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Lakshman: Anderson, Stanford defense continue to defy odds

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Week after week, the grand buffet that is college football — with it’s savory marquee matchups, spicy upsets and, yes, more than a few cupcakes — never fails to disappoint. And, as a result, we keep coming back for more, stuffing ourselves with more football than what could ever be considered sane or rational, a behavior that would be labeled dangerous in any other context.

However, in this frenzy to stuff our faces we often fail to appreciate all of the intricate flavors that go into an individual serving of gridiron magic and miss the opportunity to pay compliments to the chefs who toil behind the scenes to make our weekly hedonistic ritual even possible.

Perhaps nowhere is this shortcoming more prevalent than in Stanford’s last victory over Oregon State in Corvallis. While the final tally of 42-24 in favor of the Cardinal invites the narrative of a comfortable win, the box score will never fully capture another remarkable performance by the Stanford defense, against all odds.

As the final seconds of the first half in Reser Stadium ticked away, the mood in on our KZSU radio broadcast was somber at best and apocalyptic at worst. As we watched Aziz Shittu leave the field on a cart with the added news of injuries to Brennan Scarlett and Kyle Murphy, Michael, Do and I openly wondered not if the Cardinal would be able to hold onto their 21-17 lead, but if they could even get a stop in the second half.

It seemed, to us at that moment, that Stanford’s season had come to an end, not with a bang but with the image of players limping across an orange beaver logo into the locker room at the half.

And that’s when Chef Lance Anderson cooked up another second half adjustment to leave Oregon State in the dust. Last season, Anderson produced countless masterpieces en route to a statistically dominant performance by a Stanford defense no one believed in.

But this year, he just might have outdone himself. If the Oregon State game were an episode of Chopped, Chef Lance whipped up a souffle out of cracked eggs, raw vegetables, duct tape and backup defensive linemen.

In what has become the norm this season, the Cardinal took the field in the second half and shut the door on the Beavers after giving up early touchdowns. Overall, in four games this season, Stanford has given up 6, 7, 10 and 7 points in each of those respective second halves. Meanwhile, Anderson, whom many openly doubted could replace Derek Mason in the Xs-and-Os department, is having as fine of a coaching season as any coordinator in the country.

This year’s Cardinal defense will not produce the eye-poppingly good numbers we saw in 2012, 2013 or 2014, but, when you consider the presence of nine first-year starters out on the field and the constant behind-the-scenes MacGyver-ing to get through each game, this might be the most impressive Stanford defensive performance yet.

Moreover, Stanford’s ability to defy the odds on defense extends far beyond Anderson. Blake Martinez, who was already expected to lead this unit, has been asked to do even more. The senior currently ranks third in the nation with 30 solo tackles and is on pace for 150 total stops, completely eclipsing Shayne Skov and AJ Tarpley’s best seasons.

In addition, Dallas Lloyd, Kodi Whitfield and Ronnie Harris have all impressed in their more pronounced roles, while coach Duane Akina has groomed Stanford’s young DBs to the point where the Cardinal could consistently throw a three-safety look against Oregon State that left everyone in the building scratching their heads. And, with the decimation of the front line, Joey Alfieri, Mike Tyler, Nate Lohn and Jordan Watkins did more than just hold down the fort on Saturday.

However, Stanford’s defense is not out of the woods yet. With injury concerns still ever-present and high-powered offenses in Arizona, UCLA, Oregon and Cal all scheduled to stop by The Farm, the toughest challenge of maintaining consistency still looms.

Nevertheless, for the time being, it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate what this unit has done given the circumstances and the job Lance Anderson and his staff have done to make the crucial adjustments that have won games.

It’s worth taking the time to stop and chew before going back for seconds.

Vihan Lakshman likes to think that his columns are, in their own way, a result from an episode of Chopped. In Vihan’s basket, he often finds unusual metaphors, odd pop culture references and ubiquitous praise for the Stanford defense. Send Vihan your preferred ingredients for a successful Stanford sports column at vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Vihan Lakshman's journey at The Stanford Daily came full-circle as he began his career as a football beat writer and now closes his time on The Farm in the same role. In between, he has served as an Opinions columnist and desk editor, a beat writer for Stanford baseball, and as a member of The Daily's Editorial Board. Vihan completed his undergraduate degree in Mathematical and Computational Science in 2016, and is currently pursuing a master's in Computational Mathematics. He also worked as a color commentator on KZSU football broadcasts during the 2015 season. To contact him, please send an email to vihan 'at' stanford.edu