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Stanford Sees Nation's Best Defense in Michigan State, Regardless of Who is on the Field

Stanford Offense Faces Unique Test in Formidable Spartan Defense…

Stanford has an offense that isn’t the most glamorous in the nation, but it is among the best. They are among the best at winning games and not necessarily the statistics battle.

Stanford OC Mike Bloomgren has watched a lot of film since he learned his Cardinal would be facing MSU and he didn’t like what he saw from the MSU defense. “They're coached very well, and that's a huge problem because they don't try and do a lot of things differently, they don't try and get out of their game, get out of their game plan. They're just very solid, very stout, and it presents a lot of challenges for offenses.”

As the season wound down a Stanford pattern started to emerge. MSU DC Pat Narduzzi learned that the Cardinal run 53% of the time. That stat is somewhat surprising because the Cardinal is at their best when they are running the ball. With the loss of Max Bullough, does the Spartan rushing D really change?

Star Cardinal OT David Yankey thinks the Spartans are about a lot more than just Max Bullough. “Up front with the front seven they're a very physical front. Their D line is extremely physical. They like to get into the offensive linemen, cause a lot of trouble, get a lot of penetration, just kind of make plays not really work the way you want them to, and then their linebackers are great athletes, can move around really well and make tackles along with their safeties coming down.”

One of the big reasons that the Cardinal have running success is for the same reason the Spartans do. They have the ability to throw the ball and that forces teams who like to stack the box against them to get out of that set. For the first time this year the Cardinal will be facing a squad in MSU that won’t back out of loading the box, even when the Cardinal go to the air. They have too much trust in their DBs, better known as the No Fly Zone.

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QB Kevin Hogan thinks it’s the secondary of the Spartans that is his biggest test. “In the secondary, they've got a lot of experience, a lot of playmakers. They don't always show what they're doing, which makes things tough at times, but they all fly to the ball in the run game, and it's hard to beat them over top, so in that sense they can put more guys in the box and still cover downfield.”

When Stanford goes to the air, Narduzzi is confident that his team can adapt. The best RB the Spartans faced all year was Ameer Abdullah from Nebraska. The best QB was Braxton Miller of Ohio State, but the best all-purpose back is Ty Montgomery of Stanford; a Keshawn Martin 2.0 protégé. The key to containing him is simply patience. He will make plays, but you can’t let him own you.

Cardinal all-purpose offensive and special teams star Ty Montgomery thinks the patience of MSU is their best quality. He said of the MSU D, “They're very athletic corners, they're very physical. You can tell they have some experience and they're very patient in their press coverage, so we're going to have to be on point with what we do.”

While the Spartan Nation is still reeling with the loss of Bullough, the Cardinals think the sum of the Spartan parts is what makes them special. They don’t feel any sympathy for MSU. They think the Spartans’ best strength is their team first approach and said it.

Stanford RB Tyler Gaffney has another appreciation for the Spartans that could be the biggest key with the loss of Max Bullough. He says it is the fact they play like one…a true team. “They're a big, physical strong defense, and they believe in playing team defense more than I've ever seen – more than any team we've faced. They don't go away from their scheme. They don't go out of their own jobs. They understand where they fit into the defense, and they're not going to let anything slide by by going out of their own job in the scheme.”

So as kickoff approaches to the 100th Rose Bowl Game, the Cardinal and the Spartans are prepared for what many believe will be the best bowl game of the day. Michigan State will have a new look minus their starting middle linebacker, but with the week of practice both Kyler Elsworth and Darien Harris have had, they are content with what they will get from the Mike.

At the end of the day it is about execution. Football isn’t brain surgery. That is why it is the simplicity of football that makes it a regal and beautiful work of art. The Spartans are betting that the 11 Spartans on defense are set to continue that against the best offense (even if statistics don’t show that) they have faced all year.