One in a series of posts evaluating each position's performance during the 2010 regular season and speculating about what lies ahead in 2011. I realize that these positions are obviously interconnected, but for the purposes of this series, my projections are based solely on the talent at the position, not those other positions which will impact it.
There should probably be a bronze statue of Toby Gerhart outside Stanford Stadium, and Andrew Luck is the best college quarterback I've ever seen, but they both had the tremendous fortune of playing behind one of the best offensive lines in football over the past two seasons.
From tackle to tackle, Jonathan Martin, Andrew Phillips, Chase Beeler, David DeCastro, and Derek Hall have been nearly flawless this season, and a key reason why the team won eleven games and sent its quarterback on a trip to New York City last weekend. (Of course, perhaps the greatest individual accomplishment by any of these linemen has been job Phillips has done while dealing with the death of his father in a plane crash last August. If you haven't read Austin Murphy's piece on the Phillips family in last week's Sports Illustrated, read it now.)
But you know what else matters? Experience. Take a peek at this:
|2010 Starts||Career Starts|
So when you start with size, throw in some coaching, get the good fortune of health, and add in dozens of games of experience, you get a dominant offensive line. The statistics bear this out. The line paved the way for more than 2,500 rushing yards in 2010, quickly quieting any whispers that the offense would take a step back after losing Gerhart to the NFL, and they did an excellent job protecting the quarterback. They allowed only five sacks, tied for first in the nation with Air Force, a running team that threw the ball only 145 times in twelve games.
Beyond that, they made only a handful of mistakes. Offensive linemen are usually only noticed for two things, false starts and holding penalties, and the Cardinal linemen weren't noticed for those errors very often. Proof:
That's a total of 16 penalties in 12 games, which is phenomenal.
All of that is nice, but none of it is as fun as the James McGillicuddy story. A senior offensive guard hopelessly trapped behind a line of Lou Gehrigs, McGillicuddy ditched his #74 jersey to squeeze into #40 and pose as a fullback when Harbaugh wanted more meat in the game. Harbaugh loves to run power plays behind an unbalanced offensive line, sometimes stacking two blocking tight ends on one side. With McGillicuddy shuffling out of the backfield and down the line, the running back is essentially running behind eight offensive lineman. It's great that McGillicuddy has gotten to play, but nothing would make me happier than to see him catch a pass in the Orange Bowl. Fingers crossed.
Sadly, though, all of this will have to come to an end soon. The Orange Bowl will be the final game in the careers of Beeler, Phillips, and Hall, leaving only Martin and DeCastro returning next year. (Along with Beeler, Martin and DeCastro were both named All-Pac-10, so it's not like the cupboard will be completely bare.) There is also a fair amount of youth on the depth chart and a four-star recruit who should contribute in 2012 or '13. Maybe the biggest thing going in Stanford's favor is the presence of offensive line coach Tim Drevno who molded the current group. He's done it once, so I've got confidence that he can do it again.
- 2010 Performance: A+
- 2011 Outlook: B-