2015 Pac-12 Football Media Days: Stanford offensive line looking to build on end of 2014 season
BURBANK, Calif. – Many thought Stanford would fall off a bit after star quarterback Andrew Luck headed to the NFL, but David Shaw and Co. blew past lowered expectations to reel off back-to-back Pac-12 championships, something the Cardinal couldn’t achieve with No. 12 under center.
While the Cardinal made its noise in the falls of 2012 and 2013, the positive momentum for the upcoming seasons started with a stellar 2012 recruiting class that was ranked fifth nationally by Rivals and seventh by Scout. The major reason for being regarded as the top recruiting class in the Pac-12? A studly offensive line group that featured four guys with four- or five-star rankings.
While four-star offensive tackle Andrus Peat has already moved on to the NFL after being selected 13th overall by the New Orleans Saints in the 2015 NFL Draft, many of the others – five-star left tackle Kyle Murphy, four-star left guard Joshua Garnett, four-star center Graham Shuler and three-star right guard Johnny Caspers – are returning starters on a line that found its groove at the end of the 2014 season.
But the beginning of the 2014 campaign wasn’t so graceful. That feared Stanford running attack failed to produce a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time since 2007 (though much of that can be attributed to a by-committee backfield). The offense as a whole averaged just 24 points per game against 11 FBS opponents in the regular season. All this behind a line that was high on talent but low on experience.
“Last year, one of the things that I kick myself for is that I probably put them on a pedestal way too early. I was so excited about this group having the opportunity to play and play together that I didn’t recognize, which I should have – kick myself later – [is that] you start four new starters on the offensive line and put the pressure on them to be great,” head coach David Shaw said at 2015 Pac-12 Football Media Days. “That’s not fair. They had to learn a lot; they had to gel.”
Murphy said the unit put a lot of pressure on itself to try to carry on the proud tradition of the offensive line that had developed the nickname “Tunnel Workers Union” and featured NFL draft picks like David DeCastro, Jonathan Martin, Cameron Fleming and David Yankey.
“Last year, we didn’t have a great year, and we put a lot of that blame on us,” Murphy said.
However, the line and offense at large began to round into form at the end of the season. Stanford averaged 38 points per game in its last three outings, culminating in a 45-21 drubbing of Maryland in the Foster Farms Bowl. During that span, the Cardinal rushed for more than 200 yards per game (for the season overall, Stanford averaged 159 yards per game on the ground). By the end of the season, the Stanford offensive line ranked 18th in the nation in tackles for loss allowed and 42nd in sacks allowed.
Shaw points to a heightened level of comfort on the line for one reason in Stanford’s late-season offensive turnaround.
“I think we as coaches knew what they did well and what they didn’t do well, so we could utilize that knowledge to help them be successful a little bit better,” Shaw said. “We ran the ball better, we protected better and part of that was four new guys gelling as one unit.”
Murphy, who has switched from right tackle to left tackle (his natural position, Shaw noted), is looking forward to seeing what he and his boys can do in 2015.
“This offseason has really been built on being able to finish the job and being able to trust the man next to you to get the job done,” Murphy said. “We feel that this year, everyone has put their head down and worked and got a lot better, and we’re really excited to help lead our offense and try to do big things this year.”