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Stanford Defensive Scouting Report

Stanford struggles against the things Kansas State does well. That’s a combination I like.

That mask isn’t muzzling David Shaw right now. Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Willie Shaw Director of Stanford Defense - Lance Anderson

First off, I feel like I need to put on my tux (full cummerbund, with none of that semi-formal vest and short coat stuff) in order to write about the Willie Shaw Director of Defense. Anderson is in his eighth year as the director of defense at Standford and usually puts together a respectable, if not occasionally spectacular, defense. 2020 was not one of those years, and neither was 2019. The defense in Palo Alto has been trending down since their stingy 2016 defense.

Anderson started his coaching career in 1997 at Idaho State as a running backs coach and coached tight ends in 1998. He moved to the Mobile Admirals to coach running backs in 1999, and I have no idea what that means, and don’t have the motivation to look it up. He coached tight ends at Bucknell in the 1999-2000 season, and then moved over to the defensive side of the ball in 2001 to coach the defensive line. He moved on to Saint Mary’s as the Co-Defensive coordinator and then moved to a Utah State in 2004 to coach outside linebackers. He was at San Diego from 2005-06 under Jim Harbaugh and then followed Harbaugh to Stanford in 2007 to coach defensive tackles. He moved on to coach outside linebackers from 2010-2013, before being named the Director of Defense in 2014.

This is all to say, you know what you’re going to get out of the Stanford defense. Lance Anderson has been running the show since 2014, and while the players change, the scheme doesn’t. While 2020 isn’t a great in terms of gleaning information from stats, Anderson has been at Stanford long enough that I think it’s a fair representation of what they like to do on defense. I’ll give you the K-State stats as reference, but I’m only talking about Stanford today.

2020 Stanford vs K-State Defense

*All Rankings are 2020 National Rankings

Scoring Defense (Points Per Game)

Stanford - 31.67 (77)

Kansas State - 32.2 (84)

These two defenses were similar, in terms of points per game, last season. Stanford’s best defensive game was against Cal, they limited the Golden Bears to 23 points in a 1-point win. Their worst defensive was against UCLA, they gave up 47 points to the Bruins in a 1-point win.

Total Defense (Yards Per Game)

Stanford - 438.7 (93rd)

Kansas State - 444.7 (97th)

Again, similar the two teams are similar in terms of total yards...and not in a good way. Stanford struggled to get off the field in their first two games, both losses, tightened up in the next three games, and then got in a shoot out with Chip Kelly and UCLA to end the year.

3rd Down Defense

Stanford - 51% (122)

Kansas State - 40% (61st)

Only five teams in the nation were worse at getting off the field than Stanford in 2020. This bodes well for ball control offense of the Wildcats. Over half the time the other team reached 3rd down, they converted. If Kansas State converts at that clip tomorrow, I like their chances.

Rushing Defense (Yards Per Game)

Stanford - 222 (112)

Kansas State - 177.2 (77th)

Want to know how to give up 51% of your 3rd down stop opportunities? Have the 112th ranked rushing defense in the nation. Third and shorts are easy to convert, and Stanford’s defense was in 3rd and short more often than not last season, resulting in prolonged drives. A game of 3rd and shorts is Courtney Messingham’s dream scenario.

Yards Per Rush

Stanford - 5.46

Kansas State - 4.73

I don’t have the national rankings for this stat, but I rest assured, giving up 5.46 yards per carry put’s you in the bottom quarter of college football defenses, and plays directly into the hands of one Mr. Deuce Vaughn. Teams were able to crease the defensive front against Stanford, and when Deuce creases the defensive front, it’s only a matter of time before he creases the second and third level of the defense.

Passing Defense (Yards Per Game)

Stanford - 216.7 (44th)

Kansas State - 267.5 (109)

This is an interesting cause/effect relationship. Did Stanford have a respectable pass defense because they were good, or because their run defense was so poor that teams didn’t feel the need to risk attempting the forward pass when running the ball requires fewer steps. It’s probably a little of both in this case, but as you’ll see, when teams did throw against Stanford, they found some success.

Yards Allowed Per Completion

Stanford - 13

Kansas State - 11.19

Teams didn’t throw the ball all that much against Stanford, but when they did, they allowed 13 yards a completion. That’s not great, and again, matches up well with what Kansas State wants to do on offense. I look for the Wildcats to jab at the defense with run game and then try and work intermediate and deep routes off of play action. This defense is vulnerable to chunk plays in the passing game last year because they had to move safeties close to the line of scrimmage to attempt to stem the bleeding in the run game.

Sacks (Per Game)

Stanford - 1.5 (104th)

Kansas State - 2.8 (27th)

This ties in with their poor run defense. They didn’t have as many sack opportunities because you can’t sack a running back gaining 5 yards a carry. On top of that, play action holds blitzers. If K-State is able to run like I think, I don’t think pass protection will be an issue for Skylar, and that will be huge in his first game back off injury.

Tackles for Loss (Per Game)

Stanford - 4.8 (105th)

Kansas State - 6.8 (36th)

Ohh, boy, I love seeing this stat. It further solidifies the fact that Stanford was not getting penetration with their defensive line and linebackers last season. Teams were running the ball against them, giving them ample opportunities to make tackles for loss, but they weren’t getting through the offensive line. The K-State running game struggles with teams that shoot into gaps and blow up their slow developing power game. Stanford doesn’t do that, and if a defense allows the Kansas State guards time to pull around and get into the linebackers, they’re going to have a bad time.

Red Zone Defense

Stanford - 86% (84th)

Kansas State - 83% (54th)

The opponents reached the Stanford red zone 29 times in 2020. The defense gave up 12 rushing touchdowns, 7 passing touchdowns, and 6 field goals. That rushing touchdown number, paired with the relatively few field goals is another flashing light for the Kansas State offense. Red zone efficiency will be key for ground and pound Kansas State offense. You don’t win big football games kicking field goals in the red zone. You just don’t. I would rather see the Wildcats run the ball four times and turn it over on downs than kick inside the 20. Hopefully that doesn’t come up in this game, but if it does, you’ll hear me screaming “GO FOR IT!” all the way from Athens.

Passes Per Interception

Stanford - 156 pass attempts, 2 interceptions = 78 passes per interception

Kansas State - 353 pass attempts, 7 interceptions = 50 passes per interception

This stat further shows how passive the Stanford defense was last season. This is also shows the difference between a team like Kansas State, who isn’t afraid to man up on the outside and let their defensive backs eat, and Stanford, who relies on off coverage.

My Take Away

I love this defensive profile for the Kansas State offense. It dovetails with everything Courtney Messingham wants to accomplish, and is the reason why I’m picking the Wildcats in this game.

The best way to slow down Deuce Vaughn is to get penetration into the backfield and stop him before he gets moving forward. If he hits the hole with forward momentum, it’s all over, because his ability to set up linebackers and then make them look silly is elite. This running game struggles with teams like West Virginia who shoot gaps and get into the backfield. They thrive against teams that stand up at the line of scrimmage and let their wrecking ball guards pull around and drop bombs on linebackers and safeties trying to fill the B gaps.

Unless the Stanford defense has significantly better personnel than they did last season (and I don’t see it) the Wildcats should control the game and wear this defense out. If you’re into watching defensive linemen drag themselves back to the line of scrimmage only to be knocked back on their rear ends, you’re going to be reeeeal happy with the second half of this game if it plays out the way I think.