2014 Has been a difficult year for the Stanford football program. It started on New Year's Day, when the Cardinal were upset by Michigan State in the sort of grueling Rose Bowl game that the team was built to win. The expected loss of a large chunk of that season's starters - including 4 starting offensive linemen and their star linebackers - gave David Shaw and his staff a tall task for Spring and Fall ball. The summer saw Rivals.com's #14 recruiting class enter The Farm to join a talented group of youngsters who have waited for their chance to shine. Shaw has an enviable group of talent to work with, but integrating a large number of young players is tough even when you don't factor in the overly conservative nature of the coach in charge.
Yes, the Cardinal have taken a massive slide this season, from a conference title and Rose Bowl berth to hopes of making the Cactus Bowl (which actually is a thing). But for the many factors that have led to their 6-5 record, the defense has not been among them. As AHMB noted in his preview of the coaching staff, Stanford remains a top-10 defense. In 11 games, they have allowed 21 or more points just twice - losing both of those games (@ASU - 26, @ Oregon - 45), while in their 3 remaining losses, opponents scored a combined 50 points. Looking at Defensive FEI, the defense doesn't create many 3-and-out situations (#80 in '1st down rate'), but is good at limiting damage from explosive plays and keeping opposing offenses from penetrating too far into their own territory (#8 in 'value drives' - allowing opponents to advance from their own territory to inside the defensive team's 30 yard line)
Stanford benefits from an experienced front seven, even with the loss to graduation of Trent Murphy and Shane Skov. On the defensive line, the Cardinal lead with 3 seniors: David Parry (6'2, 300), Henry Anderson (6'6, 287) and Blake Lueders (6'5, 274). Replacing the aforementioned Murphy and Skov isn't an easy task, but the linebacking unit has held up nicely, with A.J. Tarpley (6'2, 241) back for his senior year, along with fellow seniors Kevin Anderson and James Vaughters. Junior ILB Blake Martinez (6'2, 247) rounds out the unit and leads the team with 92 tackles, with Peter Kalambayi (So - 6'3, 245) and Kevin Palma (So - 6'2, 253) the main reserves.
Alex Carter (6'0, 202) and Wayne Lyons (6'1, 193) hold down the corners for Stanford, while Jordan Richards (Sr - 5'11, 210) and Zach Hoffpaiur (Jr - 6'0, 197) start at the safety spots, with cornerback Ronnie Harris (Sr - 5'10, 173) and free safety Kyle Olugbode (Sr - 6'1, 205) also seeing the field often. Overall, Stanford's defensive two-deep is loaded with upperclassmen who have seen plenty of high-stakes action in their collegiate careers. As conservative-but-shaky as the Cardinal offense has been, the defense can carry the team.
That concludes the preview of the Stanford defense. Fire away with additional thoughts and comments.