For the first time since 2011, there will be no Kevin Hogan under center at the Cardinal and White Spring Game. After three Pac-12 Championships, two Rose Bowl victories and 36 career wins, Hogan departs Stanford for the NFL, leaving a gaping hole at the quarterback position.
The battle to replace Hogan will be the key storyline on Saturday as the offense and defense square off in the 2016 Cardinal and White Spring Game, marking the conclusion to Stanford football’s spring practice and giving fans a brief preview of the 2016 Stanford squad.
While head coach David Shaw insists that neither rising junior Keller Chryst nor rising senior Ryan Burns, the two quarterbacks vying for the starting job, has an advantage, Saturday’s scrimmage will provide a glimpse at the competition that will likely rage until near the end of training camp in August.
Both quarterbacks featured in the 2015 spring game, but neither really impressed. Burns finished 9-for-18 for 62 yards passing while Chryst went just 1-for-8 with an interception. This time around, the spotlight on the quarterbacks will be significantly greater with Hogan gone and the starting job vacant. Given that the duo has just 10 career regular-season passes combined, the spring game will be one of the very few looks that those outside the program will have at the quarterback competition.
Stanford’s decision to employ the offense-versus-defense spring game will deprive fans of the opportunity to see Chryst-led and Burns-led teams face off directly, but the two quarterbacks will certainly be compared nonetheless.
Chryst and Burns will likely be without the offense’s greatest asset on Saturday, though, as Stanford may continue to rest rising junior and reigning Associated Press Player of the Year Christian McCaffrey, who has been held out of spring scrimmages thus far after a taxing 2015 season.
Despite McCaffrey’s absence, the running game has dazzled in the spring thanks to rising sophomore speedster Bryce Love. Love totaled 476 yards from scrimmage in 2015 – just shy of the 558 yards from scrimmage McCaffrey posted as a freshman – and has shined as the lead back in spring scrimmages, breaking big play after big play. Although it won’t feature in the spring game, the McCaffrey-Love tandem will give defenses nightmares in 2016.
A new-look Tunnel Workers Union will debut on Saturday after losing three starters in Kyle Murphy, Josh Garnett and Graham Shuler. Led by rising fifth-year senior Johnny Caspers, the 2016 version of the offensive line is still in flux, but Caspers, rising senior David Bright and rising juniors Casey Tucker and Brandon Fanaika all figure to start somewhere on the line.
The departure of tight end Austin Hooper for the NFL opens the door for rising junior Dalton Schultz – a top tight end recruit in the class of 2014 – to continue the tradition of great Stanford tight ends and spearhead the receiving options for the new quarterback along with rising fifth-year senior receiver Michael Rector, who opted to return to Stanford for his final year of eligibility. Rising sophomore Trent Irwin and rising senior Frank Owusu combined for 25 receptions in 2015 and will be key in helping out the new quarterback.
Although the focus this Saturday will be on the quarterback position, it has been the defense that’s dominated each of the last two spring games, particularly in the 2015 scrimmage, when it kept the offense off the scoreboard until its 12th possession and only allowed seven points.
For a second straight year, the defense will experience a major reloading after losing six starters from the 2015 unit, including three captains — Blake Martinez, Ronnie Harris and Kevin Anderson. However, the young talent on the defense – particularly in the secondary – gives Stanford plenty of reasons to be excited about its prospects for the unit in 2016 and could lead to continued spring game dominance.
Rising sophomores Justin Reid, Quenton Meeks and Ben Edwards all figure to play greater roles for an experienced secondary core consisting of rising juniors Alijah Holder and Terrence Alexander and rising fifth-year seniors Dallas Lloyd and Zach Hoffpauir, who returns after a year of playing minor league baseball. Rising sophomore Frank Buncom, who redshirted in 2015, could also join the 2016 rotation along with rising junior Alameen Murphy, who will miss the spring game with a foot injury.
After a breakout 2015 campaign, rising junior Solomon Thomas seems to be a star on the defensive line for Stanford and should anchor a front seven that also returns experienced players in rising senior Peter Kalambayi, rising junior Joey Alfieri and rising senior Kevin Palma in the linebacking corps. The defensive line in 2016 will be boosted by rising senior tight end-convert Eric Cotton and rising fifth-year senior Luke Kaumatule, who redshirted in 2015 to have a year of practice after bouncing around several different positions. Rising junior Harrison Phillips, a likely starter on the defensive line for the coming season, will miss the spring game while recovering from the torn ACL he suffered against Northwestern.
The 2016 Cardinal and White Spring Game will start at 1 p.m. at Cagan Stadium – not Stanford Stadium – on Saturday with free admission and will also be televised on the Pac-12 Networks. The game will pit the offense against the defense with a scoring system to award the defense points based on its performance.
Contact Michael Peterson at mrpeters ‘at’ stanford.edu.