If Friday's practice was the coming out party for the passing game, with quarterbacks and receivers stepping up their performances, then Saturday's scrimmage was a black and white ball for the running game. The talk since last December has been the importance of establishing the ground game in this offense, and that needed to start with a physical and effective spring. The RBs were a complete non-threat at the beginning of this edition of Stanford spring football, which was a serious disappointment, though there have been a few sparks since. But on this glorious sunny day on The Farm, Kenneth Tolon broke out. The first big statement came on one of the very early offensive series, when Tolon ran the ball six straight times. He took a couple runs outside to the right, but also showed that he could slice through the middle and run through some arm tackles. Tolon punched in the touchdown score from short yardage to culminate the run-dominated drive. Second string fullback Kris Bonifas was the lead blocker throughout the drive and deserves some credit for springing Tolon on some key blocks. Tolon continued to rip off good runs throughout the afternoon and impressed with the variety of locations where he took the ball. His instincts last year were to bounce the ball around the end at almost every opportunity, and he still shows that bounce and shake in his step, but he is finding holes inside the tackles now.
J.R. Lemon did not have quite the day that Tolon did, but he had his best showing of the spring, including a stellar run late in the scrimmage. He found a seam up the middle and exploded through it into the defensive backfield. After picking up a first down and more, he met head-on in the loudest collision of the day with strong safety Trevor Hooper. It was a good hit by Hooper, but the stronger Lemon with a full head of steam managed to knock Hooper backward on the tackle. "Trevor has given me some good hits this spring, but I got him back once this time," Lemon commented with a small grin afterward.
Tolon also ripped off his biggest run of the day late, in the scrimmage, displaying his speed and quickness that remain unmatched by any other runner on the Cardinal roster today. He zipped through the line of scrimmage and then cut back to the right before streaking up the field for a solid 25-yard gain. "We were running the two-minute drill and the defense was back in a prevent, which gave me a lot of room to run," Tolon explains.
No question that Tolon and Lemon showed up big on Saturday, but they are quick to recognize the entire universe of factors that lead to success running the ball - beyond their individual performances and abilities. "Please remember that anytime we make a play, the initiative comes up front. The offensive makes those blocks and the fullbacks lead the way. We have been patient because we know it's going to take time to gel, with new running backs and a new offensive line this year," Lemon opines. Tolon is quick to chime in with his own gratitude toward their fullback complements. "As long as Cooper Blackhurst keeps making those blocks, we can make these runs," he grins while Blackhurst walks by. "But seriously," Tolon continues, "[The fullbacks] have a thankless job. They take a lot of hits without the ball."
This scrimmage also continued the trend of increasing option in the offense, which both Lemon and Tolon enjoy. "I came from Georgia," Lemon reminds us. "And that's all we did in high school - running the option. All day long. So it's a lot of fun to do that again. Those plays help give us a chance to get outside and get on the grass for some big gains." Tolon also confirms that his high school offense in New Mexico was built around the option, and he grins from ear to ear at the prospect of returning to his roots.
As for the quarterbacks, the rotation saw a twist from what we have become accustomed these past two and a half weeks. Chris Lewis again took the first snaps, and the most repetitions throughout, but Kyle Matter was the second QB to enter the scrimmage. Trent Edwards came in third, and even David Lofton received some time. The throws were very good across the board, but maybe even more important was the absence of a few of the bad decisions that marked an otherwise excellent Friday practice. Head coach Buddy Teevens after the scrimmage was particularly enthused about a decision that his senior Lewis made in the two-minute drill. With no receiving options clearly open and the defense collapsing on him, he threw the ball away out of bounds. That has been a point the offensive staff has been hammering all winter and spring into their quarterbacks, and Lewis has been one who has very rarely shown the presence to throw the ball away. His turnovers come when he forces action in poor situations. But he made the quick and correct decision this time, which will be the difference between a game-ending turnover and a chance to win come the autumn.
The receivers did their job making the quarterbacks look good, with Luke Powell again registering a great touchdown score for the first six points of the scrimmage. Nick Sebes made a couple longer plays and continues his surge, while Gerren Crochet showed good moves after the catch - a nice wrinkle to see in his game beyond just straight-line speed. Brandon Royster showed up Saturday as the only player on the team sporting a new "S" decal on his helmet, which previously has only been awarded for performances on a Saturday scrimmage. This comes on the heels of his fabulous Friday performance and tells us that the coaches liked what they saw from Royster that day as much as we did. Brett Pierce didn't surprise you with his Saturday work, but that's only because we have become so incredibly accustomed to his consistent soft hands. Pierce was able to pick up big chunks of yardage, and Matt Traverso registered several nice catches in his best showing this spring.
But in the midst of all this glory and excitement, there were a couple interruptions of concerning injury news. Very early in the scrimmage, converted center Drew Caylor twisted his knee in the middle of a physical pile-u