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Defense flexes muscles, depth in Spring Game

It’s a headline that Stanford Cardinal fans around the country have become quite accustomed to: Stanford defense dominates opposing offense. Unfortunately for Stanford, it was its own offense that the defense was able to stymie on Saturday at the annual Cardinal & White Spring Game, as an experienced receiving corps and a highly touted offensive line weren’t able to overcome a defense that was lacking key contributors, with the offense falling to the defense by a lopsided final score of 47-23.

Sophomore tight end Eric Cotton (80) had two receptions for a total of 20 receiving yards at the Cardinal & White Spring Game on Saturday, including a 13-yard touchdown pass from junior Kevin Hogan. Stanford’s tight end corps will look to take a bigger role in the Cardinal’s passing game this coming season. (ZETONG LI/The Stanford Daily)

Sophomore tight end Eric Cotton (80) had two receptions for a total of 20 receiving yards at the Cardinal & White Spring Game on Saturday, including a 13-yard touchdown pass from junior Kevin Hogan. Stanford’s tight end corps will look to take a bigger role in the Cardinal’s passing game this coming season. (ZETONG LI/The Stanford Daily)

Although junior outside linebacker Kevin Anderson — who will start at the position come the fall — was injured at the team’s final practice on Friday and didn’t play at the Spring Game, the defense weathered his loss as well as the losses of sophomore cornerback Alex Carter to injury and sophomore safety Zach Hoffpauir to baseball, as it set the pace early and dominated the first half of the game.

“Defensively, we are so good up front,” said head coach David Shaw. “We have a veteran group up front that’s really, really tough to run the ball against, really tough to pass protect. We think we’re going to have a good offensive line, but it’s hard to show that with the guys that we have up front.”

Freshman outside linebacker Peter Kalambayi started in Anderson’s place and had a fantastic day, leading the team with 7 tackles, including 2 sacks. His blitzing was able to consistently power through Stanford’s talented offensive line and he also showed a consistent ability to finish tackles. Kalambayi, however, was still able to find lots of room for improvement within his performance.

“I did decently, but I can get a lot better,” Kalambayi said. “I’m not the strongest guy yet. [Junior outside linebacker James] Vaughters on the other side is obviously a lot stronger. Knowing my assignment every single time with no doubt — we messed it up a few times before I fixed it.”

Also impressive on the defense was sophomore safety Dallas Lloyd, who displayed great physicality en route to collecting 6 tackles in his first action in Stanford Stadium after converting from quarterback. Lloyd was effective both in tackling at the line and in space, the latter of which was demonstrated when he was able to bring down sophomore running back Barry Sanders as the only man standing between Sanders and the end zone to limit a potential big play.

On the other side of the ball, Sanders was a major contributor, as the highly anticipated sophomore led the Cardinal’s stable of three primary backs with 12 carries for 68 yards. He displayed the juking ability and agility that many Stanford fans are hoping will make significant contributions to the Cardinal’s running game in the upcoming seasons.

“I felt like I ran hard, made some good cuts and made people miss,” Sanders said. “There were a couple of plays I felt like I missed a couple of holes here and there, but I felt like I did well.”

While Sanders was impressive at running back, the position group took a further hit for the spring when junior Kelsey Young was slow to get up after a play and left the field favoring his right arm, which was later seen in a sling as Young stayed on the sideline for the remainder of the game. Shaw remarked after the game that Young had been in a significant amount of pain on the field that subsided for the most part once the running back had made his way to the sideline. Young will receive X-rays to determine the exact nature of the injury. This injury comes after junior Remound Wright has already been sitting out spring practices due to a disciplinary violation.

Saturday also offered Stanford fans their first opportunity to see freshman quarterback Ryan Burns take the helm of the offense. Shaw had previously expressed disappointment that Burns had been unable to take critical snaps with the offense to gain experience within the Cardinal’s system due to Burns’ suspension for the first session of spring, and that inexperience showed on Saturday. Burns completed just 12 of his 25 passes for 131 yards, and threw one interception that was returned by freshman cornerback Chandler Dorrell for a touchdown.

“He’s learning the offense,” Shaw said. “He’s learning what to do. He’s about on pace with every freshman quarterback we’ve had except for Andrew [Luck ‘12], who was a bit above, as you can imagine. He’s right where Kevin Hogan was his freshman year, right where all those other guys were their freshmen years.”

Burns looked flustered in the pocket at times and made some questionable decisions, including pulling the trigger on several passes that could have been intercepted and further returned for touchdowns. In addition, he fumbled three snaps, an indication that he still needs time to adjust to taking snaps under center after predominantly having taken snaps out of the shotgun during high school.

Meanwhile, Hogan started slowly but had an efficient day overall, completing 14 of his 22 pass attempts for 131 yards and two touchdowns. He came out of the half looking much more comfortable finding his receivers than he had before the break. He led two touchdown drives in the third quarter: one capped by a fade to sophomore tight end Eric Cotton in the corner of the end zone and another by a pass well-placed for junior Devon Cajuste to corral using his height to his advantage.

The touchdown pass to Cotton was promising for a tight end group that had been largely quiet in the passing game last season but will be looking to use the talents of Cotton and fellow freshmen Austin Hooper and Greg Taboada to emerge again as a viable passing target.

The offense will now have just over four months to gel and work on its details before the beginning of the season, while the defense will continue to consolidate its position groupings and adjust to life under a changed coaching staff.

Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dpark027 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Do-Hyoung Park

Do-Hyoung Park is the Head Copy Editor at The Stanford Daily. Even though he is finally able to get into R-rated movies now, he instead chooses to spend his time writing half the sports section every week. Do-Hyoung is a sophomore originally from Seoul, South Korea and raised in Saint Paul, Minnesota pursuing a major in chemical engineering. To contact him, please email him at dpark027 'at' stanford.edu.
  • Fan

    Hogan looks like he’s reached his potential. Burns is raw. Solid D but not last year’s veterans. Shaw won’t mix it up and doesn’t trust Hogan with intermeidate passing game. Brutal up-front schedule probably means Alamo Bowl this year.

  • Candid One

    DP, you omit the perspective of the offense playing against a defense that knows the offense–along with the detail of that defense being nationally ranked.

    There’s also the common is misrepresentation of the “starter” label for its reality at Stanford. Depth is not a coincidental aspect of Stanford’s success. WIthout depth in quality, Stanford doesn’t beat Oregon–even with Andrew Luck on offense. What that quality depth means is that the dropoff, if any, isn’t exploitable by opponents. It also means that when a “star” is hurt or graduates, his “backup(s)” or successors usually aren’t “chopped liver”.

    This is one of the most-widely disregarded declarations by David Shaw; he’s continually reminding of that facet of the defense’s focus and intent…fresh bodies rotating without dropoff. The “modern” sports media is still locked into the stone age “star” format despite Stanford’s defensive success–after it began to beat Oregon with a defense that didn’t fade in the second half.

    Maybe many sports writers need the artificial filler of concocted hype but the best sports writers tell it like it is, not relying on the dramatic constructs that are habitual in spite of reality. To be fair, your brevity doesn’t fully cross that line of artifice but it tickles it.

  • Candid One

    Kudos to this author for being one of the few in the sports media to offer more than token mention of Dallas Lloyd’s showing in the Spring Game. His Spring Game stats are made more glaring by the sparse notice that they’ve been getting among the usual suspects in the national sports bloggers lineup. It’s interesting to learn, in bits and pieces, about how he’s shown promise, and how he’s been moved from free safety to strong safety, and about how his size, speed, and experience on offense are a good fit. What’s also tantalizing is the implied change of talent deployment and scheme tweaking under new DB coach Duane Akina, who is seeing all of these players through new eyes. Sure, this is only Spring, but hopefully the implications of new defensive staff and player components won’t be too overlooked. Defense has been the mainstay of Stanford’s rise in football stature, more than offense. Stanford has had Andrew Luck, along with a smattering of other recent stars on offense, but the post-Harbaugh, nationally-ranked defense gave staying power to the Cardinal’s rise.