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The Compulsive Purchase Award

Whose Cardinal jersey did I need after the USC victory?

USC v Stanford Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Few purchases rival that of a jersey bought in the light of a beautiful sport’s moment. Allowing the crazed excitement of an incredible play or an unforgettable instant to dictate the acquisition of a players jersey is all part of this thing we call being a sports fan. In the spirit of such a moment, this is the jersey from week one I would buy in the heat of the moment.

The jersey belonging to the player who raised me to my feet the most, elevated my blood pressure consistently and gave me no choice but to invest in his numbers. This is the winner of the Compulsive Purchase Award- week two.

The defense was supposed to be the weakness of this team, the front seven, the question mark that hampered a juiced up offense.

But after two games, the Stanford Cardinal have let up 13 total points and 165.5 yards per outing. The secondary has been on the rise with crucial contributions from Paulson Adebo, Malik Antoine and Alameen Murphy. Depth there, with cornerback Alijah Holder back in the rotation, is not going to be a problem for the Cardinal.

But manufacturing a pass rush with no real horses to pull the cart in the front four was a significant cause of concern for the Cardinal. Stanford’s creative use of their linebackers neutralized those concerns, a group that accounted for 38 of the 80 total tackles against USC, along with all four Cardinal sacks and 5.5 of the seven tackles for loss. Who else could take the award but a linebacker?

Award Winner - Joey Alfieri

Stat Line - five tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1.5 tackles for loss, one forced fumble

Alfieri highlighted a group that harassed quarterback J.T. Daniels and the USC offense, holding the Trojans to the lowest point total against Stanford since 1941.

The key all night was misdirection, thanks to the versatility of the linebackers. Take a look here (also this week’s play that sealed the purchase):

On this forced fumble from Alfieri, the defense is showing a four-man rush, which is exactly what they bring, but Stanford flips the pressure right before the snap and sends Bobby Okereke flying off the right side as Casey Toohill backs off the left into coverage.

The result is Alfieri getting lost as he cuts back inside behind defensive tackle Michael Williams, applying pressure as the offensive line losses him. Alfieri rips the football free, and Okereke scoops up the loose ball. The turnover is all possible because Toohill can drop into coverage on the other side.

Stanford showed that they do not have one linebacker that can play everywhere, they have at least three.

Okereke dropped back and covered a tight end 15 yards down the field. Sean Barton and Toohill both recorded defended pass, and Alfieri dropped back into the flat to pick up linebackers and running backs.

Without the studs like Harrison Phillips and Solomon Thomas up front, the Cardinal found defensive solace in the strong safety/linebacker hybrid. The ability to bring pressure from inside or outside and from any of their linebackers. Because so many can drop in and out of coverage when Toohill and Okereke sneak up to the line, both can charge the quarterback; a factor that threw Daniels through a loop for 60 minutes.

The linebackers and their impact on the game was a big reason Stanford beat USC. The front held USC’s running game to 114 yards, causing a fumble and critical pressure on one of Daniels’ two interceptions. Bryce Love found breathing room on the ground and Antoine recorded two picks, but make no mistake: the linebackers are changing the look of this Cardinal defense.

Stanford seems to have found a pass rush, and I found this week’s jersey.