Notre Dame Football 2014 Off-Season Preview: Stanford Cardinal

That's a classy t-shirt you've got on there, Kevin." - Harry How

Shaw's recruiting will be tested in 2014.

STANFORD CARDINAL

Stanford_old8_medium

2013 Record: 11-3

F/+ Rank: 3

Wins: San Jose State, Army, Arizona State, Washington State, Washington, UCLA, Oregon State, Oregon, California, Notre Dame, Arizona State

Losses: Utah, Southern California, Michigan State

~~~

Season Recap

Stanford didn't look over-powering in wins over SJSU and Army to start the season. A two-touchdown victory over Arizona State was a big early-season win. They pounded Wazzou and sneaked past Washington, a team that beat them in Seattle last year. However, the Cardinal tripped up on the road at Utah the next week. Three straight strong victories over UCLA, Oregon State, and Oregon put them in the Pac-12 driver's seat but yet again they tripped up on the road at USC. They rebounded with a 50-point win over Cal (biggest MOV in rivalry history), upended Notre Dame, and defeated ASU again in the Pac-12 title game. Stanford made their fourth straight major bowl game, and second straight Rose Bowl, but fell to Michigan State 24-20.

Series: 18-10-0 Notre Dame

Stanford has won 4 out of the last 5 games. 3 out of the last 5 games have been decided by exactly 7 points. Only two Irish coaches have lost at home to Stanford: Kelly (2010) and Holtz (1990, 1992). Each program has been ranked in the last 3 matchups.

Coach Resume: David Shaw (34-7, 4th Year)

The 41-year old played at Stanford in the early 90's and was an assistant in the NFL from 1997 to 2005. He was plucked away to coach at the University of San Diego by Jim Harbaugh in 2006 and followed him to Stanford a year later. The big question is if Shaw will leave his alma mater. His head coaching record is the third best in the country, behind only Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher, since the start of the 2011 season. He's won back-to-back Pac-12 championships and has been named Pac-12 Coach of the Year twice already.

Linemen Situation: Kind of Concerning

Things aren't too bad on defense as a couple of 5th-year seniors in DE Henry Anderson and NG David Perry return after combining for 17 starts. The Cardinal do lose Ben Gardner (injured after 8 games last year but leaves behind 35 career TFL) and Josh Mauro (12.5 TFL, 4 sacks last year) which is significant.

Former Irish target Blake Lueders has grown into a defensive end and returns for a 5th-year after a solid 23 tackle, 5 tackle for loss, and 2.5 sack campaign in 2013. The highly touted Aziz Shittu is now a junior and after an underwhelming first two years in Palo Alto (6 career tackles) he was apparently the best player on the team during spring ball. Stanford has also moved tight end Luke Kaumatule (5 starts, 3 receptions) to defensive end while incoming 5-star prospect Solomon Thomas will add more depth.

The situation at offensive line is downright scary. Unanimous All-American left guard David Yankey (40 career starts), center Khalil Wilkes (26 career starts), right guard Kevin Danser (28 career starts), and right tackle Cameron Fleming (39 career starts) all depart The Farm this off-season.

The good news is that Stanford's 2012 mega-haul at O-line should help the transition. Former 5-star prospect Andrus Peat returns at left tackle after making every start last year. Kyle Murphy is another rising junior and former 5-star prospect who has made 6 starts over the past couple seasons in Stanford's jumbo packages. He's expected to start at right tackle while junior Josh Garnett (just missed 5-star status as a recruit) will look to move into the starting left guard spot.

Returning Quarterback: Yes

Kevin Hogan will be a redshirt junior this fall and has 2 more years of eligibility left. He took over the starting job in the second week of November during the 2012 season and has made 19 straight starts for the Cardinal. More of a game manager-type (he's only thrown for 300 yards in a game once in his career) Hogan is effective working off play-action and throws a good deep ball. He's fairly mobile (610 career rushing yards) and can use his feet to pick up crucial first downs. Somewhat of a spotty passer, Hogan is 289 for 447 (64.6%) with 3,731 yards in his career to go with 29 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

Biggest Problem for 2014: Staying Physical on Offense

Stanford has made a living over the past half decade by being disruptive and tough on defense but they've also leaned very heavily on a physical offense led by great offensive line play. As stated above, the Cardinal are going through a major over-haul on the line. In addition, they also lose their top two running backs in Tyler Gaffney (1,717 yards, 21 TD) and Anthony Wilkerson (353 yards, 2 TD) as well one of the country's best fullbacks in Ryan Hewitt.

Biggest Strength for 2014: Wide Receiver

Prior to the 2013 season the Cardinal really targeted their tight ends often and the wide receivers were infrequently part of the offense. However, last season Stanford overcame their inexperience at tight end by developing their wide receivers and head into 2014 with some major play-making abilities.

Ty Montgomery thought long and hard about leaving for the NFL but he returns for his senior season after catching 61 passes for 958 yards and 10 scores. Following a sophomore slump he's one of the most dynamic receivers in the country heading into 2014 with 3,745 all-purpose yardage in his career.

Redshirt junior Devon Cajuste (642 yards, 22.9 avg.) and redshirt sophomore Michael Rector (431 yards, 30.7 avg.) exploded last season and should see more touches in the fall as well. Factor in rising sophomore Francis Owusu whom Stanford fans are excited about and this might be the best receiver unit in the Pac-12.

Offensive Scheme: Teeth Shattering Pro-Style

Stanford's base offense is your typical old-school pro-style scheme: 5 OL, 1 TE, 2 WR, 1 FB, 1 RB, 1 QB. They also aren't afraid to roll out 6 and 7-man offensive lines and do so regularly. The offense ran the ball 65.2% of the time last year, the highest percent of the Shaw/Harbaugh era. I'd expect that number to come down in 2014. The Cardinal also use plenty of shotgun and spread principles, particularly to get players like Ty Montgomery the ball in space, as well as allow Kevin Hogan to run the ball.

Special Teams: 4/4

Stanford welcomes back 5th-year senior kicker Jordan Williamson and 5th-year senior punter Ben Rhyne. This will be Williamson's fourth year as a starter and he is 45 for 68 on field goals for his career. Rhyne ascended to the starting punting role last year and won All Pac-12 honorable mention.

Mongtomery is back as the main kick returner and he's scored 3 touchdowns in this role over his career. Junior wideout-turned-safety Kodi Whitfield (9 returns) and redshirt sophomore Barry Sanders (7 returns) split the punt return duties last year.

Famous Alum: Reed Hastings

A 1988 graduate, he founded the company Pure Software which focused on troubleshooting software. After a succesful 7-year run with the company, Hastings left and founded Netflix.

Random Stat: 93.5%

That is the percent of total receiving yards coming back from last season. Stanford only loses 15 catches from running back Gaffney, 6 catches from running back Wilkerson, 5 catches from tight end Davis Dudchock, and 1 catch from receiver Keanu Nelson.

Summary

This should be a fascinating Stanford team if only because heading into the season they appear to be strong in areas different than we're used to seeing. There is some young talent at running back and offensive line but the receivers look like the more proven strength. A few veterans (Henry Anderson, A.J. Tarpley, James Vaughters) return in the front seven but the secondary might be better with two very talented corners in Wayne Lyons and Alex Carter holding thing down outside.


This is now the least Harbaugh influenced Stanford team. It's clearly obvious four years removed from the 49ers coach's departure and it adds an additional layer to the intrigue surrounding this 2014 team and overall program. The Cardinal have recruited well enough to maintain their high level of play but the vast majority of the "Harbaugh guys" are gone now.

What if the offensive line isn't quite as dominating? What if a workhorse running back doesn't emerge? What if the loss of serious disruptive players (Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov, Josh Mauro, and Ben Gardner leave behind 56.5 tackles for loss from last year alone) up front makes their defense a lot less scary?

Of course every team has questions and Stanford is no different. I still expect them to be a very good team but their schedule is awfully tough in 2014 and is going to test them. They will play USC in week 2 and travel to Washington the week before coming to South Bend. Stanford also has road games against Oregon, Arizona State, and UCLA to deal with later in the season.

Will the Cardinal make it 5 years in a row with at least 11 wins? Right now I'd probably bet against that yet I still expect Stanford to be a very formidable team in 2014.

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