Stanford’s offensive line has long been the trademark of the team. It is big, it is smart, and it is physical. They have had great players such as Andrus Peat and Joshua Garnett in their O-line, and they will continue to have great players come through. This year, however, Stanford has a very young line. And if the Cardinal are to accomplish what they set out to this year, which is to win the Pac-12 and make the playoff for the first time, then the O-line simply has to get better.
“We were one block away” stated coach David Shaw in his postgame comments after Stanford’s home win against Kansas State. Shaw was referring to the somewhat measly rushing stats that Stanford put up against the Wildcats, and he was trying to say that it seemed like on every run play, they were just always one crucial block away from taking it to the house. And I agree with Coach Shaw. With a running back like Christian McCafferey in your backfield, you always have the opportunity to break a simple run play for 6 points if all goes well. And for most of the night, it really looked like Stanford was constantly this close to taking it to the house. Of course, Christian did break one run out for a 40-yard score, but we were missing those long runs that we have become accustomed to seeing from #WildCaff.
However, in a sport like football, one block can really make or break a play. And while I know that Shaw was trying to support his linemen after a somewhat lackluster performance, being “one block away” can mean the difference between a really good and a really bad offense.
The Cardinal love to control time of possession when they have the ball. Stanford, of course, does this by constantly running the ball down the defense’s throat, taking lots of time off the clock, and methodically moving the ball down the field one play at a time. This strategy really only works if you are able to be successful with your runs, especially on first downs. Last Friday against the Wildcats, Kansas State would put 8 or 9 men in the box every time Stanford had a first down, because they knew that the Cardinal were going to run the ball. And run the ball they did. This is nothing new for Stanford football, who can sometimes be a little predictable. The only difference, however, between years past and now, is that even when Stanford was running the ball into the face of 8 men in the tackle box, they could still get 4 or 5 yards behind a punishing offensive line. Against Kansas State, Stanford was often lucky to get 3 yards on a first down. This forced them to make some throws on second and third down, leaving a lot of time on the clock.
This inability to run the ball successfully no matter what, which Stanford has been able to do for quite some time now, resulted in a lot less time of possession for the Cardinal, and it allowed the Kansas State offense, another slow moving offense, to have plenty of time to work with. It really let the Wildcats back into the game in the second half, when they should have been long out of it.
Of course, this unit is a young one for the Cardinal, and it will only improve over time, but it is extremely important that Stanford can utilize McCafferey as well as possible, and if the O-line doesn’t improve quickly, Stanford will have some major troubles against tougher opponents down the road.