Lance Anderson, the Director of Defense, has more talent and depth on the defensive side of the ball than he can remember during his 10 years on The Farm.
The combination of leadership and youthful enthusiasm has helped Stanford limit seven opponents to 15 points or less. In Saturday's 26-15 victory against Oregon State, Anderson rotated six linemen, six inside linebackers, five outside linebackers and a handful of players in the secondary.
"It's because they're so close," said Anderson. "There's a battle at each position and guys haven't separated themselves. They all deserve to play."
The unit had allowed only one touchdown in each of the previous three games. Two breakdowns resulted in big plays and two scores against Oregon State, but Anderson had no complaints with the effort.
"What I really like is how much confidence those guys are playing with," he said. "I love the energy and attitude. They believe we can be great and dominant."
One of the offensive highlights was a 44-yard run by quarterback Keller Chryst on a broken play. He rushed for 83 yards on 11 carries.
"He (the receiver) wasn't open, so I just tried to make a play," said Chryst. "I just do what I can. If there's a play to be made, I'll make it."
Now 2-0 as a starter, Chryst felt more comfortable in his new role.
"Definitely a lot of things to clean up," he said. "It was an improvement. Every day has just got to be better."
Earlier in the week, Chryst admitted to thinking about the significance of making his first start in Stanford Stadium. His younger brother, Jackson, is a sophomore and the No. 1 quarterback at nearby Palo Alto High School.
"It's pretty cool playing here and my brother starting across the street," Chryst said. "A Palo Alto bond."
Chryst played for accomplished Palo Alto head coach Earl Hansen, the father of Cardinal inside linebackers coach, Peter Hansen.
Good fortune plays a part in almost every win. But so does resilience, especially after sudden change.
One of the early turning points Saturday came on Stanford's first possession, when Chryst fumbled a snap in shotgun formation on third-and-8 at his 37.
The Beavers recovered at the 33 and drove to the 6, where they had first and goal. But the defense stiffened, and Garrett Owens missed a 26-yard field goal.
"That's huge, especially to start a game," Anderson said. "You can have that negative attitude like, 'Wow, this where we have to start.' The guys responded and got a stop in the red zone, which is something we preach all the time. That was big for momentum."
Sophomore inside linebackers Mustafa Branch and Sean Barton have been stepping up. Branch's third-quarter interception after a tipped pass by Harrison Phillips led to a 1-yard touchdown run by Christian McCaffrey and gave Stanford a 23-7 lead.
"A lot of the older guys have been helping us learn," said Branch. "We're all getting better."
The coaches and veteran players set the tone in practice.
"Everyone needs us to step up, so they're pushing us to get where we need to be and have the confidence that we can play with the rest of the guys," he said.
Stanford (6-3, 4-3 Pac-12) plays at Oregon (3-6, 1-5) on Saturday at 1 p.m. PT in a game that will be televised on Pac-12 Networks. The Ducks lost at USC on Saturday night, 45-20.
The Cardinal leads the series, 46-32-1, but have dropped two straight to Oregon, including a 38-36 decision last year at Stanford Stadium. Christian McCaffrey ran for 147 yards on 33 carries, but the Ducks foiled a two-point conversion attempt with 10 seconds remaining to preserve the win.
The teams have faced four common opponents this season. Stanford beat USC (27-10) and lost to Washington (44-6), Washington State (42-16) and Colorado (10-5). The Ducks lost to Colorado (41-38), Washington State (55-31) and Washington (70-21).
Since 2010, the Cardinal has played three games at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon, the lone win a 17-14 overtime thriller in 2012 against the top-ranked Ducks. The atmosphere is always lively and rain is expected.
"Two years ago when we played up there it was a rainy night," said offensive lineman David Bright. "It's going to be a great game, no matter what the records are."
Expect Stanford to continue to pound the rock in its last three regular season games. Oregon ranks 116 out of 128 teams in the FBS against the run, allowing 238.7 yards. Cal ranks last (286.7) and Rice ranks 107th (223.1).
All three opponents have struggled defensively. The Ducks rank 125th in scoring, surrendering 42.6 points per game. Cal is 127th (44.4) and Rice is tied for 121st (40.6).
Boosted by a season-high 199-yard rushing effort against Oregon State, McCaffrey ranks fourth nationally in all-purpose yards (190.13), 13th in rushing yards/game (122.3) and 19th in rushing yards (980). This, despite missing more than five quarters due to injury. All three figures lead the Pac-12.
McCaffrey has been known to hurdle defenders and tried it again Saturday, landing on his head.
Fortunately, he wasn't injured.
"Instinct takes over sometimes," said McCaffrey. "Tried to make something happen and it didn't work."
Conrad Ukropina equaled a personal-best by making four field goals and matched his career long with a 52-yarder. He also missed from 47 yards.
Ukropina converted both PATs to extend his Stanford record to 90 in a row.
Extra Points ... Oregon ranks 25th nationally in rushing offense (229.9), while the Cardinal ranks 40th in rushing defense (141.9). The Ducks were held to 85 rushing yards by USC … Last year, Stanford collected eight interceptions. This year, it has picked off 10 with three games remaining …The Cardinal is bowl eligible for an eighth straight season. This is the program's longest streak since 11 in a row from 1968-78 under John Ralston, Jack Christiansen and Bill Walsh … Freshman offensive lineman Nate Herbig received his second straight start at right guard, but moved to left guard when Brandon Fanaika was injured in the first quarter … Former Cardinal standouts Toby Gerhart, Coby Fleener, Kevin Anderson, Brennan Scarlett and Jim Dray watched from the sideline ... Greg Penner, MBA '97 and the chairman of Walmart, served as the honorary captain.
Quotable ... "That's how we want to finish the game. That's what we pride ourselves on." - David Bright, on the offense closing with 29-consecutive running plays.