Previewing the Stanford Cardinal - Part II: Defense and Special Teams

Derrick Coleman will need to find holes in the defensive line and break into Stanford's smaller second level in order for UCLA to upset Stanford. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Stanford may have lost coordinator Vic Fangio, but the unit appears to have reloaded.  The strength is obviously the run defense, where the Cardinal are only giving up 1.23 yards per carry.  On the flip side, the Cardinal pass defense has been suspect, allowing opponents to complete 65.8% of their passes for 265.67 yards per game.  However, the unit has posted 13 sacks and 31 tackles for loss in the first three games, so expect to see an aggressive gameplan from the Cardinal.

The defense not only lost Fangio, but it lost 5 starters from last years unit and suffered a huge loss when MLB Jr. Shayne Skov went down with a season ending injury against Arizona.  This will be the first game Stanford plays without Skov, who was the unquestioned leader of the defense.

Defensive Line

The only returning starter on the defensive line is DE Sr. Matt Masifilo.  The 6'3 280 lbs. Hawaiian may not have gaudy stats, but holds his point against the run and frees up space for Stanford's linebackers to make tackles.  He's known for his high motor and intensity, which carries over to the entire defensive line.

Opposite Masifilo is DE So. Ben Gardner.  The lighter end (6'4 251 lbs.) has been off to a hot start, and has 5.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks this season.  

The primary back-up ends are sophomores Henry Anderson (6'6 258 lbs.) and Eddie Plantaric (6'5 277 lbs.).  So. Josh Mauro (6'6 263 lbs.) will also play in the defense end rotation, but he has yet to record any tackles this season.

At nose, Jr. Terrence Stephens replaces Sione Fua.  So far, so good for the 6'2 295 lbs. plugger.  Rs. FR David Perry will be Stephens' backup.  Similarly built (6'2 295 lbs.), the former walk-on is capable of holding the point.

Linebackers

With the loss of former 5 star Skov, the unit's only returning starter is OLB Jr. Chase Thomas.  At 6'4 240 lbs., Thomas is more of a hybrid DE/OLB who excels at rushing the passer.  He has recorded 3.5 sacks and 5 tackles for loss this season.

So.. Trent Murphy will man the other OLB spot.  At 6'6 246 lbs., Murphy was able to beat out smaller Jr. Alex Debniak (6'2 234 lbs.) for the starting spot, and he has performed well.  Murphy has 2 sacks and 3 tackles for loss, and teams with Thomas to provide a lot of size at the OLB positions.

Inside, So. Jerek Lancaster and RS Fr. A.J. Tarpley are combining to replace Skov.  Neither provide great size (6'1 226 lbs. and 6'2 221 lbs., respectively) or experience.  We may also see talented true freshman James Vaughters, who has recorded 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack in limited playing time this season.

Sr. Max Bergen will have to take on a leadership role with the inexperience at the other ILB spot.  At 6'2 225 lbs., Bergen does not provide prototypical size either, but he was called upon for spot starts prior to this year and does have more experience than the others.  His primary back-up is listed as very light So. Joe Hemschoot (6'2 210 lbs.).

Secondary

The unit is led by safeties Sr. Delano Howell and Sr. Michael Thomas.  The two of them combined for 89 tackles last year and have recorded 18 this year.  Howell is a former running back that simply excels at SS.  He may only be 5'11 and 189 lbs., but he does a lot more than "thud" receivers and ball-carriers.  He is not known for his coverage skills, but he did record 5 interceptions last season.  Thomas is similarly sized at 5'11 185 lbs., and the former cornerback will play centerfield for the Cardinal, but is more than capable of making the necessary tackles.

So. Devon Carrington and Fr. Jordan Richards will play behind Howell and Thomas.  At 5'11 185 lbs., Richards was recruited as a WR and has surprisingly vaulted up the depth chart.  Carrington is a highly touted recruit who brings more size to the table (6'1 192 lbs.).  Talented true freshman Wayne Lyons was a highly recruited safety who has the size (6'1 190 lbs.) and speed to play both cornerback and safety will also be in the rotation.

At cornerback, Stanford returns part-time starter Sr. Johnson Bademosi (6'1 197 lbs.) and is breaking in a new starter So. Barry Browning (6'1 176 lbs.) at the other corner spot.  They have good size, but they do not play particularly tight in coverage.  Each has one career interception (none this year), and only Bademosi has recorded a pass break-up this year (one).

At nickleback, So. Usua Amanam (5'10 184 lbs.) fit the role perfectly.  Amanam is a former highly regarded running back making the shift to defense.  The other back-up CB is So. Terrence Brown (6'1 176 lbs.).

Special Teams

When healthy, Owusu is one of the most dangerous return men in the game.  In 2009, he returned three kickoffs for touchdowns and averaged over 30 yards per return.  Since then, he hasn't scored a touchdown but has averaged 24 yards per return in 2010 and this season.

Drew Terrell will handle punt returns, and is averaging over 15 yards per return.

So. Jordan Williamson has performed well in his first tour of duty.  He is 6 of 6 on FG attempts and 16 of 17 on XP attempts this season.  Only 3 of his 23 kickoffs have been touchbacks, so he does kick returnable balls, but Stanford is holding opponents to a 20 yard return average and has not allowed a touchdown.  

Sr. David Green handles punting duties, but has only punted 8 times in three games, averaging 41 yards per punt.  Only 2 of his punts have been returned, and Stanford has covered them well, allowing only 25 total punt return yards.

That concludes the preview of the Stanford Cardinal.  Fire away with any additional thoughts and comments.

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