Regular-season report card: defensive line

December, 2, 2011
12/02/11
8:00
AM ET
The regular season is over, which means grades are due. Here's part two of the ongoing regular-season report card for Stanford.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Grade: A

Summary: Right around the third week of the season, the defensive line ceased to become a pleasant surprise and started becoming the punishing tip of the spear for Stanford's front seven. Matt Masifilo, who started slowly, picked up steam. Ben Gardner exploded on to the scene and earned Pac-12 honors for his efforts and Terrence Stephens blew up opposing centers.

The defensive line had plenty of question marks with only Masifilo returning this year as a starter, but Stephens had a fantastic year and Gardner vastly exceeded all preseason expectations. According to Stanford, Gardner finished the regular season with 34 tackles, including 10 tackles for loss (second on the team) and 4.5 sacks (third on the team). He also logged a team-high six quarterback hits and recovered a fumble.

Masifilo added 30 tackles, including 2.5 sacks and eight tackles for a loss and broke up four passes -- tops among all defensive line men.

Stephens' position doesn't lend itself to a lot of stats -- but he was great at the noseguard spot. But if you're looking for a stat, none was bigger than his forced fumble on the final play of the USC game in overtime. He's as talented as he is charismatic.

In summary, a fantastic season for the front three. The only thing keeping them from an A+ was the fact that they gave up one too many long runs. But they still helped the Cardinal to reach the top 10 in national rankings for rushing defense (fifth, 90.3 yards per game) and sacks (seventh, 3.17 per game).

Backups: Josh Mauro appeared in all 12 games at defensive end and logged four tackles -- two of them sacks. He's the likely candidate to replace the graduating Masifilo next season. Henry Anderson made a splash early with his fumble recovery/near touchdown in Week 1 against San Jose State before finishing the year with six tackles and a pair of quarterback hits. David Parry also appeared in all 12 games and logged six stops and 1.5 tackles for a loss.

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