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Know Your Enemy: Previewing the Stanford Offense

After weeks of searching, Stanford finally seems to have found itself offensively. Still haven’t been able to get their hands on any Stanfurdium, though.

NCAA Football: Oregon State at Stanford Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Here at CGB’s Know Your Enemy department, we have one mission and one mission only. You should know more about your enemy after reading this column than you did before. Not to toot my own horn, but I think we’ve done a competent pretty good halfway decent job of that this season. And yet, I think we can do better. Stats, schemes, and hot takes are only part of knowing your enemy. That’s why, for this week’s edition, we’re going to dive into some absolutely true facts about our enemy, the Stanford Cardinal.

H/T to the Stanford media guide for these, and for not listing every player’s social media accounts like some media guides do. (Also, if you find yourself comparing different schools’ athletic department publications, it’s time to get a new hobby.)

KEY FACT #1: David Shaw’s official title is Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football.

KEY FACT #2: Stanford’s second largest home football crowd (50,510) was at Big Game 2009. I think we all know how that one went.

KEY FACT #3: As a child, starting wide receiver Trenton Irwin was featured in this ad for Velveeta and Rotel. Man, that’s good.

KEY Fact #4: This is the first time I’ve ever seen the words “mammalian thermoregulation” in a media guide. I can’t say I’m all that surprised:

Temperature-regulation research of Stanford biologists H. Craig Heller and Dennis Grahn led to a device that rapidly cools body temperature and greatly improves exercise recovery. This is the sort of claim you see in spam email subject lines, not in discussions of mammalian thermoregulation. By taking advantage of specialized heat-transfer veins in the palms of hands, “the glove” can rapidly cool athletes’ core temperatures -- and dramatically improve exercise recovery and performance.

KEY Fact #5: Starting right guard Johnny Caspers is getting his graduate degree in earth systems. The media guide helpfully notes that his “studies include worm compost.”

KEY Fact #5A: Also, Caspers’ middle name is McCool.

KEY Fact #5B: Left guard Nate Herbig is from Hawaii. His nickname is Big Island, which is awesome.

And now you know your enemy.


After four years as Stanford’s starting quarterback, Kevin Hogan has finally taken his talents to Cleveland. Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football David Shaw found Hogan’s successor in senior Ryan Burns, naming him the starter in August. The Burns Era would not be a long one, however, as the offense sputtered under his control. Burns went 4-3 as a starter, throwing more interceptions (seven) than touchdowns (five). His 0-TD, 3-INT performance against Colorado was bad enough for Shaw to call in backup.

His selection, junior Keller Chryst, has quickly righted the ship. In three games as a starter, Chryst has thrown for five scores and reignited the Stanford offense. He’s looked like a rookie starter at times, occasionally misfiring or locking on to his receivers, but he’s got a strong arm and has steadily improved his performance. His best work yet came last week against the Ducks, where he threw for 258 yards and three scores. Of course, Chryst’s three wins have come against Arizona, Oregon State, and Oregon, so it’s hard to say how much of his success has been talent and how much has been weak opposition. I’m afraid a matchup against Cal’s crumbling defense won’t do much to answer that question.

Running Backs

Christian McCaffrey. Hmm. The good news is he’s a junior, so he’ll probably head off to the NFL after one final romp against the Bears. I mean, come on, nobody is going to forego a sure first round selection just to stay at Stanford for an extra year, right? Right?

And now, the bad news. Christian McCaffrey is the conference’s leading rusher, the conference’s all-purpose yardage leader, and he’s 89 yards away from breaking Toby Gerhart’s career record. Keep in mind, McCaffrey has been at less than full strength for most of this season. He’s healthy now though, and he’s coming off a streak of three 100-plus-yard games. Look out.

If and when McCaffrey decides to take a rest (he’s carried the ball a conference-leading 192 times), he’ll be backed up by the speedy Bryce Love. The 5’10” sophomore averages nearly seven yards per carry, and provides a nice change of pace from the bigger McCaffrey. Fullback Daniel Marx, banged up earlier in the season, will be back and healthy in a blocking role.

Receiving Corps

Though none of them exactly jump off the page like John Ross and River Cracraft have done in recent weeks, Stanford has a quietly capable set of wideouts. Last year’s top target, Michael Rector, is once again having a solid year with 28 receptions and three touchdowns. Trenton Irwin has emerged as the preferred possession receiver, leading the team in targets but still without a TD in 2016. The biggest surprise among the wideouts, however, has been sophomore JJ Arcega-Whiteside. He’s Chryst’s deep threat of the future, averaging almost 15 yards per reception and leading the team with five scores. Don’t be surprised if the Cal secondary is once again forced to play pass interference defense against the 6’3” receiver.

Tight end duties will largely be shared between upperclassmen Dalton Schultz and Greg Taboada. Neither has approximated the performance of the departed Austin Hooper, but Schultz especially has been a popular target for Cardinal QBs.

Offensive Line

The Cardinal came into this season needing replacements for three every-game starters from 2015. Among those lost was Outland Trophy Winner Joshua Garnett, first round selection by the 49ers. Aside from some positional shuffling, the returners and replacements have settled into a comfortable rotation. Left guard Nate “Big Island” Herbig is the only underclassman, situated between two other newbies in left tackle A.T. Hall and center Jesse Burkett. The right side is more experienced, featuring the returning RG Johnny McCool Caspers and RT David Bright.

I don’t want to put too much stock in OL statistics here, as they seem pretty dependent on the skill players around them. The numbers suggest an above average line performance in the running game and a well below average performance in pass blocking. Do you think that might have something to do with the Christian McCaffrey/Ryan Burns talent differential?

This game may not be quite as hopeless as it looks. Though Vegas pegs Stanford as double digit favorites, S&P favors them by just 2.5 points. If we get the same feckless Stanford offense from the first seven weeks, that number sounds about right. But if Keller Chryst can add a passing dimension the Stanford offense, this one won’t be close.

Let’s get that axe.