The Stanford Cardinal are in position to win their second straight Rose Bowl Championship this January thanks to a physical defense that paved the way to a successful defense of their Pac-12 title. That defense will go toe-to-toe with the Michigan State Spartans, who have similarly relied on their top-ranked defense to get them to a conference title in 2013 and getting a balanced offensive attack that provides just enough points to win game. For the Cardinal, their ability to play straight up gives them an edge over the Sparty offense.
Many defenses will have to create pressure or change up looks to get pressure or disrupt a running game. Stanford, however, has been able to create all kinds of havoc in offensive backfields without having to design exotic blitzes or schemes. This season, Stanford finished tied for No. 6 in the nation in tackles for loss (96) and first in sacks (40) thanks to the efforts of their defensive front seven. 31 of their 40 sacks this season have come with four rushers or fewer getting after the quarterback which allows more defenders to drop back into coverage against the pass.
That ability to just line up and play will serve them well against Michigan State. While the Spartans are not a prolific offense in 2013, they are able to put drives together with a balanced attack utilizing both the run and the pass effectively. If a team loaded up to stop Jeremy Langford in the running game, Connor Cook had the ability to go over the top for a big play. If a team dropped back against the pass, Langford could gash defenses for big chunks on the ground. Being able to stop both at the same time without sacrificing the rush or pass defense is a huge advantage for the Cardinal.
If they can take away the options of the Michigan State offense, Stanford has an excellent chance to shut down the Spartans’ attack this January. Will that suffocating Cardinal defense be the difference-maker in this season’s Rose Bowl?