can the Bears – an athletic team but, in its current state, certainly no equal of Oregon – do the same?

Stanford Offense
The Cardinal’s success starts and ends with Andrew Luck. You may have heard of him. He’s a tall, deceptively tough, big armed QB who can make every throw in the book and run a little too. He’s currently completing 70.6% of his passes, has 29 TDs to just 7 interceptions, and a shade under 2700 yards. All this throwing to a relatively average receiving crew, outside (oft-injured) Chris Owusu. In short, he’s the best QB in the nation. I’ve watched him several times and he is the real deal – he occasionally does suffer because his receivers aren’t elite and don’t get ideal separation, and in recent weeks against USC and Oregon has made some dumb throws – but make no mistake, he’s earned the hype. Moving right along…

Running Backs:
Stepfan Taylor is the #1 guy, and has 990 yards 8 TDs and a 5.8 yard per carry average. Taylor is 5’11, 205, and is a physical runner – fitting in with the blue-collar attitude and composition of this Stanford team, much like his predecessor, Toby Gerhart.

A variety of backs have substantial time spelling him, including Tyler Gaffney, Anthony Wilkerson, and Jeremy Stewart, who have 151 carries and 17 TDs in relief. Again, in keeping with the physical, beat-you-up theme, all three of these backs are physical, tough to bring down, and none are true ‘burners’.

Wide Receivers:
Griff Whalen leads the Cardinal with 45 catches for 641 yards, and has 4 TDs as well. Whalen is a former walk-on, and a jack of all trades. He’s Luck’s roommate, which as you’d expect means they have good chemistry. He isn’t an athletic dynamo, however.

Chris Owusu is the key to their receiving corps. It isn’t clear if he’ll play – he’s missed some time due to injuries, particularly after a scary concussion a few weeks ago. When healthy, however, the 6’2″, 200 pound receiver is the deep threat and gamebreaker that can change the complexion of the Stanford offense.

Stanford’s top 5 in receiving yardage thus far consists of the aforementioned two and 3 tight ends – Zach Ertz, Coby Fleener, and Levine Toilolo. While Cal fans mocked the now-departed Jim Harbaugh for signing 37 tight ends every class, we now see there was some method to the madness. The three stand 6’6″, 6’6″, and 6’8″ respectively, and there will be plays where all 3 are in. Ertz has been hurt, leaving a greater load for the other two. Fleener leads the group with 24 catches for 487 yards (over 20 a catch – pretty impressive) and 8 TDs. Ertz and Toilolo add another 7 scores between them.

Offensive Line
The Stanford Offensive line is one of the best units the conference, despite losing 3 starters in the offseason. Anchored by RG David DeCastro and RT Johnathon Martin, this group does an outstanding job moving the pile, giving Luck time, and wearing out an opposing defense.

Like Cal, Stanford runs a 3-4 defense, anchored by end Matt Masifilo. He isn’t huge (only 280 pounds), but he compensates by playing with a non-stop motor and manages to effectively disrupt at the line of scrimmage.

Next to him is the 6’4″, 263 Ben Gardner and NT 6’2″, 287 Terrance Stephens. Both emphasize strength, not athleticism. Lanky (6’6″ with a wingspan bigger than that) Josh Mauro provides depth.

Shayne Skov, arguably every bit the overall talent Andrew Luck is, was lost for the season after week 4 in a hit that really hurts the Cardinal.

At linebacker, Jerek Lancaster has emerged to surprisingly lead the Cardinal in tackles with 52. Standing 6’2″, 221 pounds, he has effectively taken over for Skov, joining previous starter Max Bergen at MLB.

Senior Chase Thomas mans one of the outside spots. Experienced and versatile, he will line up at both DE and OLB – think Zack Follett. He goes 6’2″, 240.

230 pound redshirt freshman AJ Tarpley rounds out the group.

Delano Howell and Michael Thomas give Stanford a good set of safeties. Both lack ideal size at about 5’11”, 190. Howell is a hitter, Thomas is a playmaker who uses his athleticism to change the game around him. Thomas leads the Cardinal with 2 interceptions, including one for a TD.

At corner, Johnson Bademosi and Barry Browning get the call. Each have been active (with 78 tackles between them). They have great measurables and size (Bademosi is 6’1″) and are solid in coverage.

Special Teams
Jordan Williamson handles most the placekicking and kickoff duties, having made 11 of 12 field goals, 41 of 43 (!) point afters, and 66.3 yards a kickoff. Eric Whitaker backs him up. At punter, David Green is averaging just over 41 a kick.

Ty Montgomery handles kick returns, and has averaged just under 26 yards a return including 1 TD. Drew Terrell does punt returns and has averaged 12 a pop.

Biggest Advantage vs Cal:
Luck. Cal’s pass defense has been shaky all year, and has only faced a few truly good passers (UW’s Price and USC’s Barkley) – and struggled against both. While missing Owusu will hurt, Cal’s D has shown little evidence it can contain a passer like Luck.

Biggest Disadvantage vs Cal:
Overall team speed. Like Oregon, Cal is an athletic team. Oregon’s defensive speed bothered Oregon, and Stanford’s defense struggled to keep up with the Ducks’ playmakers. Cal doesn’t have the depth of speed or the system that Oregon does, but they do have an edge there over the Cardinal.

Prediction: Stanford by 2 TDs.

The true star of the defense is Shayne Skov