Maryland (7-5) will travel across three time zones in order to take on Stanford (7-5) in the Foster Farms Bowl, formerly know as the Fight Hunger Bowl and the Emerald Bowl, Dec. 30. The 10 p.m. Eastern Time bout will take place at the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
Under fourth-year head coach David Shaw, Stanford has gone 41-12 and 28-8 in Pac-12 play. But this year, by their standards, the Cardinal are coming off a rather disappointing campaign, finishing 5-4 in the Pac-12 with two excruciating losses to Utah (20-17 in double overtime) and USC (13-10). That said, Stanford rebounded from back-to-back early-November defeats at the hands of Oregon and the Utes with convincing victories over California and UCLA to close the 2014 regular season.
Stanford’s calling card is its defense, where the Cardinal are ranked fifth nationally (out of 125 FBS teams), while the offense sits 74th.
Stanford’s offense is considered a pro-style, but it’s not a traditional set with a quarterback under center and two backs to the left and right of him. Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan does line up directly behind his line, but he’ll also operate from the shotgun a good amount as well. And while Stanford does like to use its fullback once in awhile, this year the Cardinal have been opting for more single-back looks; two tight-end formations; and three- and four-receiver sets.
Moreover, the methodical, ball-control offenses of recent-Stanford past have been remade into a slightly more up-tempo attack. The Cardinal are implementing a greater amount of no-huddle in order to catch defenses off-guard, while the passing game has been more in-vogue.
Granted, Stanford is still predicated on power football, but the Cardinal have been semi-frequently stretching the field with their receivers, perhaps out of necessity. If the staff had its way, the Cardinal would probably still be a run-first, run-second, run-third squad -- and then burn the defense with a well-timed play-action pass. But for a variety of reasons (namely offensive line struggles) that philosophy hasn’t been as effective compared to past seasons.
Some have surmised that Stanford’s coaches has struggled to play to this particular squad’s strengths, instead forcing a system on a group ill-equipped to execute it. The Cardinal have a second-year offensive coordinator/line coach in Mike Bloomgren, a first-year quarterbacks coach in Tavita Pritchard, a first-year running backs coach in Lance Taylor and a second-year tight ends coach in Morgan Turner, and those who know the program well said they’re still gelling as a staff.
For the season, the Cardinal are tied for 84th nationally at 25.7 points per game. They’re 74th in total offense (386.5 yards per game), 72nd in rushing (154.8 yards per game) and 59th in passing (231.7 yards per game).
Stanford converts 41.4 percent of its third downs (57th in the FBS), only 22 percent of its fourth downs (121st in the FBS) and just 71 percent of its redzone opportunities (116th in the FBS).
On the bright side, the Cardinal are holding the ball for almost 32 minutes per game (20th in the FBS), but they rack up almost 52 penalty yards per, which ranks 58th nationally.
Perhaps most eye-opening, however, is Stanford’s minus-five turnover ratio (102nd in the FBS). The Cardinal have coughed the ball up 20 times -- 12 lost fumbles, eight interceptions -- and taken it away on just 15 occasions.
Stanford's starting quarterback should be familiar to Maryland fans considering Kevin Hogan (Jr., 6-4, 225) prepped at Gonzaga (Washington, D.C.) and briefly looked at the Terps before jumping at the chance to play in Palo Alto, Calif.
The junior dual-threat has had a solid if not spectacular career thus far, in this his second full year starting. Hogan took over late in the 2012 season, and has guided the Cardinal to two Rose Bowls. But instead of taking the next step as a passer in 2014, he regressed a bit.
Hogan averages anywhere from 25-30 throws a game, and while he's had his moments, a handful of those 25-plus passes can be of the close-your-eyes variety. Hogan has an average to above-average arm, but his delivery can get out of whack as he has a long windup. Oftentimes, when Stanford is down in the redzone and spacing is limited, that long release comes back to haunt him, because defenses have time to read and react.
In general, though, Hogan is a fine athlete who is best served when he’s on the run, giving him an extra dimension defense must account for. When he’s able to roll-out and move the pocket, Hogan has shown he can locate his receivers and make accurate passes, threading the needle or dumping balls overtop zones.
When Hogan remains stationary, however, he gets into trouble. First and foremost, he doesn’t always go through his progressions and prefers to key on his primary read. Couple that with his elongated release, and it can lead to interceptions or ill-advised throws.
Now, Hogan probably would’ve fared better had his offensive line and running game stepped up like in years past. The Cardinal possess a surplus of talented receivers and tight ends, but the bulwark of Stanford football has traditionally been its stalwart O-line and potent rushing attack.
Lacking the latter two, the onus fell on Hogan to become more of a difference maker rather than a game manager. Hogan can make his share of plays, but he’s not going to anchor the offense the way, say, Andrew Luck could.
It hasn’t helped matters that the play-action pass, which Hogan thrived off of last season, hasn’t been nearly as effective without a dependable rushing attack.
For the season, Hogan has completed 218-of-322 passes (68 percent) for 2,603 yards, 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He is averaging 216.9 yards per game (57th in the FBS) and has an efficiency rating of 143.6 (35th in the FBS). He also ran the ball 84 times for 245 yards (he lost 141 yards in sacks, skewing the numbers) and five touchdowns.
Hogan’s backup, Evan Crower (Jr., 6-5, 216), has only seen action in mop-up duty, completing 11-of-21 throws for 164 yards and a score. He’s not a threat to Hogan’s job and won’t take the field unless there’s an injury.
Under former head coach Jim Harbaugh, and during the first three years of David Shaw’s tenure, the Cardinal always seemed to have a dominant running back. Even when Andrew Luck ran the show, Stanford had a breadwinner in the backfield to grind down defenses and take the pressure off the passing attack.
This year? Not so much. The Cardinal have rotated through four different backs, and while all have some skills, none have emerged as a true No. 1. For the season, Stanford is averaging 4.3 yards per carry and 154.8 yards per game, which ranks in the lower half of the FBS (72nd). More glaring, Cardinal backs have lost 12 fumbles, tied for 97th nationally.
Although the Stanford depth chart lists four players with “or” next to their names, Remound Wright (Jr., 5-9, 204) gets the bulk of the carries. He is the closest the Cardinal have to a traditional Stanford runner: big (200 pounds), physical, tough. Wright doesn’t have elite speed, and he’s not going to accelerate by the secondary, but he can grind between the tackles and move the chains. He had a few early-season struggles, but came on in the latter part of the year, rushing for four scores against Cal.
For the season, Wright has 127 carries for 552 years (4.3 yards per) and eight scores, with a long of 30.
Meanwhile, Kelsey Young (Jr., 5-10, 191) started 2014 as the No. 1 runner, as he was the most experienced back on the roster. And Young did flash potential, showing some shake, some speed and some toughness. But apparently it wasn’t enough, because he disappeared for spates and thus garnered less carries as the year went along. He ended up toting the rock 57 times for 306 yards (5.4 yards per carry) and zero scores.
While Wright and Young had the most carries, some have suggested Stanford’s two underclassmen running backs deserved more opportunities.
Christian McCaffrey (Fr., 6-0, 197) may be the most explosive runner the Cardinal have, and is clearly the best receiving threat out of the backfield. He has potentially game-breaking speed and acceleration, to go along with make-you-miss moves. He's also big enough to take a pounding and break a tackle or two as well. McCaffrey had 35 carries for 243 yards (6.9 yards per carry) and no touchdowns, while hauling in 16 passes for 251 yards and two scores.
The fourth back is none other than Hall of Famer Barry Sanders’ son, Barry Sanders Jr. (So., 5-10, 198). Like McCaffrey, Sanders has looked promising in limited action, but for whatever reasons hasn’t received the lion’s share of the load. A potentially complete back -- he’s a rugged runner with above-average speed -- Sanders ran the ball 54 times for 304 yards (5.6 yards per carry) and no touchdowns.
While the running backs have been up-and-down, Stanford’s fullback is rock steady. Former walk-on Lee Ward (Sr., 6-1, 247) is a hole opener who gains leverage and packs a punch at the point of attack. And while he’s not on the field much during passing situations, he’s held his own picking up blitzers as well.
The No. 2 fullback, Pat Skov (Sr., 6-1, 235), also sees time and has done an admirable job when rotating in.
The Cardinal receivers do not lack for talent, but more was expected of them in 2014. The group as a whole averaged just 12.1 yards per catch, which ranks 61st nationally, and they’ve had their share of drops as well. Moreover, aside from the Cardinal’s top wideout, no Stanford receiver had more than 30 receptions. That said, this is still a potentially dangerous group that can take advantage of a flatfooted secondary.
The clear No. 1 target is Ty Montgomery (Sr., 6-2, 220), who missed the last game with a shoulder injury, but is back in the fold for the bowl. Montgomery is a true deep threat who can explode downfield and take the top off the defense. He has game-changing speed, so Stanford attempts to involve Montgomery in multiple ways, sending him on the aforementioned “9” routes, while also lining him up in the slot; giving him the ball on end-arounds; and direct-snapping him the ball out of the Wildcat. Montgomery also has the size and in-air physicality to make plays in traffic, or out-muscles defensive backs for jump balls. He has dropped a few catchable passes this year, but he’s mostly been reliable.
For the season, Montgomery has 61 receptions for 604 yards and three touchdowns.
The second most productive wideout, Devon Cajuste (Jr., 6-4, 229), looks the part of a big-time playmaker. He’s physically imposing, and has enough speed to stretch the field, but he’s been inconsistent this year. Cajuste has questionable hands, and can’t always be relied on to make the difficult catch. If his head and hands are in the game, however, he has big-time potential -- with “potential” being the key word.
In 2014, Cajuste recorded 30 catches for 510 yards and a team-high four scores.
Mike Rector (So., 6-1, 185), meanwhile, has showed some signs of breaking out, but he still has a ways to go. He’s not the most physical wideout out there, and has muffed a few passes in traffic. But Rector does have plenty of speed, making him yet another Cardinal receiver who can get behind the defense.
He has 23 catches for 309 yards and two touchdowns this season.
Two other receivers of note are Jordan Pratt (Jr., 6-3, 212) and Francis Owusu (So., 6-3, 215), the former a possession guy with maybe the most reliable hands among the wideouts (look for him on third downs), and the latter a dynamic talent who started to come on late during the year. Neither Pratt nor Owusu have eye-popping numbers (11 catches for Owusu; five receptions and a touchdown for Pratt), but they do have to be accounted for when they’re on the field.
There’s a cool storyline associated with Stanford’s tight end core: All three are from the same 2013 recruiting class, all three redshirted last season, and all three now see plenty of action. After the Cardinal basically ignored tight ends in 2013, the unit has become a main focal point a year later.
While the trio do rotate through, Austin Hooper (Fr., 6-4, 249) is the best of the bunch. A second-team all-conference performer, Hooper has a knack for finding the soft spots in a defense. He’s not a Vernon Davis type who can get down the seam and make plays up top, but Hooper’s a smooth operator in that 10- to 15-yard range. The sure-handed Hooper is also the best blocker of the bunch, and does well sealing off the edge.
For the season, he’s second on the squad with 35 receptions for 428 yards and two touchdowns.
The next two tight ends are practically mirror images of one another, both physically and in terms of skill-sets. Eric Cotton (Fr., 6-6, 239) and Greg Taboada (Fr., 6-5, 242) are big bodies with solid speed and average hands. This pair is probably a bit faster than Hooper, although their catching isn’t as consistent and their blocking still needs work. Don’t expect Cotton or Taboada to be targeted often, but they could easily take advantage of a secondary that’s keying on the Cardinal’s other weapons.
This year, Cotton has six catches for 125 yards and a touchdown, while Taboada has seven receptions for 108 yards and two scores.
The recent vintages of Cardinal offensive lines have generally been stout. It's typically a grizzled, tough-guy unit that opens bus-sized holes while also keeping their quarterback on his feet. But this year Stanford had to work in four new starters, and it took them time to click.
Thus, the team rushed for an un-Stanford-like 154.8 yards per game and 4.3 yards per carry, to go along with 22 sacks allowed (46th in the FBS). Those numbers would suffice for many programs, but the Cardinal expect a different level of production.
Now, the one mainstay up front has been left tackle Andrus Peat (Jr., 6-7, 316), who could be a first-round draft pick should he choose to leave Palo Alto. Peat’s got size; he’s got strength; he’s got guts; he’s got feet; and he’s got agility. Add it up, and he’s a prototypical left tackle who can lock up most defensive ends in college football.
Although he failed to get a push on a couple key third-and-short plays this year, Peat’s known as a potent run blocker and an above-average pass protector. Sometimes he’s criticized because he’s not Jonathan Martin or Kwame Harris, who starred at Stanford back in the day, but Peat has more than held his own and is the Cardinal’s most reliable offensive lineman.
The rest of the front five hasn’t been nearly as effective, although, in fairness, the group began to gel during the season’s final two weeks. The future is bright for this emerging unit, and could pose problems for Maryland in the bowl game.
Left guard Josh Garnett (Jr., 6-5, 325) is a former five-star recruit who hasn’t lived up to expectations thus far. Earlier this season he was drawing penalties, wasn’t generating a regular push and had inconsistent fundamentals too. He shaped up later in the campaign, however, and may finally be realizing his potential.
At center, Graham Shuler (So., 6-4, 287) had issues picking up blitzers and opening holes, but he too has improved during 2014’s latter third. Shuler’s done a better job working in tandem with his fellow interior linemen, executing combination blocks while holding up at the point of attack. He still has some lapses here and there, but he’s becoming more consistent.
Right guard Johnny Caspers (So., 6-4, 297) is in the same boat as Shuler. Caspers looked out of synch at times, and his hands and footwork weren’t always on-point, but he’s steadily improved. At this juncture, he’s known more for his run blocking than his pass protection/blitz pickup.
Finally, at right tackle, there’s former five-star talent Kyle Murphy (Jr., 6-7, 298), who has had an up-and-down year. Murphy has been OK, but he’s hardly dominated at the point of attack or cleared out opposing ends for the running backs. He’s also surrendered a few quarterback pressures/sacks this season, and committed a few penalties as well. Murphy, like his linemates, seemed to perform at a higher level the last couple weeks, so the Cardinal are hoping the trend continues.
Typically, Stanford sticks to their starting front five, but two more offensive linemen do see time. Nick Davidson (So., 6-7, 288) rotates in at tackle, and Brendon Austin (Jr., 6-6, 296) subs in at right guard in place of Caspers.
While the Stanford offense hasn’t performed at a Rose Bowl level, its defense certainly has under first-year coordinator Lance Anderson, who was the squad’s outside linebackers coach the last four years. The Cardinal have surrendered just 192 total points (16.0 per game), which is second lowest in the nation to Ole Miss (13.8 points allowed per).
Stanford is fifth nationally in total defense (287.4 yards allowed per game), 11th in rush defense (111.8 yards allowed per) and seventh in pass defense (175.8 yards allowed per).
Opponents convert just 35.6 percent of third downs, (24th in the FBS), 46 percent of fourth downs (43rd) and 80.6 percent of redzone opportunities into scores (46th). That latter statistic may be a bit high, but typically the Cardinal hold foes to field goals, as teams have scored touchdowns on only 17 of their 31 attempts.
Moreover, Stanford’s pass rush has generated 40 sacks, sixth best nationally, and opponents only hold the ball 28 minutes each game.
As far as the scheme goes, the Cardinal run a straight 3-4, with the front seven anchoring the unit. They do like to bring pressure up the A- and B-gaps, though in general this is a disciplined, gap-control defense that plays well together.
Also, on third-and-long situations, the Cardinal will shift into a nickel or dime look, with the extra defensive backs ordinarily keeping plays in front of them. It’s a sure-tackling group that limits momentum-swinging plays and doesn’t make many boneheaded errors.
Granted, Stanford hasn’t produced as many turnovers compared to years past (11 picks, four recovered fumbles), and various foes have had success moving the ball between the 20s. But the “D” typically adjusts well and buckles down. Instead of offenses figuring out how to attack the Cardinal’s, it’s often the other way around, with Stanford identifying and exploiting weaknesses in opposing attacks.
The defense did have its share of difficulties against Oregon (who hasn’t?) and a late breakdown against Notre Dame, but, other than that, it’s been first-rate.
This is an experienced, resilient trio of down linemen; the defensive line is one of the key reasons Stanford is holding opposing running games to 3.2 yards per carry and 111.8 yards per game. The starting front three alone have generated 13 of the team’s 40 sacks.
At one defensive end spot, Henry Anderson (Sr., 6-6, 287) has proven to be one of the best all-around edge rushers in the Pac-12. A savvy, fifth-year veteran, Anderson combines both guile and talent, and it’s allowed him to break down some of the conference’s best offensive tackles. Anderson’s also an above-average athlete, who can defend in space; leap to knock down passes; and chase backs down on the edge.
Anderson has a team-high 7.5 sacks, nine quarterback hits and 14 tackles for loss, to go along with 62 tackles and four breakups.
Next to Anderson, on the inside, is David Parry (Sr., 6-2, 300), an all-conference defensive tackle. This is no mere space-eater, as Parry is known for busting up backfields. He’s not especially tall, but he’s like a heavyweight wrestler with his ability to gain leverage and move his man off the ball. Parry consistently pressures the pocket, while actively locating backs in the hole as well.
For the season, Parry has 30 tackles, seven tackles for loss, four sacks and six quarterback hits.
The least-heralded member of the starting D-line is Blake Lueders (Sr., 6-5, 274), who would probably be a star in many other programs. His pass-rushing and block-defeating abilities aren’t at the level of a Parry or Anderson, but Lueders is a steady all-around defensive end who rarely breaks down. He’s a sound tackler, edge setter and point-of-attack defender, making him an important cog in the unit.
Lueders has 23 tackles, five tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and two quarterback hits in 2014.
Stanford will rotate through one or two other linemen, but typically the starting three play the majority of the snaps.
Like the defensive linemen, the Cardinal linebackers have been a force this year, both plugging the gaps and getting after the quarterback. The first five backers have produced 22.5 sacks and numerous pressures, while helping hold opposing backs to just 3.2 yards per carry. True, the sack totals are gaudy, but the Cardinal linebackers are particularly effective because they stay in their lanes; don’t allow leaky yardage; and actively set the edge.
At outside linebacker, Kevin Anderson (Jr., 6-4, 245) has been a valuable piece given his versatility. A local product from nearby Palo Alto High, Anderson has the athleticism to defend in space and the quickness to bust into the backfield. He’s adept at defeating blocks, tangling inside, and wrapping up in the hole. Anderson’s agility and fast first step allow him to catch backs on the edge and pick up receivers in space too.
For the season, he has 50 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and five sacks. He’s also recovered a fumble and recorded five quarterback hits.
Next to Anderson, at inside linebacker, is Blake Martinez (Jr., 6-2, 247), who emerged as a solid contributor this year. Martinez is a downhill thumper who actively scrapes and scraps in order to reach ball-carriers. And while he’s a sure tackler near the line, Martinez is also loose enough to drop back and cover. He’s one of those heady, always-around-the ball types with a penchant for making plays.
Martinez leads the team with 96 tackles, to go along with six tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, three interceptions, five breakups and two forced fumbles.
The second inside backer, A.J. Tarpley (Sr., 6-2, 241), has been a major contributor for three years now. An unshakeable defender with above-average technique, Tarpley is a solid all-around player who is mentally on-point. Like Martinez, he actively sniffs out the ball and comes up with a big play or two seemingly every week.
In 2014, Tarpley racked up 77 stops, 4.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, an interception, a breakup and a fumble recovery.
Outside linebacker James Vaughters (Sr., 6-2, 258) was a highly touted recruit who has developed as both a playmaker and leader during his career. Vaughters provides intangibles and talent, and he will be missed once he graduates.
Like fellow outside linebacker Kevin Anderson, Vaughters can rush the passer and defend in space. He breaks down well, actively sets the edge and doesn’t miss many tackles. Moreover, Anderson has a potent first step and active hands, allowing him to toss offensive linemen on his way to the quarterback.
For the season, Vaughters has 46 stops, nine tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, five quarterback hits, six breakups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
The aforementioned quartert start for Stanford, but the Cardinal are deep at linebacker, and have several other key contributors.
Most notably, there’s Peter Kalambayi (Fr., 6-3, 245), a surprise first-year who has a bright future. At the moment Kalambayi is a pure pass rusher -- lightning quick off the ball with a surplus of effective moves. Plus he packs quite an initial punch, while his athleticism allows him to slip through small gaps as he beelines into the backfield.
He has 31 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, an interception, three breakups, a forced fumble and three breakups this year.
Two more underclassmen, Kevin Palma (Fr., 6-2, 253) and Noor Davis (So., 6-4, 243), also see significant snaps and should be major contributors in the future. Palma has 17 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss, while Davis has racked up 16 stops and an interception.
So Stanford can stop the run. Now, check out the Cardinal’s back end. Sure, the pass rush deserves some credit, but the defensive backs have been dependable almost all season. Not only are they allowing just 175 yards per game (seventh in the FBS), but they’re surrendering an FBS-low 9.17 yards per completion and 5.23 yards per attempt.
At one cornerback spot, Alex Carter (Jr., 6-0, 202) has NFL potential; he could easily could bolt Palo Alto early. He, along with Wayne Lyons (Sr., 6-1, 193), form the best pair of corners Stanford has had in its recent history.
Carter isn’t one of those long 6-2 corners, but he’s physical, stout and sticky. A press-cover guy, Carter’s aggressive at the line and won’t back down from receivers. He’s loose, flexible and shows the ability to turn and run downfield. On top of that, Carter is active in the air and attacks the football. He also rarely gets fooled and doesn’t allow wideouts to beat him deep either.
Carter has 39 tackles, an interception, a team-high 17 breakups and a forced fumble as well.
The two-year starter Lyons hasn’t been quite as consistent as Carter, but he’s solid for the most part. Lyons is sound fundamentally, showing good footwork and technique, while displaying above-average coverage technique too. Lyons isn’t a pure playmaking corner, though he typically keeps plays in front of him and holds his own on an island.
Lyons has 29 tackles, six breakups and a forced fumble this year.
At safety, Zach Hoffpauir (Jr., 6-0, 197) is well-known for his baseball prowess, but he can play a little on the gridiron as well. Though he lines up at free safety, he’s actually a better tackler than he is a cover guy. Hoffpauir defends well in space and is at his best when he’s coming downhill to cut down backs who reach the second level. Once in awhile Hoffpauir will give up a play up top, but it’s not like he struggles in coverage. He does have 10 breakups this year and can pick up tight ends/receivers who cross his face.
In 2014, Hoffpauir had 42 tackles, four tackles for loss and those 10 knockdowns.
At strong safety, Jordan Richards (Sr., 5-11, 210) has improved to the point where he’s now an all-conference performer. A noted deep-cover safety with sideline-to-sideline range, Richards has characteristic ball hawk skills (great instincts, aggressive, high points the ball, etc.). On top of that, he has the quick-twitch fibers to jump routes, while he tackles well in space too.
Richards has also developed a knack for creating turnovers, as he’s come up with three interceptions and three forced fumbles this year. In addition, he racked up 76 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 11 breakups this fall.
The backup corner, Ronnie Harris (Jr., 5-10, 173), has seen action in all 12 games this year, and even started a couple over Lyons. Now, Harris usually plays in nickel and dime situations, and he has more than held his own. Harris is a heady defender who doesn’t make mistakes, and is a sure tackler as well. He will give up his share of completions, but his talent suggests he’d be a starter on many squads.
Harris recorded 27 tackles, five tackles for loss and a forced fumble this year.
The second sub to note is safety Kyle Olugbode (Sr., 6-1, 205), who rotates in a good amount. An excellent dime defender, he picks up receivers well and doesn’t get fooled often when defending deep.
For the season, Olugbode had 38 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 10 pass defenses and a fumble recovery.
Most of Stanford’s special teams pieces have performed admirably this year, but perhaps the most important one has been shaky. Kicker Jordan Williamson (Sr., 5-11, 185) could be suffering from confidence issues, according to those who know the program well. He may be the school's all-time leading scorer, and he may have range out to 50-plus yards, but this year he’s missed six kicks, including two from inside 30 yards and two more from inside 40.
For the season, Williamson is 14-of-20 with a long of 51, but has failed on attempts from 26, 26, 37, 37, 46 and 49. That said, he has converted his last seven kicks, including two from 40-plus yards out and one from 51. Williamson has also sent more than half his kickoffs (37-of-61) into the endzone for touchbacks.
The punter, Ben Rhyne (Sr., 6-2, 197), meanwhile, has been steady if not spectacular. He doesn’t have a booming leg, but he hasn’t shanked many kicks either. In 2014, Rhyne averaged 39.9 yards per punt (85th nationally), placed 14 inside the 20-yard line and sent seven 50-plus yards.
The one concern, though, is Rhyne has had two of his punts blocked. That had more to do with protection breakdowns than Rhyne’s get-off, however.
Stanford’s main return man, Ty Montgomery (Sr., 6-2, 220), missed the regular season finale with an injury, but he’ll be in action for the Maryland game. Which isn’t a positive for Terps fans, because Montgomery’s a home-run hitter and a slippery seam-splitter.
On kick returns, he’s averaging 25.2 yards per bringback (26th nationally) with a long of 62, but it’s his punt-return prowess that keeps special teams coordinators up at night. If Montgomery had enough attempts to qualify, his 19.8 yards-per-punt bringback would rank first in the nation, while his two punt-return touchdowns are third most.
In terms of coverage units, the Cardinal are ranked 13th nationally in kick defense (17.57 yards allowed per return) and 52nd in punt defense (6.91 yards allowed per return). They have not surrendered a return touchdown, or a bringback of longer than 39 yards.
It should also be noted that Stanford did block one kick this year.
Opponent Preview: Stanford
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