***** NCAA Football Preview - Stanford Cardinal *****
By Phil Neuffer, Associate College Football Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: The higher ups at Stanford have to be wondering just
how long head coach David Shaw will be staying. Shaw has been named back-to-
back Pac-12 Coach of the Year and is coming off a season in which he led his
squad to its first Pac-12 Championship since 1999. It seems like just a matter
of time before Shaw hears the call from the NFL, the same one his predecessor
Jim Harbaugh followed to the San Francisco 49ers.
After leading the Cardinal to an 11-2 mark and a Fiesta Bowl visit in 2011,
Shaw's 2012 squad was even better. The Cardinal rolled up three victories to
start the season. Stanford hit a roadblock though in Seattle with a 17-13
loss to USC. The next two weeks featured the highs and lows of overtime.
Stanford outlasted Arizona 54-48 in a shootout and then on an infamous goal-
line call, fell to Notre Dame, 20-13. After the setback to the Fighting Irish
the Cardinal would not lose a game the rest of the season, including arguably
the most impressive win of its campaign, a 17-14 overtime victory at Oregon.
Stanford dispatched of UCLA in back-to-back weekends after that to capture the
Pac-12 title. Then won its first Rose Bowl since 1971 with a 20-14 victory
OFFENSE: In the free-wheeling, high-tempo, offense heavy Pac-12 there is one
team that stands out for its adherence to a more traditional philosophy. That
is the Stanford Cardinal, which uses a ground-and-pound pro-style attack that
doesn't exactly match the spread offenses used at Oregon and Arizona.
Keeping to that gameplan this season will be tougher as three-time 1,000-yard
rusher Stepfan Taylor and All-American tight end Zach Ertz and fellow tight
end Levine Toilolo have moved on.
The hole at running back is certainly the most concerning. Taylor was the
definition of a work horse last season as he had 322 carries for 1,530 yards
and 13 touchdowns, while also ranking second on the team in receptions (41).
No other running back on the team had more than 50 rushes. In fact, Anthony
Wilkerson, who is slotted to replace Taylor, had exactly 50 for 224 yards.
Expect more of a committee style running game until a back separates himself
from the group.
Despite not having a firm replacement for Taylor, the Cardinal will still be
able to bowl teams over with the run. That begins and ends with the strength
Stanford is bringing back on the offensive line. Arguably the best in the
nation, the Cardinal's front five has four starters coming back including All-
American David Yankey.
"We will have a lot of guys play running back for us, as long as our big guys
can play well up front we will be productive," Shaw said.
Ertz and Toilolo hauled in a combined 93 passes for 1,291 yards and 10
touchdowns last season. Obviously replacement Luke Kaumatule has big shoes to
fill. The sophomore has the size to be a threat in the passing game at 6-
foot-7 and 260 pounds. Assuming Shaw continues to favor tight ends and backs
in the passing game, Kaumatule will get plenty of opportunities to shine.
Playing wide receiver for the Cardinal has not been a particularly glamorous
job in the last few seasons. Last season Drew Terrell led all wideouts with 33
receptions and 463 yards. He is gone, leaving the primary spots on the outside
to Ty Montgomery (26 rec, 213 yards) and Devon Cajuste, who had just a single
catch for seven yards.
Trying to adjust to the new receivers and a new backfield will be starting
quarterback Kevin Hogan. The sophomore took over for inconsistent starter Josh
Nunes last season and went 5-0, while completing 71.7 percent of his pass
attempts for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns to just three interceptions.
Hogan isn't Andrew Luck but he can get the job done.
DEFENSE: The ground-and-pound offense matches perfectly with the aggressive
style of the Cardinal defense. The Cardinal really know how to pin their ears
back and get into the backfield. That was proved last year when Stanford lead
the league in sacks (57.0) and tackles for loss (124.0) while ranking fifth
against the run (174.3 ypg). It is the kind of defense that would make any SEC
"I think more than anything we pride ourselves on being physical and
aggressive, so our offense helps us build that characteristic going up against
them every single day," Linebacker Shayne Skov said. "But we want to emphasize
that we do what we do and we want to emphasize our own strengths."
The punishment opponents felt last season won't let up this year as there are
eight starters back on the field and just about every one will contend for
The 3-4 scheme which the Cardinal utilize obviously requires strong play at
the linebacker spots. The Cardinal have that in spades once again led by Trent
Murphy and Skov, who are both Butkus Award contenders. Skov led the team with
81 tackles last season, 9.0 of which came behind the line. Murphy was even
more lethal to opposing backfields as he led the team with 18.0 tackles for
loss and 10.0 sacks. A.J. Tarpley (66 tackles, 7.0 TFL) makes the unit that
much more intimidating.
Opponents can expect to get pressure from outside of the linebacking unit. Ben
Gardner and Henry Anderson are both destructive forces at defensive end.
Gardner finished last season with 14.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks.
Anderson was just behind him with 13.0 TFL and 5.5 sacks. Having time to
throw the ball will not be a luxury other Pac-12 quarterbacks will enjoy
against the Cardinal.
Those same signal callers will also not have an easy time picking apart
Stanford's secondary. Ed Reynolds and Jordan Richards are both hard-hitting
safeties that track the ball well. Richards had 68 tackles, three
interceptions and 15 passes defended last season. Meanwhile, Reynolds hauled
in six interceptions. Alex Carter is also coming back to again start at
SPECIAL TEAMS: Jordan Williamson missed 10 field goal attempts last season
(17-of-27). However he stepped up in big moments especially when he nailed the
game-winner against Oregon. Some more consistency could go a long way for the
Cardinal. Ben Rhyne had nine punts last season, averaging 41.1 yards per boot.
He will take over for departing starter Daniel Zychlinski.
Montgomery should once again be the primary kick returner after he averaged
26.6 yards on kickoff returns. Who takes over for Terrell in the punting game
is up in the air.
OUTLOOK: The Cardinal don't have the flash of some of their counterparts in
the rest of the league. However, there are few teams in the Pac-12 that can
match Stanford in terms of wins and losses.
In 2013 the Cardinal open the season against San Jose State before visiting
Army. League play begins at home against Arizona State before battling
Washington State on the road. In October, Stanford alternates home and away
games with contests against Washington, at Utah, against UCLA and at Oregon
State. The big contest on the schedule is without a doubt the Nov. 7 showdown
with Oregon at home. That game will have Pac-12 and possibly national title
implications. Stanford travels to face USC before taking on rival California
the next week. The season ends on a non-conference note as Stanford hosts
Notre Dame with revenge on its mind. This is another game with some huge
Obviously the schedule is a challenging one but the way Stanford plays, it can
grind out wins against just about anyone. Shaw has really elevated what
Harbaugh built and should continue that this season. Though questions loom on
offense, Stanford is so stout on defense that getting back to the Pac-12 title
game and the Rose Bowl are entirely realistic goals. However, Stanford has its
eyes set on playing in Pasadena on Jan. 6 for a national title. Its a tougher
goal but still an achievable one.
08/20 10:55:55 ET