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Football notes: Offense shows off depth in open scrimmage, but Card struggles to finish drives

After returning from minor league baseball, senior running back Tyler Gaffney (25) first took snaps from Kevin Hogan (8) in front of fans at the Cardinal & White Spring Game. Gaffney impressed in second public appearance on Saturday, converting two fourth downs in an open scrimmage. (BOB DREBIN/StanfordPhoto.com)

True freshman quarterback Ryan Burns may have accounted for the team’s only points, but the Cardinal offense showed off its depth in Stanford’s open scrimmage on Saturday morning, converting three fourth downs and spreading the ball around at halfback and wide receiver.

With running backs Anthony Wilkerson and Ricky Seale nursing minor injuries, Stanford relied on Tyler Gaffney (six carries for 24 yards), Remound Wright (three for 20 yards) and Barry J. Sanders (nine for 28), while wideouts Jordan Pratt and Michael Rector each accounted for a 40-yard catch.

After returning from minor league baseball, senior running back Tyler Gaffney (25) first took snaps from Kevin Hogan (8) in front of fans at the Cardinal & White Spring Game. Gaffney impressed in second public appearance on Saturday, converting two fourth downs in an open scrimmage. (BOB DREBIN/StanfordPhoto.com)
After returning from minor league baseball, senior running back Tyler Gaffney (25) first took snaps from Kevin Hogan (8) in front of fans at the Cardinal & White Spring Game. Gaffney impressed in his second public appearance on Saturday, converting two fourth downs in an open scrimmage. (BOB DREBIN/StanfordPhoto.com)

Overall, however, dropped passes and a lack of production at tight end kept the Cardinal from sustaining drives against its dominant defense.

“As long as it’s good and bad on both sides [of the ball],” said head coach David Shaw, “I think we’re going in the right direction.”

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Kevin Hogan was composed in the pocket, compiling 115 yards. His unimpressive 10-of-21 passing was mostly indicative of the strong play of the second-team secondary, and Hogan didn’t get much help from his receivers, who dropped a few throws. And even though Stanford lined up with multiple tight ends on several occasions, Hogan was rarely able to connect with sophomore Luke Kaumatule or senior Davis Dudchock for a completion. True freshmen Eric Cotton and Austin Hooper, playing against the Cardinal’s third-team defense, fared slightly better.

“We have young tight ends,” Shaw said, “and we’ll see where they are in the next couple of weeks. But at the same time, I think we’ve got young receivers who are ready to play.”

He noted that many of those receivers — Pratt, Rector and sophomore Kodi Whitfield — played on the scout team with Hogan at the beginning of last season.

“[Hogan] has always had a feel for the younger receivers,” Shaw said.

Stanford’s offense went 1-for-8 on third downs but 3-for-4 on fourth downs, with Gaffney accounting for two of the conversions. The Cardinal’s first-team defense gave up just 3.71 yards per play against backup quarterback Evan Crower, and Barry Browning returned an interception 39 yards to the 2-yard line. The two first teams did not face each other.

Burns threw Saturday’s only touchdown on the last play of the scrimmage, scooping up a bad fourth-and-9 snap, rolling to his right and finding Cotton in the back of the end zone.

***

Fifth-year senior Khalil Wilkes and senior Conor McFadden split time at center, but even though Kevin Danser is still part of the daily rotation, Shaw indicated that he is likely going to stay at right guard.

“Danser is a good center and can play center,” Shaw said of his senior, “but he’s so good at guard, it’s getting harder for us to justify taking him out of a spot where he’s about to be a three-year starter and one of the best in the conference. So I think he’s still kind of got a foot in, a foot out at the center position, but I think it’s going to be hard for us to move him.”

A couple of McFadden’s snaps were low, but he was also on the field for the first team’s most productive drive, which stalled inside the red zone. The senior is known for his expertise  with Stanford’s complex playbook.

***

A few key players sat out due to injury: Wilkerson and Seale, defensive backs Ed Reynolds and Usua Amanam and receiver Devon Cajuste. Shaw said that all of the injuries were minor, and that both tailbacks should be back in practice on Monday or Tuesday.

“We don’t have any pulled muscles right now,” Shaw said, “which is phenomenal at this time.”

***

Fifth-year senior defensive end Josh Mauro had the hit of the day, blowing up Kelsey Young on an end-around almost as soon as he took the ball from Hogan. Shaw also acknowledged the great plays made by two younger defenders, corner Ra’Chard Pippens and outside linebacker Noor Davis, but he noted that it might be harder for less-experienced defenders to earn playing time.

“I tell our guys this all the time: We win games on maturity,” Shaw says. “We win games on guys who don’t make mistakes. So when those young guys who are young and athletic make too many mistakes, they’re not going to be out there on the field… If they’re fast, great. They better be fast running the right direction, or else we’ve got big problems.”

Contact Joseph Beyda at jbeyda “at” stanford.edu.

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