Foster Farms Bowl preview: Stanford vs. Maryland
Not many people expected Stanford to go 7-5 in the regular season. Picked to finish second in the Pac-12 North, the Cardinal was considered a serious contender for the inaugural College Football Playoff. Not many people expected Maryland to go 7-5 either, as the Terrapins were expected to have a rough transition from the ACC to the Big Ten and were projected to finish fifth in the seven-team Big Ten East. That said, the Cardinal and Terrapins enter the Foster Farms Bowl on Dec. 30 in Santa Clara (7 p.m. PT, ESPN) sporting identical 7-5 records.
Season in Review: Stanford (7-5, 5-4 Pac-12; 2nd in Pac-12 North)
If you told head coach David Shaw at the start of the season that he and his boys would be playing in the Foster Farms Bowl, he wouldn’t have been too happy. Fresh off its fourth-consecutive BCS bowl game and second-straight Rose Bowl, the Cardinal was expected to be a prominent player on the national landscape. Early-season losses to USC and Notre Dame hurt the team’s profile, but the Cardinal still looked like the better team for most of those games. However, blowout losses at Arizona State and Oregon painted a different picture: For 2014, at least, the Cardinal was not among the nation’s elite. As the red-zone issues and losses continued to mount, many were wondering if Stanford had what it took to squeak into a bowl game with a 5-5 record and road games at a much-improved Cal and Pac-12 South contender UCLA remaining on the slate.
The overtime loss to Utah must have been the kick in the pants Stanford needed, because the Cardinal thoroughly outplayed Cal and UCLA to the tune of three-touchdown victories in both cases. Not only did the Cardinal win its final two games convincingly, but it also took UCLA out of the Pac-12 Football Championship Game, as the Bruins would have booked their flight to Silicon Valley for a Dec. 5 rematch with Oregon if they could just beat Stanford at home.
Yeah, 7-5 is a disappointing record for the Cardinal, but the Farm Boys are playing their best ball of the season.
Season in Review: Maryland (7-5, 4-4 Big Ten; 3rd in Big Ten East)
There were no such preseason visions of grandeur for the Terps by the media, who thought a bowl game could be a stretch for Maryland. Head coach Randy Edsall and Co. didn’t pay any attention to the newspaper clippings, however, roaring out of the gates to a 4-1 record, its only loss coming on a last-second field goal against West Virginia.
When it was time to play the big boys in the Big Ten, however, the Terps fell well short of making any sort of statement. While the Terps have been better than expected, losses to Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State by a combined score of 141-46 showed that Maryland still had a long way to go. Blowing a 25-point lead in a 41-38 loss to Rutgers at home in the regular-season finale didn’t help matters, either.
However, there were plenty of other positive moments for Maryland, which produced gut-check victories at Penn State and Michigan. The Terrapins were an impressive 5-1 in road games this season.
STANFORD PLAYERS TO WATCH
WR Ty Montgomery (61 catches, 604 yards)
He may not play due to a shoulder injury, but if does he play and he’s anywhere close to full strength, watch out. The do-it-all Montgomery is more than just a threat in the passing game (where he leads the team with 61 receptions for 604 yards); the speedster is also used somewhat frequently in the run game and is especially dangerous as a returner. His 1,415 all-purpose yards lead the team and his 128.6 all-purpose yards per game are seventh in the Pac-12.
QB Kevin Hogan (2,603 yards, 17 TD)
The redshirt junior signal-caller has had an up-and-down 2014, but he has apparently saved his best for last. Hogan completed 16 of 19 passes for 234 yards and two scores in emphatically leading Stanford to that 31-10 win over the Bruins in the regular-season finale. His accuracy has improved over the last couple of weeks and is always a threat to make something happen with his legs.
DE Henry Anderson (63 tackles)
The Terps will have a tough time from keeping Anderson, aka “Goose,” from getting loose. The first-team all-Pac-12 selection led Stanford with 7.5 sacks and is ninth in tackles for loss per game.
MARYLAND PLAYERS TO WATCH
QB C.J. Brown (2,083 yards, 13 TD)
His numbers might not be eye-popping (13 TDs against nine interceptions, 53 percent completion rate), but Brown is the first quarterback in Maryland history to throw for more than 2,000 yards and rush for more than 500 in a single season. He’s also a sixth-year senior who has starting experience dating back to his sophomore campaign, so not much is going to faze him. He is fifth in the Big Ten with 221.0 yards of total offense per game.
PK Brad Craddock (18 FGM, 50 LNG)
If Maryland has the ball in Stanford territory tied or down three late, the Cardinal better force a turnover, because Craddock has been automatic this season. Winner of the Lou Groza Award for the nation’s best kicker, he is 18-of-19 on field goal attempts, with his only miss being his last kick (a 54-yarder that would have tied the game late against Rutgers). That miss snapped a streak of 24 in a row dating back to last year, which tied the longest streak in Big Ten history – though some of those kicks came when Maryland was in the ACC.
DB William Likely (77 tackles, 3 INT)
This first-team all-Big-Ten ball-hawk led his league with six interceptions and returned two of those picks for scores. He also racked up 14 passes defensed (tied for second in the Big Ten) and was third in his conference in punt return average (11.3 yards per return).
Three Stats for Stanford Success
- Get the ground game going: I’ll leave it to ESPN's Kevin Gemmell here. This is all you need to know.
Stanford is 7-1 when it rushes for at least 4 yards per carry and 0-4 when it doesn't. No further explanation needed.
— Kevin Gemmell (@Kevin_Gemmell) December 16, 2014
- Take advantage of red-zone opportunities: Stanford is 116th in the nation (out of 125 FBS teams) in red zone efficiency, scoring just 71 percent of the time it reaches the opponent’s 20-yard line. Red-zone issues single-handedly cost Stanford the USC game and were detrimental in many other losses.
- Keep on defending: While there were problems abound on offense in 2014, Stanford was always right defensively. The nation’s second-best team in scoring defense (16.0 points per game) and fifth-best unit in total defense (287.4 yards allowed per game), Stanford has all the tools to dominate a Maryland offense that is 108th in total first downs (215) and 107th in total offense (352.1 yards per game).
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