In particular, Stanford’s rushing attack left several concerned, including offensive lineman David DeCastro, who pulled no punches in his assessment.
“Honestly, [the running game was] not good,” DeCastro said. “It kind of sucked, to be honest. It needs to be a lot better. It wasn’t clean.”
Stanford head coach David Shaw was slightly more diplomatic, but agreed that there were issues.
“I thought it was okay, not to our standard,” Shaw said. “We put a lot on the young guys, schematically and expectation-wise, and we wanted it to be cleaner than it was, but the young guys are still becoming a cohesive unit and it wasn’t mid-season form.”
The reviews for the offensive line weren’t all bad, however. The unit was praised for its solid pass blocking, as Andrew Luck wasn’t sacked and only seriously pressured on a few occasions. Further, David Yankey, Cameron Fleming, and Sam Schwartzstein were all solid in their first collegiate starts.
“I think they did well,” Shaw said of the line’s first-time starters. “I think Sammy Schwartzstein was outstanding, was off the charts. We expected him to play well, he surpassed our expectations. Very excited about him.”
“I thought Cam Fleming did a good job, especially in pass protection. He was very good in pass protection.”
“David Yankey, I thought he played solid, not spectacular, but solid, and I think the two young guys starting was good for both of them, but we still need them to play a lot better.”
Beyond the offensive line’s uneven day, the offense as a whole was never entirely in sync, according to Luck.
“First it was a win, obviously it’s good to win,” Luck said. “It was a little weird, because we had so many short fields. It was a little difficult to get in a rhythm like what we were used to doing with the long drives, but we made some mistakes that we’d like back, we also made some good plays, but I guess average, you could say.”
True freshmen, backups shine
Only four true freshmen – Wayne Lyons, James Vaughters, Ty Montgomery, and Jordan Richards – got extended playing time on Saturday, but each was impressive.
“The guys that stepped out here, it was exciting to see that first and foremost, they didn’t shy away from it,” Shaw said. “Jordan Richards was out there being aggressive. Wayne Lyons was being aggressive. James Vaughters came in on pass rush, was running around and got in on a couple of plays. Ty Montgomery got his hands on the ball and didn’t dance, which we talk about – catch the ball and go north and south – he did all that. He got a reverse, got positive yards, finished with some physical ability at the end of every run that he got. That was exciting to see.”
Additionally, several other Cardinal players made their collegiate debuts, including Henry Anderson, David Parry, and Brett Nottingham. While some backups played only sporadically in garbage time, the defensive staff substituted far more liberally than in years past, shuffling through most of the two-deep early on.
“Not that there was a question, but I was excited to see our depth,” Shaw said. “I saw we have a deep team, deeper than it has been.”
Stanford’s trip to North Carolina this weekend will be about more than the Cardinal’s Saturday clash with Duke (12:30 p.m., ESPNU). While the game is obviously the primary focus, Stanford will send a few coaches out early to do some recruiting. That’s just one of several benefits of playing an East Coast game.
“The benefits are huge,” Shaw said. “We’re one of the few true national recruiters. For us to play an East Coast game is really big, because we get to send some coaches out on the road and recruit the night before. We’re actually going to send a couple of guys out early because there’s some Thursday night high-school action.”
Further, the game will be a short trip for several parents of East Coast Cardinal players.
“It’s great, especially at this University, I don’t know how many states we have players from, but I know it’s a lot,” Luck said. “I know a lot of people have family on the East Coast, so they can see them in person.”
At first glance, Duke doesn’t exactly appear to be the most challenging opposition. They lost 23-20 to lower-division Richmond and have struggled over past few seasons. However, the Cardinal claim they’re not taking anything for granted.
“I know they’ve got talent,” Shaw said. “They’ve got some guys coming back who made a lot of plays on defense in particular, guys who made a lot of tackles. I think they’re settled into their scheme; they understand it now. They really didn’t play a bad game [against Richmond].”
Last time Stanford visited North Carolina, of course, the Card endured a game they’d rather forget. Playing at Wake Forest, Stanford jumped to a big first-half lead before faltering down the stretch. Shaw thinks the Card’s improved depth will help guard against a similar outcome.
“The thing was for us, the elements were different and I think the most important point is one that was made earlier. We are deeper now than we were back then, and to be able to ply a game and have some rotation to keep guys fresh [will be helpful],” Shaw said. “At the end of that game, [Wake Forest] made some plays that were credited to them, but at the same time, we didn’t have the same juice in the second half that we had in the first half.”
For Luck and the rest of the team, the trip is a prime opportunity to wipe away the bitter memory of Wake Forest.
“The last time we went to the East Coast [during the regular season], we got our butts kicked by a good Wake Forest team, so there’s still sort of a sour taste in my mouth from that,” Luck said. “I’d like to personally sort of right that ship in terms of the East Coast.”
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