In 2017, the Stanford Cardinal recorded 32 sacks, the lowest number for the defense since 2009 when Stanford posted a dismal 21 sacks.
Following the ‘17 campaign, Peter Kalambayi and Harrison Phillips (two of the staples in the front) joined the ranks of the NFL, with few to fill their shoes on the current roster.
Curtis Robinson and Dylan Jackson are X-factors here; both players failing to reach the level of stardom many hoped they would find at Stanford. The duo could very well hit their anticipated stride in a season with no predominant stud on the Cardinal front, but looking at the offensive competition Stanford plays potentially makes it a moot point.
Of the 12 teams set to play the Cardinal in the regular season, three of them (Utah Utes, Arizona State, Devils and Washington State Cougars) allowed 40-plus sacks, placing them in the top 10 most sacked teams last season. Five more teams (USC Trojans, UCLA Bruins, Notre Dame Fighting Irish and California Golden Bears) fell in the top 45 most sacked teams. Only four teams on the Stanford slat (Oregon Ducks, Oregon State Beavers, Washington Huskies and UC Davis Aggies) allowed 25 or fewer sacks in 2017. The idea here is offensive lines actually capable of pushing around the depleted Cardinal front seven will be few and far between.
Studying opponents incoming offensive line talent lends more confidence to Stanford’s uncommonly mediocre defensive front.
Of the teams who were truly abhorrent, few made leaps and bounds towards change in the offseason. Washington State gathered two, 3-star offensive linemen (tackle Cade Beresford and guard Blake McDonald). Arizona State signed just as many 3-star men to their front, adding a tackle (Ralph Fries) and a guard (Jarrett Bell). Utah brings in just one guard, Braeden Daniels, with two more 3-star linemen not yet enrolled. All three teams struggled (and failed) to stop opposing pass rushers last season- a problem they will again face when Stanford plays them in 2018.
Even when considering the top recruiting classes (as ranked by 247Sports), the Cardinal will hold their own. The Fighting Irish gave up 30 sacks last season but only managed one 4-star tackle in Jerrett Peterson in their 10th ranked class. USC boasts a 4th ranked class, but 4-star center Justin Dedich is one of only two linemen in the class.
Of the opponents with whom Stanford goes to war, only Oregon added significant numbers to their offensive front (three 4-stars and two 3-stars). Stanford also has a strong backend group led by veteran corner Alijah Holder, and their star in the making- Alameen Murphy. A dependable secondary offers a much-needed crutch for the Cardinal. The bottom line- these teams will not be good at stopping pass rushers. Everything has fallen into place to for the Cardinal to not suffer from a weak pass rush. The issues can scheme around, the problems masked with the right blitz. The name of the game, baring a breakout from Robinson, will be taking advantage of susceptible lines.
Defensive coordinator Lance Anderson will have his work cut out for him this season, but the schedule and a solid secondary should be enough to keep Stanford’s high-powered offense ahead.