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Stanford's linebackers, while not spectacular, are very productive and Iowa's offensive line will need to push them around to get the run game going.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports


As Bill C. noted in his 2015 Stanford preview, the Cardinal lost nine defensive starters from last year's team. This was a squad that ranked second in scoring defense, third in total defense, seventh in rushing defense and eighth in pass defense. No team, not even Alabama, can replace nine starters and not expect some sort of regression.

So it shouldn't come as any surprise that Stanford doesn't rank in the top 25 of any defensive categories this year. In fact, their highest ranked defensive statistic comes at scoring defense, where the Cardinal rank 37th in the nation, allowing 23.1 points per game.

Where are the strengths, then? The strongest unit is arguably at linebacker, where 6'2, 245 pound inside senior Blake Martinez leads the charge. An AP third team All-American and first team All-Pac-12 selection, Martinez finished the season with an unbelievable 132 total tackles, one sack, and an interception. Labeled Stanford's emotional leader, he had 80 more tackles than anyone else on the Cardinal defense. Here're a couple of impressive plays:

Martinez, #4, sidesteps the right tackle with ease and navigates through a couple other offensive linemen to find the ball carrier.

Here, Martinez doesn't miss a beat as he keys in on #23, USC RB Tre Madden and sniffs out the screen, forcing Cody Kessler to give up on the play. His instincts, along with his physical talent, is why many people think he'll be playing on Sunday.

Naturally, when you're dealing with a player who somehow accumulated 132 tackles you're going to see some drop-off in numbers. Martinez's counterpart on the inside, junior Kevin Palma only accumulated 42 tackles. Outside linebackers Peter Kalambayi and Kevin Anderson combined only accumulated 88 total tackles and 3.5 sacks. The unit as a whole only notched three takeaways, two of which Martinez was responsible for.

A unit that is unspectacular yet productive might be exactly what Iowa needs to get their offense in order. The line struggled tremendously against the pass rush of Shilique Calhoun and the run stopping of Darien Harris and Riley Bullough. Fortunately, Iowa doesn't have to face an end like Calhoun but as the Cardinal run a 3-4 defense, you can expect Kalambayi and Anderson to line up and bring pressure from the outside and Martinez to be in on every Cardinal tackle.

If the stats tell us anything it's that Stanford isn't going to get too much pressure on Beathard. But as we all know, Iowa cannot survive solely as a passing team. They'll need their offensive line to seal the edge, get to the second level and open up the holes for Canzeri, Wadley, and Daniels. If Iowa can establish the run and set up the pass, Beathard will do the rest.