So far, Henry Anderson's knee injury has only allowed Stanford to further showcase its depth up front. Josh Mauro truly is "a bull in a china shop," as Derek Mason likes to call him. The Cardinal struggled occasionally against Army's unusual triple option attack at 9 a.m. Pacific time, but based on the circumstances, those hiccups don't amount to anything significant. (They'll rid themselves of the 'minuses' in these grades if they continue to prove the West Point performance was a fluke.) Against conventional ground attacks in September's other three games, Stanford held the opposition to 124 rushing yards on 60 carries (2.1 YPC).
The three-minute third quarter stretch against Washington State, which saw the Farm Boys injure two quarterbacks, return two interceptions for touchdowns, and imprint three craters into the CenturyLink Field turf, started with dominance from this versatile defensive line. (Trent Murphy occasionally lines up there.) Sacks and tackles for loss may be slightly down this year (see table), but that's a product of opposing teams resorting to quick passes to protect their quarterback. The Cardinal's front seven is successfully forcing teams to alter their offensive gameplans.
||DL Passes Defended
||3.5 (2.1 w/o Army)
Murphy has made monstrous improvements to his game again (Exhibit A: His monstrous third quarter in Seattle), while James Vaughters has come into his own on the other side. He's now a frequent resident in the opposing backfield. On the inside, it certainly seems that both Shayne Skov and A.J. Tarpley have upgraded their sideline-to-sideline speed. The medical staff has told me that their goal for No. 11 is for him to be better than he was in early 2011, and the table below illustrates that Skov is well on his way to regaining his pre-knee injury explosiveness. Coach Lance Anderson, meanwhile, indicated that Tarpley is Stanford's most improved linebacker. That showed in the way that he has flown to seal the perimeter against quick-pass happy Arizona State and Washington State.
||Tackles Per Gm
||% of Team Total
Grade: A- (only rough spot: fourth quarter versus ASU)
The most notable statistic below is this year's significant reduction in opponents' yards per passing attempt. Combine that with the fact that the Stanford secondary is on pace to defend fewer passes this year, and it's clear that opponents have gravitated to quick passing attacks as a way to combat the Cardinal's ferocious pass rush.
Because opposing offenses are focusing on quickly getting rid of the ball to underneath options, tackling is of paramount importance for the Farm Boys' defensive backs. So far, they've done an excellent job. Alex Carter had already established himself as a physical beast in 2012. Wayne Lyons is following suit this year (and recorded the team's first 2013 tackle for loss.) Jordan Richards appears even more chiseled this season, while Ed Reynolds is also doing a fine job in the tackling department. One final note: The interceptions are again on a solid pace. Let's see if this secondary can outdo the 2010 Stanford version in that department.
||Opp. Passing Yards Per Attempt
||% of Passes Defended
Joe Hemscoot has been the star of kick coverage, while Ty Montgomery has added an Owusu-like burst to the return unit. The Cardinal are only asking Kodi Whitfield to be steady at punt returner, and he hasn't disappointed in that role thus far. Kicking-wise, Jordan Williamson is 8-for-10 from field goal range. His only misses have come from further than 50 yards (his career long is 48). Punter Ben Rhyne has pinned opponents inside the 20-yard line on half of his punts. That paid major dividends, as Stanford followed with big plays near the goal line versus the Sun Devils and Cougars.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!