With the disastrous 2006 season in their rearview mirror, Stanford is steadily driving towards their next goal and would like to add a little more distance between that joke of a season and the new face of Cardinal football.
Since the change in power, the Cardinal defense has seen a degree of improvement but have yet to solidify a Top 70 spot in any major defensive category.
Although Harbaugh’s defense hasn’t been able to post staggering numbers, they have been more aggressive to say the least.
Stanford’s rushing defense has improved year over year and that can be attributed to a very talented defensive line and a quick linebacker corps that are getting better with each game.
The Cardinal more than doubled their sack total from 2006 to 2007, increasing from 14 to 37. In 2008, they kept firing away at the quarterback recording 34 sacks.
And while there has also been steady improvement in points allowed since 2006, there have been a few categories that took a hit from this new-look defense.
In 2006, Stanford had the second best passing defense in the Pac-10, allowing only 177 yards per game. The following year they dropped to 10th seeing an increase of 89.2 yards per game. The Cardinal saw this number improve in 2008 but it still hasn’t come close to the 2006 clip.
This increase in passing yards allowed hasn’t appeared to affect the scoreboard too much and the good news is the secondary is only getting stronger.
Lets take a closer look at the pieces of this “ready to prove” defense.
Defensive Line: B
Harbaugh likes his defensive line so much that according to gostanford.com, he feels that they have “the potential to develop into one of best front fours in the conference”.
Tom Keiser carries the bulk of this potential after his amazing freshman year at defensive end, leading the team with six sacks. He will be accompanied by returning starters in senior defensemen Ekom Udofia, who is looking to return to his freshman season form, and Erik Lorig, who hopes to keep building on his progress from the past two seasons.
Rounding out the D-line will be sophomore Matt Masifilo. Masifilo was a four-star recruit who recorded 22 tackles in his freshman year and should keep the ball rolling in year two.
If these four guys can fulfill their potential prophecies, Stanford should have a very formidable front line in 2009.
Stanford takes a pretty big hit with the loss of Pat Maynor but hopes to fill the gap with a variety of talent.
Clinton Snyder returns for his senior season and should be the leading force behind this defense. Snyder’s 6.5 tackles-for-losses (TFLs) were only eclipsed by Maynor and Keiser last year.
Penciled in on the sides of Snyder will be Chike Amajoyi, a junior who led the Cardinal in assisted tackles in 2008, and Will Power, a senior who hasn’t seen much time.
Five-star prospect Shayne Skov could also see some time at linebacker as a freshman depending on how well he performs in training camp. If he can make an immediate impact, getting through the Cardinal front seven may prove to be a very difficult task.
Stanford’s secondary has been their biggest problem since 2006. Their inability to keep opponents from averaging less than 220 yards per game is definitely an issue that needs to be addressed.
Free safety Bo McNally returns after a spectacular year where he led the team in tackles and interceptions. Delano Howell, who was recently turned from running back into a safety, will assist McNally in locking down the backfield.
Cornerback Kris Evans needs to build off of the five TFLs, two picks, and one sack from last year in order to have a memorable final season. Corey Gatewood will play opposite of Evans but with minimal playing time at corner is a slight question mark.
If Stanford has any hope of reaching a bowl game this year, their secondary will have to lock it up and show massive improvements in their overall numbers.
Please check out how the Stanford offense graded in my previous article.