"Last play," he yelled. "The defense can force overtime, or the
offense can win it."
Then, with intensity reminiscent of the Cardinal's 2012 overtime
push at Notre Dame, the Stanford offense unleashed hell through Ryan Hewitt's fullback surge up the middle. The Cardinal defense
countered with a bruising response of its own. Pad-popping,
muscle-grinding hulk package nirvana ensued.
The defense won, or so they thought when Hewitt succumbed to a swarm
of tacklers a half of a yard shy of the goal line. However, the officials incorrectly
ruled the play a touchdown in the midst of the bedlam, issuing the polar opposite of the decision made during the Stepfan Taylor-based controversy six months ago in South Bend. So the Stanford defense went from celebrating its goal line stuff to punishment push-up formation, standard procedure reserved for a
scrimmage's losing unit.
"There's no such thing as a bad call," Shaw said afterward, reinforcing a "no excuses" environment.
Saturday's bizarre practice ending bled passion and exuded
intensity. Since the Cardinal have used the second spring session to
focus on short-yardage situations, physicality was expected. But the
competitive fire fueling the battle seemed to burn hotter than it did at this point last
"I think we had a taste of success last year, and we don't want to
let that go," senior defensive back Usua Amanam offered an
explanation. "We just try to bring that fire every single day at
The extent of the defense's dominance last year might have tempered
competitive intensity in spring practices. This time around, though,
Stanford's offense is holding its own. As evidence, look no further than
Anthony Wilkerson's tough running or Kevin Hogan's efficient play,
which included a pair of successful 50-yard bombs to Ty Montgomery
and Michael Rector.
"It motivates the defense a little more [when the offense makes
plays]," Amanam explained. "If one side of the ball is dominating
the other side of the ball, it's kind of hard to get up and go every
day. ... I think it's very motivating for us knowing that unless we
come out on our 'A' game, the offense is going to embarrass us."
Throughout the morning, the first-team Cardinal defense stiffened up
in the red zone after being beaten in the middle of the field. Ben Gardner frequently led the strike back, entering Rose Bowl mode when he registered a pile-driving backfield stop and batted down a Hogan pass on consecutive plays
to set the bend-but-don't-break theme early.
Quarterback Stat Lines
Assistant Mike Sanford, recently assigned to coach the
Cardinal's quarterbacks, looked like a natural fit for the job as he
barked footwork instructions to Stanford's signal callers at the
start of practice. Remember that Sanford played the position at
Boise State during his college career. It appears that the Cardinal's
stable is benefiting from his instruction.
Hogan racked up 130 passing yards on only five completions while
maintaining productivity with his legs. Meanwhile, Evan Crower
completed 12 of 15 passes for 85 yards ahead of third stringer
Dallas Lloyd, who was noticeably more comfortable operating inside
and outside of the pocket than he was last month.
Wilkerson is establishing himself as the top dog of the backfield,
but expect Tyler Gaffney to embed himself into the discussion, too. After
Saturday's performance, though, one must take notice of No. 32's
improvement. After fighting through injury during much of the 2012
campaign, Wilkerson was fully healthy in the Rose Bowl. It
showed with rhinoceros-like running through five carries in
Pasadena. He's now translated that success into spring ball, opening
Saturday's scrimmage with an explosive, physical 10-yard run
off right tackle.
Gaffney, Ricky Seale, and Barry Sanders (30-yard draw) also
contributed positively (though Alex Carter victimized Gaffney on the
day's biggest hit), while Shaw said that Remound Wright was "banged
up" on the day -- he'll be re-evaluated soon. As a whole, though, an afternoon that featured
physicality showcased Stanford's backfield bruisers more heavily
than its running backs. Several jumbo formations packed three
fullbacks into the backfield simultaneously. With Geoff Meinken
sitting out because of knee soreness, Hewitt, Lee Ward, and Pat Skov
all pounded the trenches. Hewitt carried the ball in the previously discussed decisive
moment, while Stanford targeted Ward in the flat on the popular
Spider 3Y Banana fullback pass.
Capable candidates are emerging from the program's relatively
untested wide receiver batch. Montgomery and Rector hauled in the
aforementioned bombs on top of other excellent catches: No. 7
floated to snatch a high slant throw out of the air, while No. 3's
spectacular fade catch counted as a touchdown over cornerback
"Ty is back to being Ty again; he's healthy," Shaw said before
lavishing praise on Rector, a player who has improved by "leaps and
Devon Cajuste and Kodi Whitfield also earned accolades from their
coach, as did senior Jeff Trojan, who snatched two difficult passes
in traffic while seeing second-team action. On the day, Stanford
featured five wide receivers who appeared capable of making
significant in-game contributions come fall, a tally that does not
include speedster Kelsey Young.
"On our board [that lists different offensive positions], we have
one space that just says 'Kelsey,'" Shaw said with a smile. "It's our job to
put him in positions to make plays."
The Cardinal used Young extensively on the outside, particularly
when rehearsing a plethora of quick-hitting passes before the
scrimmage started. One intriguing play featured Young lined up in
the slot and Cajuste out wide on the same side. After No. 39 moved
in motion, Hogan faked a jet sweep to him before firing quickly to
Cajuste on a quick screen outside. If Stanford can establish respect
for Young's right-to-left sprint, that play design would force small cornerbacks to try to tackle the big, physical
Cajuste one-on-one in the open field.
"[We have] so many guys with different attributes," Young said. "We
can keep the defense on its toes. [Plays like that] add another
dimension to our offense."
Stanford's tight ends were mostly quiet in the passing game
Saturday, though Luke Kaumatule impressed again with his bulldozing
ability. Davis Dudchock also made a catch to fortify a position
group that was close to full strength for the first time this
spring. Charlie Hopkins and Eddie Plantaric were both full-go while
only Alex Frkovic (knee) remained inactive.
The Line Battle
Khalil Wilkes and Kevin Danser have emerged as the two
frontrunners to seize Sam Schwartzstein's vacated center position, as the two shared first-team repetitions at center and right guard. Notably, Joshua Garnett did not see first-team
action even when Danser moved to center. Instead, Garnett remained with the second
team throughout the duration of practice.
Afterwards, Shaw made it clear that while Conor McFadden is in the
center race, Graham Shuler is not, at least for the moment.
"He's not quite ready to get back into the competition," Shaw said
of the freshman who missed the entire first spring session due to a
Defensively, Stanford's two primary position battles come at the
outside linebacker and cornerback spots. Blake Lueders started ahead of James Vaughters at outside linebacker, though the Cardinal have been rotating the two on a practice-by-practice basis. Meanwhile, Wayne Lyons lined up
opposite Alex Carter at cornerback, though
it's important to remember that Barry Browning (shoulder), another candidate for the position, will not
participate in contact drills this spring. Rector beat Lyons deep on his streak reception, though safety help
was strangely absent on that third-and-15 play, despite there being
no big blitz.
Derek Mason's unit also featured Amanam and Ronnie Harris
starting as second-team cornerbacks, with Amanam making a temporary
shift over from his natural nickelback position.
"I just want to make myself more versatile and add more depth at
corner," Amanam said. "It will be good for me and the team."
While Stanford's first-team defense didn't yield a touchdown outside
of the blown call to end practice, Stanford's second unit was more
porous in the red zone. Complementing Rector's
fade was Kodi Whitfield, who made a beautiful touchdown catch over second-string
safety Kyle Olugbode on a similar throw from Evan Crower. The
reserves positioned Aziz Shittu and Anthony Hayes (naturally a nose tackle) as defensive ends, with Ikenna Nwafor manning
the middle. Kevin Anderson, Joe Hemschoot, freshman walk-on Craig Jones, and Vaughters comprised the linebacker corps. Hayes and Nwafor
occasionally pressured the quarterback, and Vaughters recorded two
tackles for loss. Still, the unit -- missing injured linebacker Blake Martinez -- struggled at times, as evidenced by
Crower's 80 percent completion rate.
Jordan Williamson kicked the ball exceptionally well, though Josh Mauro
did block an attempt, while Ben Rhyne and Conrad Ukropina both
delivered their share of solid punts. Stanford long snapper Reed Miller struggled in spurts, though. Gardner, the emergency
replacement at the position, delivered a handful of good long snaps.
Drew Terrell might have been the steadiest punt returner in the
Pac-12, and replacing his dependability is of utmost important for
Stanford. Keanu Nelson, Carter, Sanders, Montgomery, and Whitfield
all returned punts for the Cardinal, though no one stood out.
Thirteen 2014 Stanford prospects were on hand for Junior Day.
The biggest names included offensive tackle Andrew Mike, quarterback
Brad Kaaya, tight end Garrett Dickerson, running back Christian McCaffrey (Ed's son), and linebacker Andrew Beck. The Pittsburg High
School (East Bay) coaching staff also watched practice from the
Incoming 2013 freshman linebacker Kevin Palma, who hails from the
Central Valley, also made the trip to watch Stanford practice. He
said the session's physical finish got his competitive juices
"We are looking good," he told me. "I can't wait to get out there
First Team Offense
LT - Andrus Peat
LG - David Yankey
C - Khalil Wilkes/Kevin Danser
RG - Kevin Danser/Khalil Wilkes
RT - Cam Fleming
TE - Luke Kaumatule
QB - Kevin Hogan
RB - Anthony Wilkerson
FB - Ryan Hewitt
WR - Ty Montgomery
WR - Devon Cajuste
Hybrid - Kelsey Young
First Team Defense
DE - Ben Gardner
DE - Henry Anderson
NT - David Parry/Josh Mauro
OLB - Trent Murphy
OLB - Blake Lueders
ILB - Shayne Skov
ILB - AJ Tarpley
FS - Ed Reynolds
SS - Jordan Richards
CB - Alex Carter
CB - Wayne Lyons
First players to mix in: ILB Jarek Lancaster, Josh Mauro (who replaced Parry at NT), OLB James Vaughters, Usua Amanam (CB playing time, in for Lyons), and OLB Kevin Anderson
Second Team Offense
LT - Kyle Murphy
LG - Johnny Caspers
C - Conor McFadden
RG - Joshua Garnett
RT - Brendon Austin
TE - Davis Dudchock
QB - Evan Crower
RB - Tyler Gaffney/Ricky Seale/Remound Wright Barry Sanders
FB - Lee Ward/Pat Skov
WR - Michael Rector
WR - Kodi Whitfield/Jeff Trojan
Hybrid - Kelsey Young
Second Team Defense
DE - Anthony Hayes
DE - Aziz Shittu
NT - Ikenna Nwafor
OLB - James Vaughters
OLB - Kevin Anderson
ILB - Joe Hemschoot
ILB - Craig Davis
FS - Devon Carrington
SS - Kyle Olugbode
CB - Usua Amanam
CB - Ronnie Harris
First players to mix in: DE Jordan Watkins, DL Nate Lohn, LB Sam Yules
David Lombardi is the Stanford
Insider for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com.
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