Stanford University football has been one of the top teams in the nation for most of the past decade. Despite consistently finishing in the top-25 in the nation, the Cardinal face some questions entering the year. Both running back Christian McCaffrey and defensive end Solomon Thomas were top-10 picks in this year’s NFL draft, leaving potential holes on both offense and defense. The Cardinal, however, rank No. 14 in the country entering the season. Thresher sports editor Andrew Grottkau spoke with Stanford Daily football desk editor Sam Curry to find out how Stanford plans to repeat last year’s dominance over Rice.
Andrew Grottkau (AG): So much of Stanford's offense ran through Christian McCaffrey for the past couple years. What are the Cardinal planning to do to replace his production?
Sam Curry (SC): While there is no way to truly replace a player like McCaffrey with the skill set he brought, junior running back Bryce Love is fully expected to have a breakout season while taking the majority of the workload for Stanford. I think the college football world will find out quickly that Love is one of the most electrifying players in the nation. This is a guy with sub-4.4 (editor’s note: he can run the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds) speed who has averaged over seven yards per carry in his career, with a better offensive line than McCaffrey worked behind last season. I think head coach David Shaw said it best: "Every time Bryce has touched the ball for last two years there is a collective pause that happens on our sideline and the other sideline". Don't get me wrong, McCaffrey is a legend, but everyone in Palo Alto is confident that the Stanford ground game is in good hands.
AG: Quarterback Keller Chryst tore his ACL in the Sun Bowl last year, but he has recovered enough to start the season opener. How will Stanford use him in his first game back from injury against a defense he shredded last year?
SC: Chryst has made a remarkably fast recovery from his ACL injury and has reportedly been feeling 100 percent at practice, even running full-speed sprints with the team for a few weeks now. He may be more careful on the ground this first game, meaning he likely won't break away for any 62-yard runs like he did last season against Rice, but the Cardinal are absolutely looking for him to pick up where he left off as their signal-caller last year. Stanford has always been a team, at least in recent years, that prides itself in the running game, so the lion's share of the offense will likely go through Love & Co. But Chryst's role as a passer expanded last year as he got more comfortable later in the season, and David Shaw seems confident that Keller has a much better grasp on the offense this season. With receivers like J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Trenton Irwin around him, the Stanford air attack should be a force to be reckoned with.
AG: Star defensive end Solomon Thomas was the No. 3 pick in this year's NFL draft. How will the Stanford defense change without him?
SC: Thomas's absence without a doubt will be felt on the Stanford defensive line. A player as dynamic as Solomon can't easily be replaced, and admittedly, the Cardinal may find it more difficult to stuff runs and get consistent pressure on the quarterback this season. Stanford also has reason to be hopeful of retaining a stout front, however. Senior outside linebacker Joey Alfieri and fifth-year outside linebacker Peter Kalambayi have already proven to be effective edge rushers, as Alfieri racked up 5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss last year while Kalambayi finished the season with 3.5 sacks and 6 tackles for loss. While Kalambayi's stats aren't quite as impressive, he is expected to have a breakout year and I think the college football world will know his name when the season is over. And let's not forget about Stanford's big man in the middle, Harrison Phillips. The senior defensive tackle had 6.5 sacks and 9.5 TFL last season, and he's only getting better. Solomon will be missed, but as always, it's next man up for the Cardinal and there is plenty of reason to be optimistic about the defensive front.
AG: The Cardinal defense gets a chance to go up against a quarterback making his first college start. What does a young quarterback like Glaesmann have to do to limit mistakes against Stanford's experienced unit?
SC: Stanford has arguably one of the best secondaries in the nation heading into the season, so asking Glaesmann to play his first collegiate game against this unit is a tall order. This is a tough question, as I'm not too familiar with Glaesmann's skill set, but I think for a young quarterback to be successful in a game like this he can't try to do it all himself. He has to "deal the cards" as David Shaw says when talking about his quarterbacks, meaning he has to manage the game, get the ball to his playmakers, and let them do the rest. This is not a game Glaesmann's going to be able to take over with home-run plays. The Stanford corners and safeties are long and athletic and would have a field day if Glaesmann tried to throw over them all game. From what I understand, however, Glaesmann can make plays with his feet as well, which will help him out a lot in escaping any pressure the Stanford front brings. If think if he can stay patient, hit his receivers on short routes, and make plays with his feet in an efficient manner, he should fare well in his first collegiate game.