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Cardinal offense struggles against stifling run defense in live scrimmage

When it comes to scrimmages, not much has changed for Stanford football since the departure of Andrew Luck.

The Cardinal defense picked up right from where it left off in the Spring Game, dominating Saturday’s live scrimmage to a tune of four interceptions and two recovered fumbles. There were a few flashes of explosiveness on offense — junior wideout Michael Rector made the best of an underthrown ball from senior quarterback Kevin Hogan with an impressive leaping 48-yard catch, and senior receiver Devon Cajuste shed the coverage with a 23-yard touchdown haul — but the defense stifled everyone on offense, from the starters to the fourth-stringers.

(Shirley Pefley/Stanford Photo)

The defense was dominant throughout most of Saturday’s scrimmage, controlling the line of scrimmage and shutting down the offense’s running game. (Shirley Pefley/StanfordPhoto.com)

“I feel great about where we are defensively,” said head coach David Shaw. “The guys have taken it upon themselves to make sure there’s not any drop-off.”

“I loved the energy and the way [the defense] competed today,” added defensive coordinator Lance Anderson. “We’ve still got things we need to work on in terms of individual technique and fundamentals, but I think we’re on the right track.”

To be fair, the offense was missing some of its biggest playmakers, as senior wide receiver Ty Montgomery and senior tailback Kelsey Young were held out for precautionary reasons. Junior right tackle Kyle Murphy and senior wideout Jordan Pratt also didn’t participate in the scrimmage, but will be back in practice next week, according to Shaw. A few players — most notably senior cornerback Alex Carter and sophomore wide receiver Francis Owusu — missed Saturday’s action due to summer final exams.

The first-team offense had very few running lanes to work with, indicating that one of the best offensive line classes in modern football history hasn’t completely gelled — not yet, at least. In fact, all four defensive units were stout against the run on Saturday by limiting the offense to three yards or less on 21 of 30 run plays.

“As a unit, from left tackle to right tackle, I feel good about where we are,” Shaw said. “We’re not quite where we want to be, or where we’re going to be. Our communication has been good, but not great. Our execution has been good, but not great.

“We’re trying to make sure that by the time we play football games that count, it will be great.”

The veterans, including fifth-year senior inside linebacker A.J. Tarpley and fifth-year senior defensive end Henry Anderson, stood out to Shaw as usual, but some of the new freshmen also made a strong first impression. The fans watching the scrimmage got a glimpse of what could be an extremely bright future for Stanford’s offense. The talented freshman trio consisting of quarterback Keller Chryst, running back Christian McCaffrey and tight end Dalton Schultz all showed flashes of playmaking ability but also made some expected rookie mistakes.

“We saw [Schultz] jump offside today and miss a block — those freshman mistakes that get you,” Shaw said. “But you also saw him make heck of a play today.  In the passing game, he’s a difference-maker. He’s hard to cover, but he’s also a physical run-blocker.”

Saturday’s scrimmage was the second of Stanford’s two open practices, with the Cardinal’s season-opener against UC-Davis looming in two weeks.

Contact George Chen at gchen15 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About George Chen

George Chen is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily who writes football, football and more football. Previously he worked at The Daily as the President and Editor in Chief, Executive Editor, Managing Editor of Sports, the football beat reporter and a sports desk editor. George also co-authored The Daily's recent book documenting the rise of Stanford football, "Rags to Roses." He is a senior from Painted Post, NY majoring in Biology. To contact him, please email at gchen15@stanford.edu.