Sports

Stanford's O-line is getting an A-plus for football success

 

Josh Garnett and Kyle Murphy are two of the reasons why guys like Kevin Hogan, Christian McCaffrey, Barry Sanders and Remound Wright are enjoying banner years and No. 8 Stanford is dominating Time of Possession in the Pac-12 Conference football statistics.

The two offensive linemen on the left side have been moving people off the line to create space for the running backs and keeping people away from Hogan all season. The result is that the Cardinal averages 221.1 rushing yards and owns a conference-best 174.6 rating in passing efficiency.

These days they're also creating their own highlight reels.

The Cardinal (6-1, 5-0 Pac-12) travels to Pullman for an important game against Washington State (5-2, 3-1) on Saturday night and another 7:30 p.m. kickoff to be televised by ESPN. The offensive line once again will figure prominently.

The Cougars, suddenly a contender for the division title after finishing 3-9 a year ago, bring a three-game winning streak into the contest the second-longest active streak in the conference to Stanford's six-game streak.

"They're playing well, their protection is better and their quarterback (sophomore Luke Falk) is playing at a high level," Cardinal coach David Shaw said. "They're making plays down field and the defense is getting takeaways."

Garnett is the most experienced of the linemen, having appeared in 48 games (25 starts) and becoming the first true freshman to start a game in more than a decade. In Stanford's 31-14 victory over Washington last weekend, he made two blocks on the same play, the first flattening a lineman in the backfield and the second sending a cornerback into orbit. The video of the blocks has accrued over three million views.

Garnett's high school highlight video, on You Tube, from Puyallup in Washington, has significantly fewer views but is no less entertaining.

Murphy, who has appeared in 47 games (22 starts) at Stanford, was caught on tape waving his hands as an eligible receiver. No one was near him and Hogan seemingly barely acknowledged his existence.

Hogan, McCaffrey and company, though, think highly of the dynamic duo, as they do of center Graham Schuler and right guard Johnny Caspers, both in their third year in the program, and right tackle Casey Tucker, in his second year.

Murphy moved to left tackle after Andrus Peat went in the first round of the NFL draft.

Tucker, considered one of the top five offensive tackles in the nation out of Hamilton High in Arizona, took over on the right side.

"Every week we've gotten a little better," Murphy said of the O-line. "With backs like Christen, all you have to do is get the play started."

Shaw was almost ho-hum about Garnett's block. After all, he'd already seen the high school tape.

"Josh is having a good season," Shaw said. "He's made some phenomenal blocks. He's had three or four pancake blocks a game for the past month. That one just happened to be highlighted. He's playing at a high level."

Murphy, who feels more comfortable on the left side, has never caught a pass though he did play fullback for his sixth grad Pop Warner team, but lined up as a wide receiver and is convinced he would have at least made a first down if the ball came his way.

"We have so many different players who can make big plays," he said. "I was the last option on the play."

His coaches prefer he concentrate on his offensive line play and that's just fine with him.

"He's one of the better tackles in the conference," Shaw said. "He has a chance to be special. There is good synergy between him and Josh and the communication is solid."

Falk is the reigning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week after throwing for 514 yards on 47-of-62 passing in the Cougars' 45-42 victory over Arizona last week. He averages 412.1 yards and has thrown for 26 touchdowns. He averages a touch over 55 passing attempts per game. Gabe Marks became the first WSU player to catch four touchdowns in a game.

"Washington State is a great team and they are going to throw the ball 40-50 times," Cardinal defense end Aziz Shittu said. "It's going to be a test of wills all nights. You may not get to him the first 20 rushes but you have to keep on going."

The Cougars, picked to finish fifth in the North Division, have scored 170 points in conference to Stanford's 225, but have allowed the fifth-most points (145) while the Cardinal have given up the third-fewest (121).

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