Stanford Football Defensive Preview

In 2020, "Stanford Defense" is an Oxymoron

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As a Cal fan, I hate to admit this, but for the vast majority of the last decade the Stanford defense was elite. Yes, I had to use the word elite. Yes, I know that if you are a Stanford fan, the use of that adjective makes you smile more than a perfectly chilled bottle of Veuve Clicquot and a fresh cut of filet mignon ever will. But, it’s true. From 2010-2017, Stanford never finished lower than 3rd in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, often finishing first or second in the conference.

Through two games in a wonky 2020 season, the Cardinal defense is a far cry from those stout defenses. This is a continuation of the struggles in 2019 that had several embarrassing moments, including giving up over 40 points to UCF, USC, Washington State and Notre Dame. Even though there are seven seniors starting on defense, there is a load of inexperience. I guess you could say it’s the opposite of elite, and of all the antonyms on I’ll go with “second-rate”. Against both Oregon and Colorado, they gave up 35 points and both offenses were able to move it down the field with ease.

If the below preview seems like there’s not a lot of information, that’s because there isn’t. We’re not trying to be funny, there’s just not much substance to this defense.

Defensive Line

Stanford was weak up front in 2019, though that doesn’t mean much as this is a very inexperienced unit. The leader of the bunch is Junior Defensive End Thomas Booker, who is the only returning starter on the line. The other two starters are both seniors who haven’t been starters in their first two years.  Thomas Booker is probably the only NFL Draft-ready prospect starting on the defense, and he’s been relatively quiet so far this season, perhaps as a result of teams game-planning against him. He was on the wrong end of a highlight play by Colorado RB Jarek Broussard (being badly juked by a spin move), and being pancake blocked later in the game by two Colorado blockers. Stanford’s only sack of the season was by the other Defensive End, Thomas Schaffer, so this is a defensive line that hasn’t really generated much pressure on opposing quarterbacks. 

Stanford has given up an average of 187 yards per game on the ground. I can’t imagine why.


Starting at inside linebacker are Seniors Curtis Robinson and Gabe Reid. Robinson is a returning starter and made All Pac-12 honorable mention in 2019. Reid started seven games in 2019 and four games in 2018, though notably he is listed as an Outside Linebacker filling in for Ricky Miezan who is out with injury. Even when they had their starting inside linebacker, they weren’t exactly plugging up the run:

Seniors Jordan Fox and Thunder Keck are the starting Outside Linebackers. Fox started the first five games in the prior season before an injury, while Keck is in his first season as the starter.

So how are the outside linebackers doing?

But perhaps the linebackers function well as a group, right?

LB Thunder Keck beats the inexperienced Oregon lineman, misses the sack along with DE Thomas Schaffer, as LB Ricky Miezan and LB Jordan Fox overpursue as QB Tyler Shough turns a negative play into a positive one. 


Stanford had an elite corner coming in to the season, but like many players have in COVID, All-American Paulson Adebo opted out for the season, leaving the secondary with two young cornerbacks in Sophomores Kyu Blu Kelly and Salim Turner-Muhammad. Kelly is in his second season as a starter after his true freshman campaign while Turner-Muhammad is seeing his first action in 2020. He’s likely taking over for the other young corner, Ethan Bonner, who was picked on repeatedly by QB Tyler Shough:

At Safety is Junior Kendall Williamson and Senior Malik Antoine. Antoine is a returning starter and team captain, while Williamson also started several games in 2019. All I can say here is that I hope they play just as well as they did all of last year. 


This is not a very good defense, and as shocking as it is, they might be worse than the Beaver defense Cal played last week. All in, Oregon and Colorado had success both on the ground and in the air so Cal has options coming into the game on how they want to attack. If Adebo hadn’t opted out, Cal would likely try to avoid throwing to his side of the field, but that’s not the case so the Bears can feel free to run a style that suits their strengths.