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Lakshman: Stanford football midseason awards

With the bye week finally upon us and five games of the regular season under our belts, we can finally take a moment to step back and reflect on the undulating ride that is Stanford Football. With the breakneck, drinking-through-a-firehose pace of football set to pick up very soon with UCLA coming to town next Thursday, let’s take a moment to highlight the superlatives from the first half of the season.

Disclaimer: The following completely immaterial and inconsequential “awards” are entirely derived from my own thoughts and do not reflect the views of The Daily in any way. (Though, if the Daily were to sponsor these awards, I would welcome the idea. You have my contact info.)

Most Valuable Player — Offense

Christian McCaffrey — In a rare moment of tipping its hand, the Stanford coaching staff gushed about McCaffrey’s progression throughout the offseason and made no secret about its desire to feed the sophomore running back/returner/superhuman as much as possible.

The results have arguably been even better than expected: McCaffrey currently leads the nation in all purpose yards and holds a 269 yard lead on presumptive Heisman front-runner Leonard Fournette. Against Oregon State, he also became the first Stanford player since Toby Gerhart in 2009 to rush for over 200 yards and became the first Cardinal back to carry the ball 30 times in over a year.

While identifying a single offensive player amongst an entire unit playing as well as anybody in the country flies in the face of the ultimate team sport that is football, it’s hard to ignore McCaffrey’s place as a national leader statistically and his ability to line up all over the field, a major asset for the mad scientists of exotic formations that are David Shaw and Mike Bloomgren.

If there’s any possible way to critique McCaffrey, it might be that he’s only found the endzone twice this season, and it’s hard not to think that if a few of those Remound Wright “vulture” touchdowns went under No. 5’s name, he would be a top-tier Heisman contender.

Honorable Mentions:

Kevin Hogan — Against Arizona, Hogan posted just as many touchdown passes (two) as incompletions and has connected on a ludicrous 78.6 percent of his throws over the past three games. Enough said.

Josh Garnett — Garnett rarely gets the recognition he deserves for Stanford’s recent offensive explosion, but the accolades are starting to come his way as he earned Offensive MVP honors after the Cardinal’s 55-17 destruction of Arizona. At 313 pounds but blessed with the nimble feet of a much smaller human being, Garnett was born to obliterate defenders as a pulling guard on run plays, and the results have made an appreciable difference for the Cardinal.  

Defensive MVP

Blake Martinez — Choosing anybody else for this award would be a bigger snub than “Shakespeare in Love” over “Saving Private Ryan” at the Oscars. That’s no slight at the other Stanford defenders, but Martinez has been quite literally everywhere for a short-handed Stanford front. As with McCaffrey, the numbers simply speak for themselves.

Martinez currently leads the nation with 12.6 tackles per game and is on pace for over 150 stops, which would be 40 more than Shayne Skov accumulated in his best season. It’s hard to picture the Cardinal defense being remotely as successful without Martinez flying across the field.

Honorable Mention:

Ronnie Harris — Despite a fair share of questions surrounding his ability to cover big, physical receivers as Stanford’s No. 1 corner (guilty as charged), the 5-foot-10, 172 pound Harris has impressed in his new role. After beginning his career as a nickelback and special teams shark, Harris has evolved into a lockdown defender and a vocal leader in the locker room.

Newcomer of the Year

Brennan Scarlett — In his short time on The Farm, Scarlett is the owner of a number of distinctions, including the designation of being the program’s first graduate transfer (from Cal, of all places). Simply put, the fifth-year senior has been an absolute godsend for the Cardinal. Before Harrison Phillips’ season-ending injury, Scarlett’s arrival was seen as a major boost to a perilously thin Stanford defensive line, but his presence has now become a vital necessity since Phillips went down. Through the first half of this season, he has racked up more tackles (16) than he did all of last year in an injury-shortened campaign for the Bears.

Honorable Mention:

Bryce Love — It’s no coincidence that Stanford’s recent offensive explosion, culminating in three straight games of over 40 points, coincided with the true freshman Love’s emergence as a dangerous speedster in the UCF game. While Love has yet to match his two-reception, 135 yard performance against the Knights, his presence on the field is one defenses have to respect, and his savviness as the motion-man in Wildcat packages has slowly shifted the attitude of Stanford fans towards the formation from outright disdain to excitement.

Play of the Season

The Flea-Flicker — It’s hard to pin down an entire narrative on a single play, but we just might look back at Stanford’s first offensive touchdown of the 2015 season as the catalyst that ignited something special. After an ugly opening 20 minutes against Central Florida, the offensive inefficiency and penalties that had doomed Stanford in 2014 looked ready to haunt the team through another ugly season. But, in a single snap, Stanford not only found the endzone for the first time, but also exorcised those demons of inconsistency. This play just might go down in Stanford lore as the spark that ignited a fire.

Honorable Mention:

Keller Chryst’s Pancake Block vs. Arizona — The words “quarterback” and “pancake block” were never supposed to occupy the same real estate in the English language, but Stanford and backup quarterback Keller Chryst defied all convention with the designed play against the Wildcats. A healthy Kevin Hogan exited the field to give way to Chryst, who pitched the ball to McCaffrey before immediately charging as the lead-blocker and quite literally putting Arizona defender Cam Denson on his back. It was a play as shocking and unexpected as it was flawlessly executed. Shaw’s decision to replace his starting quarterback with a battering ram wearing a helmet in the midst of the game flow merits plenty of points in the ingenuity department.

Best Twitter Follow

Aziz Shittu — And now it’s finally time for the most coveted of the midseason awards. There’s no shortage of wordsmiths on this Stanford football roster, but defensive lineman Aziz Shittu has to take home the trophy for the best Twitter follow. Always one for inspirational motivational quotes and random musings on life, @shiTrue is as entertaining of a Twitter persona as they come. And with the added time of the bye week, Shittu’s Twitter game has been extra strong.

Game on, Aziz. Game on.

As we begin to give out midseason awards for the Stanford Daily sports section, a major debate has divided the staff: Is Vihan Lakshman deserving of Best Columnist for the Stanford Daily, or is Do-Hyoung Park a Shakespeare in Love-type dark horse for the award? Let Vihan know if he’s the favorite by sending him an email at vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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