By King Jemison
Stanford football is 1-0 in 2018.
Well, at least the offense is. In the annual Cardinal and White Game marking the end of the spring football season, the offense, wearing Cardinal jerseys, defeated the defense in White jerseys by a score of 24-16. Junior quarterback Jack Richardson was 21 of 30 for 176 yards and two touchdowns, while senior running back Cameron Scarlett had 112 yards and added another touchdown on the ground.
Richardson had quite an eventful day. Not only did he guide the offense to a win while playing “all-time quarterback,” but he also heard that he will receive a scholarship for next season. His solid game today was the culmination of a spring season that saw the former walk-on go from fifth-string afterthought to the star of the spring show for Stanford.
“Jack Richardson is the most improved player on the team,” Stanford head coach David Shaw said after the game. “We wouldn’t be able to practice without him. He’s been outstanding all spring.”
He wasn’t lying about the team being unable to practice without Richardson. Stanford had a depth chart of one at quarterback with no clear contingency plan. With the incumbent starter, junior KJ Costello, out with a hip injury and his backup, sophomore Davis Mills, inactive as well, Stanford was already remarkably thin at the most important position on the field. When fifth-year QB Keller Chryst announced in March that he would transfer to Tennessee for next season, the Cardinal were left with zero healthy scholarship quarterbacks. Into that void stepped Richardson. And after his successful spring season, it looks like the number of healthy scholarship quarterbacks just increased to one.
Thanks to Richardson staying healthy and playing well, Stanford’s receivers got a chance to show off what could be a very potent passing offense next year. The emergence of sophomore wideout Connor Wedington could go a long way into making that possibility a reality. The shifty all-purpose star wearing number five showed flashes reminiscent of the last Cardinal offensive star to don that number. Wedington saw time as a running back and a punt returner, but he made his biggest impact in the passing game. He caught five passes for 68 yards, including a beautiful 15-yard touchdown off a wheel route.
“We like versatile players,” Stanford offensive coordinator Tavita Pritchard said about Wedington’s performance. “He knew what he was doing, he played fast, and the ball found him.”
Wedington had 31 catches for 243 yards last fall as a freshman, but he could see his role expand next season. With senior wide receivers JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Trenton Irwin back as well, Stanford looks like it could have one of the strongest receiving corps in the Pac-12 in 2018.
All three of those wide receivers recorded catches, but per usual, Stanford also utilized the tight ends and fullbacks in the passing game quite effectively. Sophomore tight end Colby Parkinson caught multiple passes, hinting at a possible major jump from year one to year two for him as well. He and junior Kaden Smith are the stars of a tight end unit that should once again be one of the best in the country.
One of the unexpected stars of the day was sophomore fullback Houston Heimuli. Due to the absences of senior Bryce Love and juniors Dorian Maddox and Trevor Speights, Heimuli was pressed into duty as the second-string running back behind Scarlett. His hard-nosed running style earned him a number of carries, and he provided the highlight of the day when he snagged a Richardson pass with one hand and then rumbled into the end zone to give the offense a 24-8 lead.
Heimuli and Scarlett combined to generate a strong run game for Stanford, even without Love, the current 2018 Heisman favorite. Scarlett particularly took advantage of the spotlight to flash his potential as a starting running back. The senior was buried underneath Christian McCaffrey and Love for the first two years of his Stanford career. Last year, especially with Love’s injury, he started to carve out a role in the offense and also turned into a fantastic kick returner. This season, he could see that role increase even more if he continues to turn in performances like this one. He showed off solid power and burst on his way to amassing over 100 yards on relatively few carries. Scarlett, who wears number 22, scored the first touchdown of the year for Stanford from 22 yards out to give the offense an early 7-0 lead.
Of course, that success in the passing and running game would have been impossible without a solid performance from the offensive line. The unit is under new leadership this year after former offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Mike Bloomgren left to take the head coaching job at Rice. Kevin Carberry stepped in to replace him, and if Saturday’s performance is any indication, the transition should be seamless.
“Kevin is a great person, a great teacher and a great leader,” Pritchard said of his new position coach. “I can’t say enough about the job he’s done in this short time.”
Carberry’s unit provided the grunt work on a very promising day for the banged-up offense. But even though they weren’t able to keep up in the modified scoring system on Saturday, Stanford’s defense also showed potential for next year.
“It was solid,” defensive coordinator Lance Anderson said about his side’s performance. “We got a lot of young guys out there right now, but they have really developed and gotten better this spring. So I think there’s a lot to build on, a lot to be positive about.”
As Anderson mentioned, the combination of NFL draft entries and injuries have forced a host of inexperienced underclassmen into action all over the defense. The secondary was particularly hard hit, as cornerback Quenton Meeks and safety Justin Reid both decided to forego their senior seasons and enter the Draft. However, the young guys on the back end held their own.
“Overall this spring I feel good about the secondary,” Anderson said. “I’m excited about that group. I feel good about the talent we have there.”
Sophomore cornerback Paulson Adebo flashed some of his significant talent on Saturday, as he made plays all over the field, including multiple tackles and pass breakups. Adebo redshirted last year but was considered a Top-100 recruit coming out of high school. He could be in line to replace Meeks, alongside fifth-year corners Alameen Murphy and Alijah Holder. Also sending the young defensive backs out on a high note was sophomore cornerback Noah Williams, who provided the defensive highlight of the day when he intercepted a Richardson deep ball to end the game.
That interception provided the final play of organized spring football for the Cardinal. Now the fans have to endure the long wait until the August 31st opener against San Diego State, when the season begins in earnest. Stanford will enter the season with high expectations once again and will almost certainly find themselves in the Preseason Top 25. However, their own expectations are even higher. According to Wedington:
“To win a National Championship.”
Saturday was one small step in that direction.
Contact King Jemison at kingj ‘at’ stanford.edu.