By Sam Fisher
In some minds, Stanford’s offense (Cardinal) was as much of an underdog against its defense (White) as the Cardinal was up at Oregon last November. But, displaying a surprisingly pass-focused attack, the offense put up a fight, falling just short of an upset victory in a 40-34 loss in the Cardinal & White Spring Game.
The star of the scrimmage was last season’s biggest weakness, the wide receiving corps. Sophomore wide receiver Michael Rector made the play of the day–and according to ESPN’s SportsCenter, the No. 3 play of the day–when he climbed the ladder to deflect, and then eventually corral, a 44-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Kevin Hogan.
“I was on the ground already,” Rector said, “and I saw the ball, [I] kind of reached out and I was able to pull it back in.”
Rector also recorded an 11-yard run on a misdirection play. Coming out of a long halftime break, the second-string offense could feel the starting defense licking its chops. The coaching staff called the perfect play, having sophomore quarterback Evan Crower fake an inside run that got the whole defense to crash before turning around and handing it to the sprinting Rector headed the other way toward open pastures.
Rector flashed some serious speed on the play, but so did junior wide receiver Ty Montgomery. At the post-scrimmage press conference, the two had differing opinions on who the fastest receiver is.
Though both claimed the title, Rector promised, “We’ll find out” soon for sure, to which Montgomery responded, “We already know the answer.”
Fifth-year senior Shayne Skov solved the conflict, or at least delayed it. “Forty times in the spring don’t lie,” Skov said.
But even though the focus of the scrimmage was the passing game, some of the less-experienced running backs continued to impress in their fight for playing time.
Senior running back Ricky Seale led all rushers with 29 yards on five carries, including an 11-yarder. Running backs coach Tavita Pritchard was happy with Seale’s performance, especially considering the situations that he got the ball in.
“Ricky had a great day,” Pritchard said. “He had a couple of carries on those outside zone plays and then capitalized. He had a couple nice runs into not-so-great looks. He did a nice job running.”
Sophomore running back Barry Sanders also had a few nice runs. Though Sanders finished with only 12 net yards on seven carries, he made a few nice jukes, even beating Skov with an agile move on one play for an 11-yard gain.
Sanders’ development has been one of the more pleasant surprises of the spring. After not making much noise during his freshman year, which he redshirted, Sanders has made people notice him in pretty much every practice session.
For Sanders and the other less-established backs to see a good chunk of playing time, they will have to get better at pass protection. At receiver and running back, blocking is often the difference maker in determining who sees the field the most.
“The thing we always want to get better at is pass protection,” Pritchard said. “Our guys are extremely talented with the ball in their hands–I feel like I do almost no coaching in that record…We’ve just got to continue to come along in the passing game because, when we’re able to go and block the right guys and really block them, it allows Hogan to stay off his back, it allows our offensive line to feel comfortable with us helping them out and it allows us to push the ball down the field.”
With spring practice now officially over, Stanford’s coaching staff and players split for two of the most important aspects of building a championship program: recruiting and conditioning.
The coaches will spend the next few weeks breaking down spring practice before hitting the road for the most grueling recruiting period of the year.
“That’ll be a long month on the road,” Pritchard said.
The players will go back to spending their football time with strength and conditioning coach Shannon Turley.
“From now until we report,” Shaw said, “[Turley] is the program. He’s it, and I think he’s phenomenal. Every year, the guys we need to get stronger get stronger. The guys we need to lose weight lose weight…We come into training camp flexible and healthy and strong and explosive, and that’s what this session is about.”
Contact Sam Fisher at safisher “at” stanford.edu.