April 13, 2013
STANFORD, Calif. - Stanford's annual Cardinal & White Spring Football Game provides a glimpse of the season to come. After Saturday's game at Stanford Stadium, there indeed was such a revelation.
In recent seasons, the receiver position has been viewed by media as being relatively thin. But that certainly was not the case Saturday despite a 40-34 White (defense) victory over the Cardinal (offense). Rather, the receiving corps looks as deep as ever, and the game provided some special plays that may hint to the effectiveness of some new standouts.
Foremost among them were sophomore Michael Rector and junior Jordan Pratt, the former professional baseball player. Rector made the play of the day when he snagged a 44-yard touchdown pass from Kevin Hogan. It wasn't the yardage or the score that made it so unique, it was the effort.
As he slowed to come back to a deep ball that was slightly underthrown, Rector reached to get his fingertips around a pass that seemed headed for the hands of a defensive back, juggled the ball off the deflection, and dived into the end zone while securing the catch.
"We've got some young receivers that can do some things for us now so I wanted to make sure that those guys had some opportunities," said David Shaw, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Stanford Football. "There's no reason to have (Tyler) Gaffney and (Anthony) Wilkerson carry the ball 30-plus times.
"This was on national TV and we're not going to do everything that we're going to do during course of the year. I wanted to make sure that, in particular, Evan Crower got a lot of opportunities (at quarterback). I wanted to make sure he gets as much live feeling action as possible. So we wanted to make sure that he got a chance to throw the ball."
Crower utilized his quick, efficient throwing motion for numerous mid-level passes over the middle, finishing 26-of-35 for 197 yards and two touchdowns while continuously moving the chains.
"I was excited to see him," said Shaw. "We talked a lot about tempo with him because any quarterback that doesn't play for a couple of years, you miss that sense of urgency and he's gotten it back especially this second (practice) session. Every scrimmage that we've had he's played well. He felt like a college football quarterback out there and that was exciting."
Hogan, Stanford's incumbent under center, felt his way through the early portion of the game before settling in for 170 yards and two scores on 14-of-23 through the air.
Rector had two catches for 52 yards, and former minor-league pitcher Pratt, who will turn 28 in May, had five for 78 yards and a touchdown. His 13-yard scoring reception on a toss from Crower ended the game nicely for him.
The receiving game took precedence over the Cardinal's typical power-running attack. Stanford passed 58 times and ran 36 times. In the first half, there were 27 passing plays to nine running, and the yardage was 223-56 in favor of the former. All told, the offense ran 98 plays for 484 yards - 377 through the air.
Jeff Trojan had a game-high six receptions for 41 yards; Ty Montgomery had five receptions for 59 yards and a touchdown; Davis Dudchock had five catches for 36 yards and a touchdown and Keanu Nelson also had five catches for 17 yards. With that kind of balance and depth from the receiving corps, Shaw was consistently asked about a shift in balance from last year's tight-end-heavy packages and the prospect of a more open style of play in 2013.
"I'm going to push for balance; I think we had that two years ago and I don't think we had it this year," responded Shaw. "Part of it was because of Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo, two NFL tight ends. To add to that point, I thought Michael Rector was great today ... you can't duplicate that speed. We need that speed out there. Devon Cajuste I thought did a really good job today. Ty (Montgomery) and Kodi (Whitfield) (as well).
"So we have a better opportunity to be more versatile, very similar to what we were in the Orange Bowl year to where we can go with two or three tight ends but also go three or four receivers. In a perfect world that's where I would love to be."
Despite the many notables on offense, the defense was tough and physical, ultimately winning the day. Jarek Lancaster led the way with eight tackles, six of them solo efforts. Alex Carter also had six solo stops while Kyle Olugbode had six solo tackles including two tackles for a loss.
"I thought that defensively we ran to the ball and hustled. I thought we were physical. I thought that the feeling of the practice was good. It was as physical as we wanted to be."
For a defense widely regarded as the nation's best and most physical, those parting words may stand out more than anything from this spring game. The season starts September 7 at home against San Jose State.