What a difference a year makes!
After exceeding even the most optimistic predictions for the 2012 season and shocking the college football world in the process, the defending Pac-12 and Rose Bowl Champions returned to Stanford Stadium on Saturday for the Cardinal & White Spring Game.
This year’s game was defined by two words that will be recurring themes as we get closer to Sept. 7’s opener against San Jose State: anticipation and expectation. On one hand, the sheer talent and potential on this roster gives the 2013 campaign the makings of a special season. On the other hand, the pressure and spotlight that comes with the national media attention will be squarely on the Cardinal’s shoulders.
While the Card cannot respond to the expectations for its season until the fall, Stanford certainly delivered on its potential at the Spring Game. This was most apparent at the position that was perhaps the biggest question mark coming into spring practices: wide receiver.
Although the Cardinal lost its top five players in receiving yards from last year’s squad, it appears that junior starting quarterback Kevin Hogan will have no shortage of targets to throw to this season after standout performances by sophomore receiver Michael Rector and junior wide receiver Ty Montgomery.
Rector demonstrated that he can be the deep threat that Stanford’s offensive attack needs. In particular, Rector wowed the 4,350 people in attendance with his best Lynn Swann impersonation on a 44-yard touchdown reception that gave the Cardinal team (Offense) a 12-8 lead.
Hogan went for the home-run throw into double coverage that had interception written all over the play. However, Rector outfought senior strong safety Kyle Olugbode for the football before making a diving catch on the tipped ball in the end zone for six.
On the play, Rector epitomized all of the desired qualities in a wide receiver; he showed tremendous speed and route-running ability to create separation between him and senior safety Devon Carrington, as well as great physicality in battling a defender of comparable size in Olugbode.
While a receiver can normally rely on a size and weight advantage against the opposing secondary, 6-foot-1, 190-pound Rector had no such luxury against the 6-foot-1, 192-pound Olugbode. However, Rector was not deterred at all, winning the aerial battle against Olugbode for his quarterback. Finally, Rector did well to keep the ball in his line of sight throughout his full-extension dive. The play will undoubtedly give quarterback and receiver a great deal of confidence as they continue to establish their rapport.
Montgomery also had a solid day for team Cardinal, grabbing five catches for 59 yards and a touchdown. 2013 may finally be the year when Montgomery becomes a No. 1 receiver. On the Cardinal team’s second drive, Montgomery certainly looked like Hogan’s preferred option, as Hogan targeted the junior on all three first down passing plays.
On his touchdown reception, Montgomery helped save a drive that nearly stalled after the offense was called for an illegal formation penalty on third and goal inside the 1. However, Montgomery created great separation in the right corner of the end zone, leading to an easy throw from Hogan and catch for the score.
The offensive line was also a major storyline from the Spring Game. Although the defense was not allowed to hit the quarterback during the exhibition, Hogan rarely found himself under any significant pressure. The left side of the line, anchored by sophomore Andrus Peat and senior David Yankey, absolutely neutralized any pass rush on Hogan’s blind side. Peat, a five-star recruit out of high school, showed why he has the potential to become one of the great offensive linemen in program history.
In turn, Peat’s performance was coupled by the play of Yankey, who has already established himself in that pantheon of great Stanford linemen as a consensus All-American. Together, Peat and Yankey stymied the push of the defensive line, helping give Hogan ample time to run through his progressions.
With the Spring Game behind us, we now stand a mere four and a half months from the start of the college football season. While the focus of sports fans will now turn toward the NBA playoffs, the NHL playoffs and the MLB season until August, the hard work will continue this spring and into summer for Stanford football. With hopes as high as they have ever been for this squad, the Card will have plenty of incentive to keep calm and party in the backfield heading into that first Saturday in September.
Miles Bennett-Smith has created a sophomore alter ego, “David Cohn,” to extend his reign of Stanford for two more years. To investigate this bold strategy, email “David” at dmcohn “at” stanford.edu and follow him on Twitter at @DavidCohn4.