Ostrander to Start

When Stanford takes the field tomorrow for their final home game of 2004, they will have a trio of youngsters in elevated roles at key positions. At the helm of Stanford's struggling offense will be redshirt freshman quarterback <b>T.C. Ostrander</b>, making his first collegiate start. Stanford will look to another frosh to help carry the offense, while a sophomore makes his first start on defense.

The question Cardinalmaniacs™ have been asking since last Saturday night is who would be Stanford's starting quarterback for the Oregon State game.  Through the first nine games this year, redshirt sophomore Trent Edwards has started every game, though he has been able to physically finish seven of them.  Against both Oregon and Arizona State, the Cardinal quarterback took beatings and was knocked out of the game.  While Edwards bounced back and took part in practice all week following the Oregon game, he has stood on the sidelines most of this week with his left (non-throwing) arm in a sling to protect a bruised shoulder.  Thursday afternoon marked the first time this week that the sophomore signal caller threw a ball in practices, though the action was short-lived before he iced his shoulder and returned to his sling.

Given the condition of Edwards' shoulder, head coach Buddy Teevens has named redshirt freshman T.C. Ostrander as the starter for tomorrow's game against the Beavers.  Though the news became official on Thursday, it has been expected all week.  Ostrander has taken the lead in all practices in running the first team offense.  This will be the first start of the Atherton (Calif.) native's college career, and it will be a tall test.  Oregon State brings arguably the best secondary in the conference, with size, speed and playmaking ability.  Ostrander will not have the luxury of throwing a high ball to Evan Moore or Justin McCullum in a pinch, when the Beavers have a pair of 6'3" athletes in the defensive backfield, plus super sophomore Brandon Browner at 6'4".

Ostrander has thrown just one interception this season, coming early in the Arizona State appearance, on just his third throw of the evening.  His stat sheet looks clean when you look at the Oregon game, but he had nearly a half dozen balls thrown right into the hands of Duck defenders.  By great fortune, the Oregon players bobbled and dropped every one of those interception opportunities.  Throws will have to be more precise this Saturday against Oregon State, with the anticipation that Stanford's receivers will have a thin margin to get open against the talented Beaver secondary.  Ostrander's greatest challenge will be not just in making his throws, but knowing when to not make them.  The redshirt sophomore has taken nine sacks in his two recent relief appearances, and very rarely has he thrown the ball away.

The pressure to make a play will be high for this youngster, as he takes the lead of the offense in a must-win game.  Stanford needs two wins in its final two games to go bowling.

"The most important thing for T.C. is to protect the football and get rid of the football," says Teevens.  "Field position will be important in this game.  If a play cannot be made, he needs to throw it away and come back for another down."

The good news is that Ostrander showed improvements from the Oregon game to the Arizona State game; he also progressed within the game at Sun Devil Stadium.  The redshirt frosh helped the offense put 17 points on the board in the fourth quarter in Tempe, after a slow start.

"T.C. misconnected on a few early at Arizona State," says quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Bill Cubit.  "You worry about how he would act and react.  Against Oregon, he took a lot of sacks, but he's learned from that.  It's just a maturation thing.  We're not backing off the offense."

"I thought he learned a lot of things," Teevens tells us.  "He didn't hold on to the ball as much.  He threw it away a little more, and he made some scrambles.  He's a quick learner."

"As I get more experience, I think my internal clock will adjust to this level," Ostrander offers.  "I won't feel as edgy [against Oregon State].  Both games I played were pressure situations, so it won't be new to me.  One of the most important things for us this week is to get off to a fast start.  I can't come out of the gate slow like I did last week."

For Ostrander, the slow start is nothing new.  He came into this season with a sluggish start that had him down the depth chart.  With how practices looked early in August, it was at all obvious that he would be in the #2 position among Stanford signal callers.

"T.C. has always had talent," Cubit comments.  "He went through a tough period where it wasn't clicking.  He looked OK in the spring - some good, some bad.  Then he didn't look good in the fall.  It wasn't until about 10 days before the first game that the light came in.  He's a mechanical guy who needs to see everything to perform, and once he started to see things, he's played more carefree."

Wide receiver and classmate Evan Moore says that "carefree" quality might be a reason Ostrander has been able to play loose and rally the offense for touchdowns in his two recent appearances.  "Trent [Edwards] knows so much and has a lot to think about out there," Moore opines.  "I think that's one of the reasons [Ostrander] has done so well - he doesn't think too much."

Moore says that teammates have confidence in both Edwards and Ostrander, but there are different levels of confidence.  The offense has worked with Edwards for much of the last two years, while Ostrander has limited game experience.  As a result, each success the redshirt freshman enjoys is a boon to his leadership and respect.  Moore came up to the quarterback at the Phoenix airport Saturday night after the heartbreaking loss to Arizona State and voiced his elevated support.

"I told him what he's done the last two games has really given everyone else confidence and security because we don't feel like we're missing a beat.  You can tell he's confident, and it rubs off on everyone," the sophomore wideout proclaims.

One area of the Stanford offense that has not inspired confidence lately is the running game.  After averaging 126 yards on the ground per contest through the first six games of the year, when the Cardinal held a 4-2 record, the rushing has run away from Stanford with an average of just 37 yards per game in their last three losses.  Ostrander will have a tough enough time facing the supremely talented Oregon State secondary on Saturday, but that job becomes thrice as hard if he cannot get support from the running backs.

In an ironic twist, the redshirt freshman may have his best chances at selling play-action Saturday when paired with a true freshman tailback.  The starter most of this year has been J.R. Lemon, but the redshirt junior running back is doubtful for Oregon State.  After taking part on practice Tuesday, his thigh contusion has given him problems.  Lemon did not practice Wednesday or Thursday, leaving the door wide open for carries on Saturday.  While fifth-year senior Kenneth Tolon would appear to have the lock on those duties, true freshman Ray Jones has a strong case as well.

Tolon has struggled mightily of late, with his low point coming at Arizona State.  Just three weeks earlier, the fifth-year senior had his best game of the year, averaging 5.0 yards per carry and falling just one yard short of the century mark.  Since then, he has seen his production fall precipitously.  Tolon picked up just 3.1 yards per carry in the horrific UCLA game where the Bruins brazenly dared Stanford to run the ball with just six defenders in the box.  Then last week, the senior mustered a mere 1.7 yards per carry while also giving up a critical safety.

Jones did not bring down the Berlin Wall with his 3.6 yards per carry in Tempe, but he looked far superior to his senior counterpart.  The freshman attacked the line of scrimmage and picked up more consistent yardage with his aggressiveness running north-south.  Tolon spent time scampering east-west and found himself too often caught behind the line of scrimmage.

In practices this week, with Lemon out the last two days, Jones has taken equal repetitions with Tolon.  It is anticipated that the freshman will see very significant action Saturday, as teammates and coaches are building confidence in him - not unlike that seen with Ostrander.

"I thought he performed well," Teevens lauds.  "He ran the ball hard.  His pass protects were adequate.  Ray certainly boosted his stock, with what we saw he was able to do."

The praise and the opportunities have come for Jones later than he might have wanted, but he has the mindset that it is better late than never.

"It felt great," he says of his chance to play at Arizona State last week.  "I hadn't really competed since [August] camp, and before that, I hadn't competed since my senior season of high school.  The coaches have been grooming me for this all season, and I feel ready.  I wish I could have played earlier, but I'm looking forward to these last three games."

It has been a hot topic all year as to whether it was the right move to burn Jones' redshirt.  He saw only garbage duty late in the wins against San Jose State, BYU and Washington.  Against Washington State, the freshman played a role on special teams.  But it was not until the ninth game of the year that he found himself in meaningful game action in the backfield.  Still, he says he does not regret playing this year.

"It probably would have been harder on me to redshirt and not compete at all," Jones declares.  "I'm glad for the opportunity to play and compete these last couple games.  And it's great preparation for the next couple years.  While my role was minimal most of the season on gamedays, I'm a better player now than I was before this year, and it will strengthen my career."

In the present, Jones is immersed in several areas of improvement.  He is inconsistent in his pass protection, but he also wants to hit holes for bigger gains.  His longest pickup in Tempe was six yards, and his long on the season is a nine-yard carry.

"The whole running back corps is working on our steps," Jones adds.  "We want to hit holes in the right areas.  Better steps open our vision for big plays.  Instead of a two-yard gain, you maybe hit the backside for a 20-yard gain."

  • The third youngster who will be stepping up in an elevated role for Stanford this Saturday is inside linebacker Michael Okwo.  The sophomore will make his first collegiate start, filling in for the injured Kevin Schimmelmann.  Okwo has come on fantastically the second half of the season, as the coaching staff has given him more time on the field.  Last week, he recorded a team-high and career-high eight tackles, including seven solo wrap-ups.  Okwo is a little undersized for an inside linebacker, but he has not yet shown any physical deficiency in wrapping up ballcarriers.  Moreover, the sophomore has superb closing speed, which has made for highlight plays throughout the last two years on special teams.
  • With Schimmelmann out and Okwo elevated now to the starting role, that creates a void in the backup spot.  Okwo has played as a reserve for both the "Mike" and "Will" positions inside behind Schimmelmann and David Bergeron.  Who will rotate with Bergeron and Okwo Saturday?  Redshirt sophomore Mike Silva has made it into the game in spots on defense numerous times this year, though he is truly best built to play the "Mike" position.  When Okwo needs to cool his motor, look to redshirt junior Michael Craven.  Craven has not played since the early moments of the Oregon game, when he pulled his quadricep on special teams in the first quarter.  It looked like the uberathlete would be out again this week when he did not practice Tuesday, but Craven stepped in Wednesday and Thursday with a lot of work.  He has had trouble with muscle pulls throughout his Cardinal career, so it remains a question how healthy he can remain these last two games.
  • More information on the MCL injuries that struck three of Stanford's defensive players.  Defensive end Casey Carroll has a third degree sprain, which is the most severe and clearly ends his season.  Strong safety Trevor Hooper is somewhere between a first and second degree sprain, with the damage closer to the latter.  He has a remote outside possibility of coming back for Big Game.  Schimmelmann's injury is closer to a first degree sprain, with the least fraying and damage to the ligament fibers, and there is some hope that he could return next week.

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