Jim Harbaugh may have followed in the great Bill Walsh's footsteps by leaving the Farm for one of the best franchises in all of sports, but he left Stanford football in excellent shape. Last year's team was guided by Andrew Luck, one of the best collegiate quarterbacks in recent memory, and a BCS bowl birth was almost a foregone conclusion. David Shaw was almost an afterthought. This season, David Shaw has put his stamp on the program. Yes, the foundation was laid under the Harbaugh regime, but this is Shaw's team.
This year's Cardinal is a defensive squad. They rank 10th nationally in scoring defense, allowing only 16.9 ppg and 70th in scoring offense with 28 ppg. They're 2nd in the nation in rushing defense, allowing just 71 ypg, and lead the nation with 100 tackles for loss. They do allow 257 ypg through the air, but that doesn't mean they are weak against the pass, however, and they have tallied 43 sacks this season, which is good for 2nd in the nation.
Offensively, Stanford is fairly balanced, rushing for 169 ypg and passing for 211. Their offense is going to look like it has for the past few seasons; lots of big sets with multiple tight ends designed to wear down the opponent with lots of power running and short passing. Unfortunately for Stanford, much of the season has been played with poor quarterback play, but they recently made a change at the position and the results have been better.
David Shaw was Harbaugh's offensive coordinator before taking over the head coaching job. Shaw served as Jim Harbaugh's offensive coordinator in 2006 at the University of San Diego, and was Stanford's offensive coordinator from 2007-2010. Prior to coaching in the college ranks, he spent nearly 10 years in the NFL. In fact, Shaw was wide receivers coach in Baltimore in 2005 at the time when Rick Neuheisel served as quarterbacks coach. Baltimore hired Mike Johnson to replace Shaw in 2006 after Shaw left for the University of San Diego to coach with Jim Harbaugh.
Shaw played under Bill Walsh during Walsh's second stint at Stanford. Shaw credits Walsh with the foundation of his offensive philosophy, which was later sharpened under Jon Gruden in the NFL. While Pep Hamilton is the offensive coordinator in title, this offense is clearly Shaw's.
Last year, Derek Mason and Jason Tarver were co-defensive coordinators, but Tarver moved on to the Oakland Raiders and Mason now runs the show. Mason's background is in the secondary, having coached the secondary under Harbaugh, and spending the previous three years as a defensive backs assistant under Leslie Frazier of the Minnesota Vikings.
That concludes Part 1 of the Stanford preview. Feel free to fire away with any additional thoughts and comments, and be sure to check back in tomorrow for Part 2 of the preview.