Preview 2017: Stanford Cardinal
Previewing and looking ahead at the Stanford Cardinal season – and what you need to know.
What You Need To Know About The Stanford Offense
Andrew Luck Director of Offense – it’s the offensive coordinator, but it’s Stanford; it can’t help itself – Mike Bloomgren doesn’t have Christian McCaffrey to play around with anymore. But the cupboard is far from bare.
However, even with No. 5, the Cardinal was 103rd in the nation in total offense, helped by a major midseason power outage. This year, it’s Bryce Love’s backfield working behind a line that should be far stronger.
Not up to its usual snuff, the Cardinal front five struggled for the ground game to go along with 34 sacks allowed – it gave up 20 in 2015. Fortunately, four starters are back, to go along with a phenomenal recruiting class full of future NFL-caliber blockers.
The receivers are solid – with three of the top four non-McCaffrey targets back – but who’s going to get them the ball? Keller Chryst is trying to return from a knee injury suffered in the bowl game, but given time, Ryan Burns should be fine.
Biggest Key To The Stanford Offense
The passing game can’t be so awful. The program of Elway, and Luck, and even Kevin Hogan during a great recent run couldn’t throw the ball a lick for long stretches last season, finishing with just 2,056 yards and 15 scores. That’s okay as long as the downfield passes are connecting, but the Cardinal averaged just 6.7 yards per throw after averaging 9.3 yards per toss in 2015.
The quarterbacks are good enough, the receivers are fine, and the running game should take the pressure off. Now the balance has to be there.
What You Need To Know About The Stanford Defense
The D was good, but it had two miserable games against Washington and Washington State early on, and that was enough – the Pac-12 was lost from there.
It wasn’t the defense’s fault the Cardinal didn’t get back to the Pac-12 championship, though. It finished the season allowing just 368 yards and 20 points per game. However, now it has to get by without San Francisco 49er Solomon Thomas on one end.
Harrison Phillips is a whale of a defensive tackle to work the line around, but the depth has to emerge in a hurry on the front three. The linebackers should dominate behind the line, led by Joey Alfieri on one side and a slew of great young options appearing to be ready to fill in the gaps.
The secondary gets three starters back including the corner tandem of Quenton Meeks and Alameen Murphy. As long as the Thomas-less pass rush is as good as usual, this defensive backfield should be among the Pac-12’s best.
Biggest Key To The Stanford Defense
The defensive front can’t suffer a major rash of injuries early on. Again, Phillips is a terrific tackle, Alfieri is an all-star outside linebacker, and LB Bobby Okereke had an amazing spring, looking ready to come up with a huge year. But the developed depth is a wee bit lacking with five main backups gone from the front seven, along with the loss of Thomas and two starting linebackers.
It’s Stanford – it always finds key replacements – but a few key bumps and bruises could prove costly in the first half of the season with no real breaks from USC on September 9th to Oregon on October 14th. And that’s before having to face Washington and Notre Dame in November.
Stanford Will Be Far Better If …
There a kick return game. Two years ago when McCaffrey was handling all the work, the Stanford return games were dominant. He was just okay on punt returns last season, with the team averaging a mediocre 6.8 yards per try, while kickoff returns were almost non-existent.
McCaffrey did his part – averaging close to 23 yards per attempt – but he only got 14 tries. As a team, Stanford was dead last in the nation averaging just 14.8 yards per attempt.
Best Stanford Offensive Player
RB Bryce Love, Jr. – No one’s saying he’s going to be another Christian McCaffrey, but he’s been almost as dangerous when he’s had his shot. Smallish, at a thin 5-10, 191 pounds, he can be tough when needed, averaging over seven yards per carry with 783 yards and two scores – and eight catches for 83 yards and a score – in a reserve role.
With McCaffrey out, Love ran for 129 yards against Notre Dame, and was solid in the bowl win over North Carolina with 119 yards on 21 carries. If he can stay in one piece, he should be in for a huge season with around 1,500 yards.
2. OT Casey Tucker, Sr.
3. TE Dalton Schultz, Sr.
4. C Jesse Burkett, Sr.
5. OT David Bright, Sr.
Best Stanford Defensive Player
LB Joey Alfieri, Sr. – Fitting the mold of the Stanford linebacker who can do a little of everything right, he operated on the outside finishing fourth on the team in tackles and second in tackles for loss, coming up with 51 tackles with five sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss.
At 6-3 and 238 pounds, he’s a tweener who’s used like an extra end at times in the 3-4, and now he should be the team’s most dangerous pass rusher.
2. DT Harrison Phillips, Sr.
3. CB Quenton Meeks, Jr.
4. S Justin Reid, Jr.
5. LB Bobby Okereke, Sr.
Key Player To A Successful Season
QB Ryan Burns, Sr. – The team is hoping for Keller Chryst to be back from the knee injury suffered in the bowl win over North Carolina, but it’s a big dream to think he’ll be ready to roll by the start of the season. As good as he looked, it’s partly because he caught a massive break, getting to start against the bad teams on the slate – Arizona, Oregon State, Oregon, Cal and Rice.
Burns – who got blamed for not being able to get the attack moving – had to face Kansas State, USC, UCLA, Washington, Washington State, Notre Dame, and Colorado. In other words, all the good defenses. Now, the 6-5, 232-pounder will almost certainly start the season, and he’s got to be great with Rice, San Diego State and UCLA coming up early.
The Stanford Season Will Be A Success If …
The Cardinal get go the College Football Playoff. Yeah, there’s that early game at USC, but Oregon, Washington, and UCLA have to come to Palo Alto. So does Notre Dame. Stanford won’t go unbeaten, but it could be this year’s Washington and get through the season 11-1. Do that, and get by the Pac-12 title game – USC isn’t a lock to get there – and it’s off to the CFP.
Key Game To The Stanford Season
Nov. 10 vs. Washington – Of course the USC showdown to kickoff the Pac-12 season is large, and beating Oregon at home is going to be really, really big. However, the Washington game might be the beat-the-champ-to-be-the-champ moment for the Cardinal.
Last year, the 44-6 embarrassment was the moment Washington showed America who the star in the North was, and it was the start of the two-game stretch losing to the Huskies and Washington State by a combined score of 86-22. This year, the U-Dub game comes after Wazzu.
2016 Stanford Fun Stats
– Field Goals: Stanford 22-of-27 – Opponents 12-of-21
– Sacks: Stanford 37 for 224 yards – Opponents 34 for 202 yards
– Kickoff Return Average: Opponents 20.4 – Stanford 14.84