Stanford football threw a party in its season opener Saturday afternoon, and senior wide receiver Ty Montgomery was the host.
Though the victory came against an FCS opponent, the No. 11 Cardinal (1-0) certainly looked the part in demolishing an overmatched UC-Davis to a tune of 45-0 and notched their 17th consecutive win at Stanford Stadium, the longest active streak in the nation. Montgomery stole the show from the get-go when he scored on a 60-yard punt return in his first touch of the 2014 season. Undoubtedly the Cardinal’s most deadly and versatile player, Montgomery has now scored as a wide receiver, kickoff returner, punt returner and a runner on an end-around.
“Ty Montgomery showed everybody what kind of shape he is in,” said head coach David Shaw, who became the first Stanford head coach to win his first four season openers since Pop Warner accomplished the feat in the 1920s. “We want to put him anywhere and everywhere because he’s that kind of a player.”
The offensive line showed some of its youth in the early going, drawing three penalties in the span of 18 minutes during the first half, but looked more cohesive by the middle of the second quarter. Interestingly, in a departure from last year’s tendencies, the Cardinal favored the right side — behind junior right guard Johnny Caspers and junior right tackle Kyle Murphy — in the power running game.
Saturday’s game got out of hand quickly on both sides of the ball. Following Montgomery’s punt return, senior quarterback Kevin Hogan marched the offense on a 12-play, 67-yard touchdown drive — capped by Hogan’s 1-yard touchdown run — that ate up almost half of the first quarter.
Hogan, who finished the game 12-of-16 passing for 204 yards, then showed off his deep ball with a 40-yard touchdown strike to junior wideout Michael Rector to make it 21-0 early in the second quarter. The signal caller wasn’t flawless in his decision-making by any means, though, as a late forced throw intended for sophomore wide receiver Francis Owusu was intercepted in the second quarter. The Cardinal offense in general was sloppy on a few plays, especially in the second half when Stanford fumbled twice in the red zone.
In perhaps the most welcoming sight for Cardinal fans, the Stanford tight ends reappeared in the passing game after their glaring absence in 2013. Sophomore tight end Eric Cotton reassured fans in the early going with a 15-yard grab in the first quarter, and his classmate Austin Hooper hauled in a 14-yard score from senior backup quarterback Evan Crower in the fourth quarter, the first touchdown scored by a Stanford tight end since 2012.
“I’ve set the bar really, really high for [Hooper],” Shaw said. “The bar for him is [former Cardinal tight end] Jimmy Dray — what Jimmy Dray did for us here when we first started, setting the physical tone at the line of scrimmage, tight end and being a receiving threat. And Austin’s taken that to heart.”
True to his word, Shaw implemented a committee system at the running back position on Saturday. All five running backs touched the ball at least two times and no tailback got more than seven carries. Senior Kelsey Young saw the field first and ran well between the tackles, rushing for 37 yards on seven touches, and junior Barry J. Sanders made some nifty moves to pick up 43 yards, also on seven carries.
Though Montgomery was the star on Saturday, freshman tailback Christian McCaffrey deserves at least an honorable mention after showing why he’s not being redshirted this season. In addition to making four tackles in special teams coverage, McCaffrey gave Cardinal fans a glimpse of his blurring open-field speed when he corralled a high throw from Hogan and then proceeded to outrun everyone for half the length of the field en route to a 52-yard touchdown reception. UC-Davis defenders didn’t get to see much of McCaffrey except for the cloud of dust he left behind.
And when Shaw tried to pull McCaffrey out of kickoff return duties following the touchdown catch, the true freshman smiled and said no.
“When we came back from the summer, coaches came back into town, getting ready for training camp, the players — the old guys, fourth and fifth-year guys, which you never hear — came out and said, ‘I can’t wait to watch Christian McCaffrey play.’ These are fourth and fifth-year seniors telling me they can’t wait to see a true freshman play,” Shaw said. “You see why. He’s dynamic, tough and physical.”
Fifth-year senior kicker Jordan Williamson followed up McCaffrey’s special moment — a first career reception that resulted in a first career touchdown — with a huge milestone of his own. By booting his fourth extra point of the day, Williamson became Stanford’s all-time scoring leader.
“There are a lot of people who had thrown Jordan on the scrap heap [after the 2011 Fiesta Bowl],” Shaw said. “And you look up a couple years later, after a couple of game-winning kicks, a couple of crunch-time field goals as well as crunch-time kickoffs, now he’s the all-time leading scorer in the history of Stanford football.”
For all the questions surrounding how the Cardinal defense would replace Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov, the unit didn’t miss a beat — the Aggies crossed midfield for the first time on Saturday with 15 seconds left in the game. Fifth-year veterans Henry Anderson and David Parry helped the defensive line control the line of scrimmage early and often, while senior Wayne Lyons and the secondary looked solid in pass coverage.
“Defensively, we came out with that attitude,” Shaw said. “I give a lot of credit to [defensive coordinator] Lance Anderson getting the guys ready to play, playing within the scheme, playing together. We have an old, tight-knit group that trusts each other.”
“[Last year], still having to play but not anywhere close to 100 percent kind of messed with my confidence a little bit,” added Parry, who suffered from an abdominal strain in 2013. “But I’m now back to 100 percent. The training staff and strength and conditioning coaches have me feeling good, and today I felt real good to be back there. Felt like my first game in a real long time over a year being fully healthy.”
Stanford kicked off its 2014 campaign with an impressive start, but the true early-season test — and an opportunity for revenge — comes next Saturday when No. 15 USC visits the Farm for a Pac-12 showdown.
Contact George Chen at gchen15 ‘at’ stanford.edu.