More Questions Than Answers

Thursday's scrimmage is a hot topic in the Stanford Football community today, and here is the definitive recap and analysis of what we saw. Read on for a full play-by-play of Stanford's offense, as well as stats and lessons for the defense. There were a few bright spots, but many new questions have come from this revealing intercollegiate contest.

Click here for Stanford's complete stats

To augment the above statistics, here is a brief recap of Stanford's offensive possessions during the scrimmage:

  1. Chris Lewis with #1 OL.  Pickup seven yards to Luke Powell in the flat.  Pick up five yards from off-sides, due to Lewis' cadence.  30-yard deep ball attempted to Nick Sebes, overthrown.  Screen attempted to Powell, low and incomplete.  10-yard pass attempted to Powell, incomplete after drop.  40-yard punt by Eric Johnson, with just three yards returned.
  2. Lewis again with #1 OL.  J.R. Lemon no gain up the middle.  40-yard pass attempted to Luke Powell, incomplete.  Five-yard pass complete to Alex Smith.  47-yard punt from Johnson, bounces in the corner out of bounds at the three-yardline.  No return.
  3. Trent Edwards with the #2 OL.  Gerald Commissiong runs for two yards.  Commissiong runs for three yards.  11-yard pass completed to Sebes for a first down.  20 yard pass completed to a wide-open Mark Bradford for another first down.  Nine-yard pass completed near the sideline to Bradford.  Commissiong up the middle for no gain.  Commissiong stopped behind the line of scrimmage for a loss of one yard.  Michael Sgroi hits a 28-yard field goal.
  4. Edwards with #1 OL.  40-yard pass attempted to Gerren Crochet, incomplete against double coverage.  Kenneth Tolon run for one yard.  Interception 12 yards downfield.
  5. Edwards with #2 OL.  David Marrero bounces off tackle for an 11-yard gain, first down..  Pass complete to Sebes for four yards.  Marrero loses one yard, tripped up behind the line of scrimmage.  12-yard pass completed to Brett Pierce in the middle of the field, first down.  Three-yard pass complete to Brandon Royster in the flat, Marrero blocking.  Two-yard pass complete to Powell.  Eight-yard pass complete to Powell for a first down (and goal at the seven-yardline).  Two-yard run by Marrero.  Edwards pass deflected at the line, comes back to him for a "reception," scrambles for a few yards but referees move the ball back to original LOS for no gain.  Edwards sacked for seven yards on third and goal.  Sgroi kicks a 29-yard field goal.
  6. Lewis with #1 OL.  Tolon run for three yards.  Five-yard pass completed to Crochet.  Seven-yard pass completed to Smith, but called back with off-setting penalties (offensive pass-interference, defensive off-sides); repeat the down.  Nine-yard catch and run by Justin McCullum, with most of the yardage coming as he dragged two tacklers down the sideline for a first down.  Tolon run for no gain.  Delay pass to Tolon for a nine-yard pickup.  Tolon runs for no gain on third and one.  On fourth and one, Lewis has a wide-open Cooper Blackhurst in the flat for a short pickup and first down, but the ball is short and incomplete in front of the his feet.
  7. Edwards with the #1 OL.  12-yard pass to Greg Camarillo, first down.  Lemon run for one yard.  Eight-yard pass completed to Pierce.  Third and one, Edwards tripped (likely by Brian Head, center) while dropping back - three-yard sack.  Johnson hits a 38-yard punt to the nine-yardline, with a two yard return.
  8. Edwards with the #2 OL.  Commissiong run for two yards.  10-yard pass to Crochet for a first down.  Five-yard pass completed to Crochet.  Three yards on a run by Commissiong.  Third and two at the seven-yardline, and Edwards attempts a corner endzone fade to Bradford that is long and incomplete.  Fourth down, incompleted pass thrown just behind a crossing Matt Traverso in the endzone.
  9. Kyle Matter with the #1 OL.  Complete four-yard pass to Marrero in the flat, moved another five yards on a defensive face mask penalty.  Edwards replaces Matter.  Six-yard run by Marrero for a first down.  Edwards completes a pass to Camarillo on the sideline, which he runs and dives past defenders into the endzone for a touchdown.

I did not track the Davis players while they were on offense, and do not have a play-by-play there.  For an overall view of what the Aggie offense was able to execute against Stanford's defense, though, here are summary stats:

Rushing: 19 carries for 53 yards gained and 49 yards lost.  Net of four yards.  One touchdown and one fumble lost.
Passing: 13 of 18 completed for 160 yards and one touchdown.  No interceptions.

Though this was a controlled scrimmage, meaning that the ball was placed at predermined spots on the field (rather than a complete 100-yard game flow), so the results should not be taken as representative of a game.  But the final scoring totaled 17 points for Davis and 13 for Stanford.  No matter how you dress it up, that is a deflating disappointment.  While the "score" is a bottom-line result that ultimately carries the day for any football competition, there are some finer levels of evaluation you should take in reviewing a game:

Stanford had no fumbles and just one interception.  The were zero off-sides penalties, nor were there any false starts.  The turnovers and penalties were a sore spot last year, and Thursday's clean execution was encouraging.  The Cardinal didn't do much to hurt themselves, which is a goal for any football team.  Much of the focus for this offense has centered around the young offensive line, and they executed surprisingly well in pass protection.  The quarterbacks were not too hurried, and just one sack was executed by the Davis defense.  As encouraging as that may be, there was incredible disappointment in the inability for the same Stanford linemen to push around their opponent D-II linemen in run blocking.  I would have expected an inexperienced line to fare better run blocking, which is a staple in most high school offenses, and struggle in pass protection.  The reverse was true.

There is an important consideration in this OL analysis, however.  Davis piled eight men in the box and played a lot of squirrelly line games.  Their defense was stacked against the line of scrimmage, and they brought a lot of help.  It's hard to balance what you feel you should be able to do running the ball against a defense stacked against the run.  End result is still a whole lot of heartburn over Stanford's ability to run the ball.

Two other related areas of offensive concern: picking up third-and-short situations, and redzone offensive efficiency.  It was good news that Stanford had third-and-short opportunities, which last year were consistently third-and-long.  But the inability to run the ball stalled drives Thursday when the Card often needed two or three yards.  The times Stanford did get the ball moved into the redzone, drives twice stalled inside the 10-yardline.  There are extenuating circumstances I'll describe below with offensive scheme, but scoring field goals rather than touchdowns was a despondent theme last year that cannot be repeated.

On defense, I felt the execution was more disappointing.  Stanford bit hard and often on Davis' screen plays, which were the bulk of their passing yards, including both plays for more than 20 yards.  There is a grave lesson to be learned there.  The Aggies also converted several third-and-long situations, where the defensive line didn't have a good enough push and the secondary had soft coverage.  The quality of athletes will step up several notches when the Cardinal hit the real schedule in September, and it was a shock to see the defense struggle in this way.

Three particular areas of concern: the defensive ends got very little push and made almost no impact; the linebackers made very few plays on either side of the line of scrimmage; and the defensive backs made almost no plays on the ball in the air.

One shining light on defense was the front line interior, which accounted for five sacks.  If healthy, they could give a lot of help for this unit, though they will be much better tested against Division I offensive linemen.

Physical Play
As noted above, much of my thoughts on the physicality of this team are measured by the play of the linemen.  The DTs fared well, while the DEs did not.  Julian Jenkins might be the one exception for the ends, who not only had a pair of tackles but would have had a sack had he not pulled up in front of the Davis quarterback on a late series.  As it turns out, that third down play from the 22-yardline went for a touchdown reception rather than a sack.  Such are the consequences of a scrimmage where the defense has strict orders to not touch the QB.  In a live situation, Jenkins would have decleated the Davis signal caller and pushed the Aggies back for a long field goal attempt.  C'est la vie.

A bigger concern of course is the inability of the offensive line to push Davis back and open up gaping holes for the running backs.  How they can do that in live practices against bigger and better Stanford DL talents but not in this scrimmage - that baffles me.

Fortunately, Stanford did control the line of scrimmage better on both sides of the ball later in the game.  Despite earlier failures, the Card settled down and started to move people around a little better.

In the defensive back seven, I was disappointed to not see players "flying around" more, as has been the focus.  The speed of this defense was rarely evident, and the players did not swarm to the ball as co-defensive coordinator Tom Williams has hammered for the last nine months.  That's just not bringing it.

This is the one area I strongly caution against evaluating from this scrimmage.  Countless Stanford fans have told me since the scrimmage that they were shocked at how poor the offensive playcalling looked.  But few people grasp how much of the offense was held back.  "We showed about eight plays all game," redshirt sophomore WR Justin McCullum commented afterward.  Indeed, there was not a single offensive player who ran in motion; there was little-to-no play action; the OL was allowed almost no pulls or traps; the option was held out; most of the TE plays and formations were removed; and the redzone offense was dumbed down.  The Stanford coaches knew San Jose State would have people in the stands, and were determined to give them a big, fat nothing.  I can't guarantee what will be used in games this fall, but there is much of this package that was completely shelved for this scrimmage which I believe will come out in September.

Trent Edwards afterward commented on the "handcuffs" that he and the offense were wearing during the scrimmage, which is a reason they were less despondent after the game than fans.

On the defensive side of the ball, everything was reduced to a vanilla minimum as well.  The D-line was not allowed to use their usual stunts and line games, while the linebackers did not blitz anywhere near what I see in practice.

Playcalling would be most closely associated with the failures of the offense in the redzone and the defense against third-and-long passing situations.  We won't know the real answers there until next Saturday against San Jose State.  But they are focus areas for the coordinators to prove themselves on game days.

Special teams

This was the one unit that played rather well.  Eric Johnson dropped two punts inside the 10-yardline and averaged more than 40 yards per boot.  The coverage was good as well, leaving very little available on returns.  Michael Sgroi was only asked to kick two short field goals, but he hit them sure.  It was noteworthy that Johnson took the kickoff duties (twice), which speaks to the caution with which the coaching staff is bringing Sgroi back into action.  The kickoff return teams were Kenneth Tolon + T.J. Rushing and Nick Sebes + David Marrero.  Tolon and Sebes returned the kicks, and the former could be a serviceable returner this year.  As tentative as he was running the ball on offense, he moves well in open space and looked OK on the return.  He honestly doesn't look like a gamebreaker, though, unless the wedge and blocking are exceptional.  Sebes looked awful on his return, to be even more frank, and I've seen the same in practice.  You want your kickoff returner to run behind the wedge, but he needs to fly and run fearlessly.  Sebes in contrast looked very hesitant and never picked up any pace.  I would prefer to see some of the following on KOR duty, based on what I have seen this camp: Marrero, Rushing, Tolon, Leigh Torrence and Gerren Crochet.  Luke Powell manned the one punt return, which went into the endzone for an unfielded touchback.

Depth chart notes

Kenneth Tolon had made enough of a surge this week in practice that he appeared to have taken the lead for the starting tailback job.  Indeed, he took the field first, with J.R. Lemon entering the second series.  Neither of them did a lick of good running the ball, which makes this my number one position of concern on the roster today.  In fact, the productivity at that position was frightening.  The only positive take-home you can muster from this scrimmage was the performance by true freshman David Marrero.  4.5 yards per carry isn't a bad start at all.  I believe his showing, especially in contrast to what the upperclassmen did (not) do, forces the offensive coaches to think hard about giving Marrero a significant role in these first couple of games.

Though there is a great battle at strong safety, Trevor Hooper started there Thursday.  He acquitted himself well, tying for the team lead in tackles and helping to bolster his case for the starting job.  There was a lot of rotation in the secondary however, and both Timi Wusu and Brandon Harrison saw plenty of action.  Harrison played pretty well, as did Wusu.  I believe the latter had two and a half tackles that somehow were missed on the defensive stats.  Unless things make a big shift in the next week of practices, I would expect Hooper to start.  But the others will see time, especially if/when Hooper makes any errors.  Secondary coach A.J. Christoff has an extremely low threshold for mistakes.

There has been some animated debate over who should start at the defensive tackle positions.  Scott Scharff and Babatunde Oshinowo were the first team DTs on this day, with Amon Gordon and Casey Carroll playing quite a bit as second teamers.  All four of them made big plays, and they did a lot of good things up the middle.  They kept Davis from running inside with any success, and they provided a pretty decent push in the pass rush.  I don't honestly know who will start next weekend against San Jose State, but I also think it little matters.  All four will play and be rotated liberally to give fresh legs for a constant push.  "We did fine," said Gordon afterward of the DTs' performance.  "We were really limited with the things we were allowed to do, but it's still something you can build on.  Individually I did well, and I think whoever plays the hardest will play in games."

At the quarterback position, the number of repetitions alone speaks volumes about the state of affairs.  Kyle Matter gets one snap, while Ryan Eklund takes none.  The predominate work went to Chris Lewis and Trent Edwards, reinforcing that this is a two-man competition for the starting job - not a three- or four-man battle.  Looking at the stats, Edwards was unquestionably the more productive man under center.  His completion percentage (78%) clearly topped Lewis (50%), as also was the result in yardage and scoring.  Edwards moved the ball more than three times as far as the fifth-year senior, on less than twice as many attempts.  Edwards also was the quarterback on the field for all three of Stanford's scoring drives.

There was an approximately 10-minute break in the action about two-thirds of the way through the scrimmage, a psuedo-halftime if you will.  Afterward, Lewis did not take a single snap under center.  Buddy Teevens said afterward that Lewis' back was stiffening, and that was the reason Edwards took all three of the final possessions.  We already knew that Lewis' back had been bothering him, with his being held out of Wednesday's practices.  It is impossible to know at this time how much the back problems affected Lewis and his productivity, and that muddies the already opaque waters at this position battle.  If the back continues to be a problem, that could be all the more reason to play a healthy Trent Edwards.  If you ignore any health concerns in this scrimmage, Edwards still made a heckuva case that he should play significantly next Saturday.

In the opening few series, here are the comparative lines for the two QBs:  Lewis - 2/6 for 12 yards; Edwards - 3/3 for 40 yards.  That's night and day, and in many ways mirrors the disparity in productivity we saw last spring at the concluding Cardinal and White scrimmage.  Lewis has had a good camp and has for the most part held on to the starting spot, but game situational results are increasingly weight in Edwards' favor.  It would be a very gutty move for Teevens to name the redshirt freshman as the starter for next weekend's season opener, largely because of the reverberations that could be felt with the eldest veterans on this team.  They have been through the wars with Lewis their entire careers, and they have experienced some incredible wins with him on the field.  Most notably, playmaking standout WR Luke Powell has a strong emotional bond with Lewis.  They have great on- and off-field chemistry.

After the scrimmage, Teevens showed none of his cards in his newly revised assessment of his quarterbacks.  "I'd like to look at the tape before I make any decisions on the quarterbacks," he stated.  "I thought we were accurate, but need to be more consistent."

Edwards would not make a case for himself after the contest, but did speak about the experience - his first against an opponent since his high school days at Los Gatos.  "I had my ups and downs," he described.  "I felt OK.  As the game went on, I felt more comfortable in the pocket.  I made some mistakes, but this is a good learning experience for me.  You learn from your mistakes, watch the film and go from there.  I have a lot of small things to focus on.  I just need to be consistent."

My recommendation?  If completely healthy, Lewis will start the game and play the first few series.  But Edwards should enter the game in the second quarter in a planned insertion, regardless of Lewis' productivity.  The on-field results through the first half of play should be judged at halftime (or early in the third quarter) to name who plays the remainder of the game.  It would be preferable if there were a clear-cut winner for the QB job right now, but with all the evidence in, neither slinger has made a strong enough case.

On the offensive line, Ismail Simpson played every snap that I saw with the #1 line.  He's back and has a solid hold on the left guard position.  Josiah Vinson got all the work with the #2 line at right guard, but he is not yet pushing Jeff Edwards for the starting spot.  Brian Head and Drew Caylor were consistently with the #1 and #2 lines, respectively at center, which belies the assumption that Caylor would be making a hard push as starting center late in camp.

The linebackers remained as we have seen the last week-plus of practice.  Jared Newberry, David Bergeron and Kevin Schimmelmmann are the number one's; Jon Alston, Brian Gaffney and Michael Okwo are the number two's.  Highly regarded redshirt sophomore Michael Craven entered the game with the third string of LBs, which admittedly is a strong group (with Jake Covault and Mike Silva).  But Craven also was inserted in a few situations with the #1 linebacking crew.  It remains very unclear where he stands on the depth chart, with the season opener just over a week away.

Leigh Torrence and T.J. Rushing remain the starting cornerbacks, with Calvin Armstrong and Stanley Wilson running the second team.  In nickel situations, however, Wilson moved up to take Rushing's spot at the left corner; Rushing moved to the nickel back to put all three of Stanford's top cover men on the field.  I have concerns, though, about using Rushing at the nickel after this scrimmage.  Davis had far too much success in third and long situations, finding soft spots in the defense that I would think the nickel would address.  Hard to tell if the problem is personnel or scheme in those instances. 

Freshmen entrants

As I wrote on Wednesday, there were exactly five freshmen who participated in the practice components and played in the scrimmage component.  RB David Marrero, WR Mark Bradford, TE Patrick Danahy, LB Michael Okwo and SS Brandon Harrison.  All of them played significantly.  Once again, their participation in this intercollegiate scrimmage counts against their eligibility, so they are playing as true freshmen this year.  Barring an injury and medical redshirt, that is a done deal as far as the NCAA is concerned.  All other frosh did not even dress out with pads, and they observed drills and scrimmage action from the sideline.  There was one exception: TE Michael Horgan.  He had full pads on but did not at all participate, thus conserving his redshirt.  The explanation for that perhaps puzzling behavior is that the three upperclassmen plus Danahy gives Stanford four tight ends.  They would like to keep four through the balance of the season, and should one go down with injury, Horgan will immediately step up and play this year.  In the event of an unfortunate injury on Thursday, Horgan was ready in his pads to immediately step in.  The coaches were not going to wait for a game to begin his play had injury struck.

It seems remarkable and noteworthy that the leading yardage gainers of the RBs and WRs were true freshmen...

Injury report

None.  That's good news.  Unless somebody sustained a minor injury that reveals itself at an upcoming practice, Stanford got through this one scott free.  I can't say the same for Davis, who appeared to have their top cornerback badly injure his knee on one play.

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