Stanford Position Previews — Defense

Team captain Shayne Skov is one of the fiercest linebackers in America. - Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

Each week, we take a look at the various fronts of Washington's upcoming opponent. Today, we examine the defense of the Stanford Cardinal.

Players to watch
DE Ben Gardner, LB Trent Murphy, LB Shayne Skov, S Ed Reynolds

Notable injuries/absences
DE Henry Anderson (Knee - Out)

Analysis
If Keith Price ever suffered from night terrors within the past 12 months, chances are that they prominently featured Stanford's defensive front seven. Despite coming away from Century Link Field with perhaps the biggest win of last season against the Cardinal, the Huskies struggled for nearly the entire game to keep Stanford's pass rushers from battering their quarterback. And while Washington has clearly improved its offense's capabilities since 2012, so has the Cardinal defense, which returns eight defensive starters from last year's group that ranked 14th in the nation in yards surrendered per play.

On the defensive line, Stanford took a hit when starting defensive end Henry Anderson, a second-team all-conference selection last year, when down with a knee injury. No matter: The Cardinal can shift responsibility for securing the position to Ben Gardner, a preseason all-conference selection who has already accumulated 2.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss through four games. He's a bit behind pace to replicate his monster production in 2012 (14.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks), but make no mistake: This is a player that feasts upon the mistakes of offensive linemen, with running backs and quarterbacks usually paying the price for those miscues—through four games, he already has four quarterback hurries to his name. Gardner will be flanked Saturday by DE Josh Mauro and DT David Parry.

Washington fans take great pride in the strength of their linebackers, but Stanford is one of the few teams in the conference that can match (some would say exceed) the Huskies at this position group. Team captain Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov are preseason All Americans, and for good reason: In 2012, Murphy compiled 18.0 tackles for loss and 10.0 sacks, both of which ranked 19th in the nation; meanwhile, Skov is on pace to again lead the team in tackles, having made 28 this year. Washington fans in particular will remember Murphy as the man who made an incredibly athletic pick-six against Keith Price in last year's contest. Murphy and Skov are joined by fellow linebacker A.J. Tarpley, who ranks fourth in tackles for the Cardinal in his own right.

As if this wealth of talent up front wasn't enough, Stanford claims an All American safety in Ed Reynolds, who made six interceptions in 2012, including three that he returned for touchdowns. This year, he's made one pick and 25 tackles to go along with a pass breakup. Reynolds is flanked by fellow preseason All American safety Jordan Richards, who already has a pick-six of his own this season, and cornerbacks Alex Carter and Wayne Lyons.

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As always, thanks to College Football Statistics, ESPN and USA Today's College Football Injury Report for the relevant data that went into this article. You can follow me on Twitter by clicking below.

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