Call defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, inside linebacker Bobby Okereke and free safety Justin Reid the spine of the Stanford defense. The trio is surrounded by an integrated, complex group of individuals that, when working in harmony, has the ability to shape the dynamics of a football game.
The Cardinal defense faces a TCU offense that averages 413.9 yards and 33.2 points a contest. Stanford (9-4) and the Horned Frogs (10-3) meet in Thursday's Valero Alamo Bowl (6 p.m., ESPN) in San Antonio.
Harrison Phillips/Stanford Athletics
Standard keys for the Cardinal defense include stopping the run, pressuring the quarterback and creating turnovers.
Phillips, a first team all-Pac-12 pick, leads all FBS defensive linemen with 100 tackles, including 17 for a loss and 7 1/2 sacks.
Okereke ranks third on the team in tackles with 91. He has recorded four sacks and 6 1/2 tackles for loss, which resulted in All-Pac-12 honorable mention.
Reid has produced at least five tackles in 12 consecutive games. He has intercepted a team-high five passes, tied for ninth nationally, and was named first-team All-Pac-12.
They help comprise a defense that ranks 11th nationally with 16 interceptions and has forced nine fumbles, contributing to a plus-15 turnover ratio, sixth-best in the country. Ten players have at least one interception.
Stanford has held 11 opponents under their season scoring average and allowed 24 points or less in its last eight regular season games. During the regular season, the Cardinal surrendered only 20.7 points per contest, the second-fewest in the conference.
Phillips is joined on the front by junior Dylan Jackson and sophomore Jovann Swann. Following an injury to fifth-year senior end Eric Cotton, Swann earned his career start in the Pac-12 title game and made five tackles.
Okereke and Jordan Perez are on the inside while Peter Kalambayi and Joey Alfieri are the outside linebackers. Also making big impacts this season have been fifth-year senior Mike Tyler, junior Casey Toohill and sophomores Curtis Robinson and Jordan Fox.
Despite injuries in the secondary, Reid has helped guide a strong effort by a group that also includes junior cornerback Quenton Meeks, senior Alameen Murphy, juniors Frank Buncom and Ben Edwards, and sophomore Malik Antione.
Stanford is playing in a school-record ninth consecutive bowl game. The Cardinal has won its last three.
Notes: Stanford football coach David Shaw said record-setting junior running back Bryce Love has seen limited practice time to rest an ankle sprain, working with the training staff to regain flexibility and explosion. While not fully recovered, he will play. “He’s not going to be 100 percent until next year,” Shaw said. “Hopefully next year he’s with us. He’s a tough kid and will play as hard as he can.” . . . Freshman offensive tackle Walker Little has been practicing after missing the past several games with an injury. He was named Pac-12 Conference Co-Freshman of the Year . . . Senior outside linebacker Joey Alfieri will not play against TCU due to injury.