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Stanford Preview: Defense

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Taking a look at Blake Martinez and the Stanford defense.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

I expect that we have all grown accustomed to Stanford fielding a big, talented 3-4 defense year after year. This is indeed the case in 2015, though the offense plays a much larger role than I would have expected in the team's overall success.

Stanford fails to rank #1 in the conference in any single defensive category, mostly thanks to the presence of the Huskies, but they are a fixture in the top half of almost every category.

Against the run Stanford ranks 4th, allowing 3.91 yards allowed per carry. 2nd against the pass with a mere 6.4 yards allowed per attempt. 4th in scoring defense at 21.7 points allowed per games.

The worst performances on the year in terms of points allowed occurred against USC (31 points) and UCLA (35 points), but in both cases the Cardinal jumped out to an early lead and merely gave some ground while defending a wide margin.

In the disheartening season-opening loss to Northwestern, more blame belongs to the offense for scoring 6 points than to the defense for allowing 16.

Defensive Line

DE Brennan Scarlett (Sr., 6-4, 264), DT Solomon Thomas So., 6-3, 271), DE Aziz Shittu (Sr., 6-3, 279).

It's hard not to be a little surprised by the overall lack of size on this three-man defensive line. Boasting four linebackers weighing 240+ pounds certainly helps matters, but it still seems odd to feature a 271-pound nose tackle (whose listed backup is the 279-pound starting defensive end).

When compared to Washington, who lost 340+ pound nose tackle Danny Shelton while managing to replace him with Elijah Qualls (310 pounds), Greg Gaines (310 pounds), and Vita Vea (340 pounds), the absence of any real beef on the defensive line stands out.The Huskies have been very fortunate to bring in several 300+ pound linemen for the future.

Brennan Scarlett is a fifth year senior who transferred over from Cal. He has chipped in 17 total tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. Across from him, Shittu has been more productive with 22 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, and 1.0 sack on the year.

On the interior Solomon Thomas, who is in his first season as a contributor, has amassed a similar line of 21 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, and 1.0 sack.

Linebackers

OLB Peter Kalambayi (Jr., 6-3, 242), ILB Blake Martinez (Sr., 6-2, 245), ILB Kevin Palma (Jr., 6-2, 252), OLB Joey Alfieri (So., 6-3, 240).

This is usually where you'll find the star power on a Stanford defense, and this year is no different. Nobody has been more productive than Blake Martinez, a senior leader at ILB who's racked up 68 tackles, 3.5 TLs, and one interception.

OLB Peter Kalambayi is the 2nd leading tackler, and yet he could double his 31 tackles and still not eclipse the pace of Martinez. Luckily as a pass-rushing outside backer, that isn't Kalambayi's job. He is tied for the team lead with 2.5 sacks.

If I'm not mistaken Kevin Anderson would normally start in place of Alfieri at OLB, but he is questionable with a knee injury.

Overall, even in the absence of Anderson, this is the type of deep, physically impressive linebacking corps we have come to expect in Palo Alto.

Defensive Backs

CB Alijah Holder (So., 6-2, 184), FS Kodi Whitfield (Sr., 6-2, 202), SS Dallas Lloyd (Sr., 6-3, 207), CB Ronnie Harris (Sr., 5-10, 172), NB Terrence Alexander (Sr., 5-10, 182).

Ronnie Harris has been seeing the field since 2012, though this is his first season as a full-time starter.  Holder is in his first season as an on-field contributor across from Harris.

Stanford's pair of senior starting safeties have been really productive on the back end. Whitfield has totaled 25 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, and 1 interception. Lloyd has also managed exactly 25.

With Holder, Whitfield, and Lloyd all standing at least 6-2, length figures to be an issue for whoever starts at quarterback for Washington. Nobody here has collected many individual accolades, and yet Stanford's pass defense has been among the best in the conference.

Overall

There isn't an obvious weakness on this defense. The linebackers are the obvious strength, but I have a hard time believing this unit would perform so well against both the run and the pass without solid play at the line of scrimmage and in the defensive backfield.

The obvious question of the matchup between the Husky offense and this defense involves who will start at quarterback for Washington. I'm extremely worried about pass protection, and in that sense starting Carta-Samuels might help. He is more mobile, far larger, and not currently nursing a shoulder injury. If someone is going to be chased around the backfield all night, I'd prefer it be Carta-Samuels.

That being said, we have no idea what the Huskies have in KJ. It seems safe to say that he is not as advanced a passer as Browning, but that's about it. If he does start, I wonder if we see more read-option and designed QB run looks to take advantage of his athleticism.

Whether it's an injured Browning or a green Carta-Samuels, a lot of pressure will be put on Gaskin and the run game. If Dwayne Washington is out again, it's all on the O'Dea product to put together another efficient, explosive performance. I suspect he will need more than 14 carries this week.

Unfortunately, Gaskin's performance is not all up to Gaskin. The run blocking needs to show up consistently, and if it does, the coaching staff must stick to it. I suspect there will be more dedication to the run in the first half given the QB situation.

I haven't said much about the wide receivers and tight ends. They have not been getting open enough this season, but given the poor quality of the pass protection, I sometimes do not know how much blame they rightfully deserve in that regard.

It has been discussed on this site that the Huskies have almost always won under both Sark and Petersen when scoring at least 28 points. They have often lost when scoring fewer than 28 points. I have a very hard time seeing Washington managing to reach that mark against this particular defense.