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Offensive Line Recruiting the Key to Stanford's Offensive Improvement

Christian McCaffrey is earning the praise, but it's the line, mostly from the 2012 recruiting class, that is leading the way

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Unless you live in SEC country, then you are well aware of what kind of player Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey is by now. The former top 100 recruit has proven to be even better than what was expected of him. He is having a monster season and his average of 6.5 yards per carry with his most recent performance versus UCLA on Thursday night showing that he deserves to be in the conversation with the best backs in America. He rushed for a school record 243 yards.

Nothing needs to be taken away from McCaffrey and his special night, but the most amazing stat against UCLA was that 167 of those 243 yards came before contact. That stat more than any other shows the absolutely dominating performance by the Stanford offensive line in that game and they have played that way for pretty much the entire season.

The foundation of the offensive line is from the 2012 recruiting class, where Stanford signed six offensive linemen. One of those recruits is already gone to the NFL. Andrus Peat was a first round draft pick back in May. Four of the players still around are now starting for the Cardinal. 5 star Kyle Murphy and 4 star prospects Graham Shuler and Joshua Garnett have finally lived up to the lofty expectations placed upon them. The lowest rated of the six was 3 star guard Johnny Caspers and he has developed into a very good player at guard. (The sixth was 4 star Brandon Fanaika and he took a two year Mormon mission before enrolling at Stanford.)

A lot of people expected it to come together last season with Peat still around. It never materialized, though, with the normally prolific Stanford rushing attack finishing 8th in the conference. This season has been a much different story.

They are second in the conference in rushing yards per game behind Arizona with 226.3 yards per game and are also doing a great job of protecting Kevin Hogan in the pocket as well. They have only given up eight sacks in their six games this season and only five since the Northwestern game. They are giving Hogan the time to let big plays develop down the field in the passing game as well as opening up huge holes for McCaffrey and Barry Sanders (8.0 yards per carry) in the run game.

This is a different kind of Stanford offense. A more explosive one. Already this season they have produced twelve plays of 40 yards or moreIn all of 2014 they only had eight. They are producing those big plays while also controlling the clock with 35 minutes of possession per game. That's good for 3rd in the nation.

Essentially this 2015 offense is old school Stanford with a mix of big play Oregon mixed in. That's a scary thought for the rest of the Pac-12. It's a top 15 offense in the nation in terms of yards per play (6.6) and it's been even better the last three game with an average of 7.6 yards per play.

It all begins and ends with big boys up front. The narrative for many national sportswriters is that Stanford finally has a dynamic running back in the backfield with McCaffrey. It's tough to argue that McCaffrey isn't a dynamic football player, but his success isn't just about his speed or the ability to make defenders miss. This offensive line has been creating some huge holes for him to run through that allows him to excel as much as he has. The much hyped 2012 offensive line class has finally lived up to that hype.