Behind Enemy Lines: Stanford

In our never-ending search for information and enlightenment about each week's opponent, we've gone straight to Palo Alto and asked some questions of Stanford Historian Mark DeVaughn of The Bootleg. DeVaughn gave us insight into who Washington should be watching out for and what to expect when the Cardinal come to Husky Stadium Saturday afternoon.

Coming out of fall camp what were your impressions of the team’s offense? - “Potential” was the first thing that came to mind, followed closely by “caution.” While the power run game defined the first two years of the Andrew Luck era, it was easy to notice the expanse of weapons surrounding Kevin Hogan. Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste are each physically imposing, sure-handed home threats. Kelsey Young, Remound Wright and Barry J. Sanders each gave the run game a sense of renewal. And after a year where the tight end well went bone dry, you saw three redshirt freshmen all with prospects of becoming legit targets. But an offense can’t reach a consistent, productive level without a stable offensive line. The last five years have seen the Cardinal replace standout linemen, but never have they exited en masse like they did after last season. Left tackle Andrus Peat is the lone full-time starter remaining from the 2013 group, while only one of the 2014 replacements (Josh Garnett) owned any serious experience.
Coming out of fall camp what were your impressions of the team’s defense? - At first glance, the voids stuck out more than what remained. For the first time since 2008 (the last time Stanford finished with a losing record), Shayne Skov was nowhere to be found. It was easy to wonder about the back end of the secondary, especially with Ed Reynolds in the NFL and Kodi Whitfield forced to convert from wide receiver to shore up the safety position. Derek Mason parlayed his Oregon-stuffing, conference championship-winning success at defensive coordinator into becoming head coach at Vanderbilt. It all made you wonder if the unit could maintain its high level. Not that the preseason lacked highlights for the defense. It “won” the spring game in decisive fashion against the offense. No shortage of talent – lineman Henry Anderson, linebackers Kevin Anderson and James Vaughters – remained on the front seven.
Who are the players on each side of the ball that were the biggest surprises heading into the season, players UW fans should know about that weren't necessarily factors in last year's game? - Speaking of UW fans, they should notice a trait the Cardinal shares with Don James’ Husky teams: jersey numbers clones. I count four pairs of players off the top of my head who share the same number. Like Mario Bailey and Dana Hall, guys like receiver Francis Owusu and linebacker Blake Martinez wear the same numeral. But I digress…I bring up Martinez’s name as an example of new faces who have asserted themselves in the early going. The junior linebacker leads Stanford with 24 tackles. He’s drawn comparison to Skov for his ability to fearlessly take on pass-blockers. Aziz Shittu arrived in 2012 as a highly-touted defensive lineman, but he’s now finally starting to live up to his potential. Linebacker Noor Davis and safety Zach Hoffpauir are other players with more prominent roles. On the other side of the ball, Stanford will look to the tight ends after witnessing a total disappearance a year ago. Austin Hooper already has 12 catches for 167 yards and a touchdown. Christian McCaffrey, Ed’s son, has already shown explosive capabilities as a true freshman running back.
Has Coach Shaw made any major tweaks to his system? Or has he continued to build on existing systems with just some noticeable wrinkles? - The early going has witnessed some changes. There is no classic, between-the-tackles runner in the mold of Tyler Gaffney, so the ground game involves heavy doses of outside efforts. Stanford has also rediscovered the tight ends. The 2013 tight ends – none of whom remain – collected a measly 10 catches for 69 yards and zero touchdowns. Hooper and cohorts Eric Cotton and Greg Taboada are already making an impact. But, for better or worse, a lot of what we’ve seen so far is a carryover from a year ago. This team wants to get Cajuste in one-on-one coverage, and it eagerly awaits the chance for Montgomery to get the ball in the open field. We still witness the Wildcat, which has become an especially dull blade on The Farm – results ranging from unspectacular to disastrous – now that it’s six years removed from being considered cutting edge everywhere else.
Heading into this game, what do you think is the team’s biggest strength and what is its biggest concern? - Defense remains its most consistent strength. New defensive coordinator Lance Anderson’s group is showing no signs of slipping. After pitching two shutouts (albeit against massively inferior competition) and holding USC to one touchdown, it’s already drawing comparisons its recent decorated forerunners. There are no obvious weaknesses in the Cardinal defense (yet). Cajuste and Montgomery are two of the best receivers in the conference, but several liabilities exist on offense. The line is a work-in-progress, a unit beset in the early going by holding penalties. Playcalling is a more urgent and troubling issue. The USC game saw Stanford lose despite reaching the USC 32 yard-line on every drive. It was a painful reminder of offensive failures in the Rose Bowl, at Utah and at Notre Dame. I can’t think of another coach who, with the game on the line, makes a habit of taking the ball out of his best players’ hands. That will continue to haunt David Shaw and his staff until further notice.


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