Over the past decade, Stanford has been the home of intellectual brutality. They controlled the ball and ran it down opponents’ throats with dominating offensive linemen and bruising running backs. The defense stacked the box with stud linebackers and dared opponents to throw. Stanford was known for their physicality and intelligence, and they found success with this identity. They won an Orange Bowl, almost won a Fiesta Bowl, and went to the Rose Bowl three times. They won three PAC-12 championships and were consistently regarded as one of the best teams in the country. Now, however, Stanford’s original and unique identity that once dominated the PAC-12 has slipped away.
Take these names: David DeCastro, Andrus Peat, Joshua Garnett, Kyle Murphy, and the list goes on. Stanford's offensive linemen were annually considered the nation's best just years ago. The team could tell the other team the play and still be able to run up the middle. In 2010, 2011, and 2013, the team averaged over five yards per carry and found themselves playing in a New Year's Six bowl each year, but it also didn't take Heisman-worthy backs to carry the ball.
Furthermore, Stanford can not longer bring out the jumbo package and rush for a yard or two at any time. Not too long ago, a fan could walk out of the room on 4th and 1, and expect Stanford to still have the ball when they came back. That's not the case anymore, and even David Shaw knows it.
Against San Diego State, he elected to kick a field goal on 4th and 1, and the decision ultimately cost Stanford the game. Against Utah, Shaw went for two late in the game, and instead of pounding it in, he threw it THREE straight times.
Stanford doesn’t have the ability this year to reliably convert short yardage situations. And as a result, the team can't extend drives and control the clock.
It's pretty obvious Stanford no longer controls the ball like they once did. In 2010, Stanford led the nation in time of possession and held the ball for almost 35 minutes per game. Now, Stanford is well below the bottom half of FBS teams in that category. That means the opposing team's offense gets more team on the field, and Stanford needs to rely more on their defense.
The defense was extremely physical and reliable not too long ago, and the front seven was feared across the conference. Between 2011-2013, the defense allowed less than 100 yards rushing per game, and the slogan #PartyInTheBackfield was born. The defense always had a superstar linebacker in Shayne Skov or Blake Martinez, and the defensive linemen all had a future in the NFL.
Today, that's not the case. The front seven allows 177.7 rushing yards per game, there's no linebacker on the level of past years, and Harrison Phillips is the only legitimate NFL prospect on the line. Frankly, the front seven gets bullied weekly.
When did the defensive front start truly deteriorating? Perhaps it can be traced to February 2016, the month that Randy Hart retired. He spent six seasons with Stanford, and during that span, the team won 66 games and went to five New Year's Six games. Hart’s players always spoke about him with fervor, and his work had a direct correlation to Stanford impressive record. He was the man behind #PartyInTheBackfield, and without him, Stanford’s defense has suffered.