The regular season is over, which means grades are due. Here's part five of the ongoing regular-season report card for Stanford.
Summary: The landscape of the Stanford linebacking corps changed drastically on Sept. 17, when Shayne Skov, one of the best middle linebackers in the nation, was lost for the season. That loss could have weighed the Cardinal defense down like an anchor. But it didn't. A.J. Tarpley and Jarek Lancaster stepped up and are well on their way to becoming two of the best middle linebackers in the conference over the next couple of seasons.
Lancaster led the Cardinal with 63 tackles, seven for a loss and 3.5 sacks. Tarpley wasn't far behind with 53 stops, four for a loss and 1.5 sacks. He also had an interception and recovered the game-winning fumble in triple overtime against USC.
The future looks very bright for Stanford at this position. And assuming Skov recovers fully from his knee injury and returns next season, the Cardinal will boast three outstanding middle linebackers.
On the outside, Chase Thomas had peaks and valleys, but overall had a very good season, posting 17.5 tackles for a loss (13th best nationally) and 8.5 sacks. He also forced five fumbles. Opposite Thomas, Trent Murphy quietly had an outstanding season -- tallying 39 stops, nine for a loss and 5.5 sacks, second on the team only to Thomas.
The duo did a fantastic job setting the edges and allowing the defensive line to collapse the pocket while limiting opponents to just 90.3 yards per game on the ground against the Cardinal. While they get dinged a little for allowing one too many long runs and some coverage issues in the middle, it was an outstanding year for the linebackers.
Backups: Max Bergen started the first five games of the season before yielding the starting job to Tarpley, but with so much rotation, he saw plenty of time, recording 31 stops and 1.5 sacks while forcing a fumble and recovering another. Alex Debniak saw action in 10 of 12 games, notching nine tackles -- including one for a loss. Joe Hemschoot appeared in all 12 games and recorded 11 tackles, one for a loss and Blake Lueders also saw action in all 12 games -- recording two sacks and 17 tackles. After a quick start, James Vaughters' production slowed a little. He was mainly used as an additional pass rusher on third downs. He totaled 11 tackles, four for a loss and a sack while appearing in all 12 games. It will be interesting to see how he's used next season when he has a little more experience. This may have been Stanford's deepest position and they made good use of it.