Stanford looks to get back to the ground in 2015

STANFORD, Calif. (AP) Stanford built one of the most successful programs in the country over the past few years with a fairly simple formula: The Cardinal dominated the trenches with physical lines and a powerful running game so well that they made it to four straight BCS games.

That all changed last year when the Cardinal were unable to overpower defenses with their running game for most of the year, leading to an 8-5 record that was cause for concern at a school that had won at least 11 games a season for four straight years.

Three straight wins to end the season provided a glimmer of hope that the Cardinal can get back to their winning ways this year.

''I was definitely disappointed,'' running back Christian McCaffrey said. ''Anyone who sees the team we had and the players we had, knows there was so much more. The last three games speak to that team we can be. We didn't falter when the chips were against us.''

McCaffrey is a big reason for all that optimism on the Farm. He ran for 140 yards on 21 carries in those final three games, equaling his number of runs in the first 10 games to earn an even bigger role for his sophomore season.

After adding about eight pounds so he can be a better between-the-tackles runner while maintaining the speed that allowed him to excel as a receiver and an outside threat, McCaffrey could help Stanford get back to its old formula.

From Toby Gerhart to Stepfan Taylor to Tyler Gaffney, the Cardinal had a 1,000-yard rusher for six straight seasons before Remound Wright led the team with 601 yards rushing last season.

If McCaffrey can handle the 20-carry-a-game load coach David Shaw believes he is capable of, the Cardinal should start a new streak this year considering McCaffrey averaged 7.1 yards per carry as a freshman.

''He was obviously an explosive player but to be in that feature back role and get the bulk of the carries in our offense he needed a little meat on him,'' tackle Kyle Murphy said. ''He took that to heart. He was the hardest worker on our team this offseason.''

Here are some things to watch for at Stanford this season:

HOGAN A HERO: After leading Stanford to the Rose Bowl in each of his first two seasons as starter, Kevin Hogan had a tough junior year as he had to deal with the death of his father during the season. But he completed 76.3 percent of his passes to win the final three games and is hoping to build off that.

''Kevin is really, really close, I believe, to mastering our offense,'' Shaw said.

DEPLETED D: The Cardinal have big holes at defensive line and the secondary after leading the conference in total defense last year. Safety Jordan Richards graduated, cornerback Alex Carter declared early for the draft and CB Wayne Lions transferred to Michigan. Stanford then took another hit when projected starting safety Zach Hoffpauir was taken in the baseball draft and ended up signing with Arizona. The defensive line also has few proven options with stalwart Henry Anderson off to the NFL. But Shaw is fine with the low expectations.

''I say thank you. It's great,'' he said. ''I like when people doubt us as opposed to getting pats on the back. I have no problem with that at all because I'm one of those guys that believes, yes, we should have to prove ourselves every year.''

SPECIALISTS: The Cardinal must also replace kicker Jordan Williamson and punter Ben Rhyne. Conrad Ukropina missed all three field goal attempts in the spring game and could be challenged by walk-on Charlie Beall. Alex Robinson and Jake Bailey are expected to compete at punter.

SCHEDULE: There are no gimmes on Stanford's slate with a road game against Northwestern and home opener against Central Florida to open the season and a home date against Notre Dame to end it. Arizona, UCLA, Oregon and California all visit the Farm, while the toughest road game for the Cardinal in conference will be the opener at USC on Sept. 19.

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