Defense Dominates Scrimmage

There were signs of strength from the Stanford offense early yesterday in the first extended scrimmage of this fall camp, but they were short-lived. The day was ultimately owned by the defense, ripping their way into the offensive backfield time after time. Read on for analysis and events from the scrimmage, including quotes from both coordinators.

Despite a number of critical injuries within their ranks, the offense looked hot in the opening couple of possessions in this scrimmage.  In the opening series, the first team offense squared off against the first team defense and moved the ball consistently down the field.  They opened with three straight plays to newly converted tailback Anthony Kimble - two on the ground and one in the air - to set up play-action and a successful connection between Trent Edwards and Mark Bradford.  A shovel pass to Kimble picked up another chunk of yardage on a shovel pass.  More Kimble, by land and air, moved the ball to the 16-yard line.  Pass interference by T.J. Rushing against Evan Moore brought the ball to the 8-yard line on the next play for 1st & Goal.  Two Kimble runs advanced the offense to 3nd & Goal at the 4-yard line, when Edwards threw an incompletion.  That was the first and only play of a drive that started back on their own 35-yard line where the ball failed to advance on a play.  Though the offense ended with just three points on a Michael Sgroi field goal, it was an impressive display against a good defense.

The second team offense also started on their own 35 and also brought the ball inside the 10-yard line.  T.C. Ostrander hit big completions to Kyle Matter and Erik Lorig for first downs to move the chains on the drive; Marcus McCutcheon had another key reception.  Jason Evans ran the ball for the offense and helped move them to a 3rd & 1 at the 7-yard line before he was hit for a loss of six yards.  The field goal unit again put up three points, this time on the leg of Derek Belch, and this writer was already crafting clever headlines to applaud the offense in my write-up.

The defense had other ideas, however, and buckled down.  The offense never again looked as good, for either the first or second team, as in their respective opening drives.  The offense never found the endzone for a touchdown.  The defense increasingly dominated the day, getting stronger each and every possession.

"If you look at it, they moved the ball inside the 20 about three or four times in a row," says defensive coordinator Tom Hayes of the offense's early success.  "Then they stalled out because we bowed up and kept them out.  That's our job.  If you've got people kicking field goals all day, then you have a chance.  That's what you're supposed to do."

"We moved the ball for a while, but then we weren't able to execute in the red zone," echoes head coach and offensive coordinator Walt Harris.  "That's partly because we haven't practiced the red zone offense very much, so I'll give the players credit.  Also, I think the defense toughened up.  We weren't quite as sharp as we need to be.  That's why we're still practicing and still have a lot of work to do."

Harris is correct.  His offense has given little attention thus far in this preseason to the red zone, but the extent of the defense's domination on this day went well beyond the red zone.  There were numerous possessions when the offense could not pick up a first down, as the defense ripped their way play after play into the backfield.  To be fair, there were some bright spots for the offense the remainder of the afternoon, though they were found primarily on draw plays or throws to the running backs.  Both Anthony Kimble and David Marrero showed some exciting flashes.  The "base" offensive plays you would like to be able to execute were difficult.

What we find difficult to assess during fall camp, which also holds true during spring practices, is whether any success/failure should be attributed to a strength/weakness.  Are we watching a truly special defense - better than most that Stanford's offense will face this fall?  Or is this offense in trouble?

The truth, as always, lies somewhere in the middle.  This offense has some problems right now, and much of that looks to be contained on the offensive line.  There were too many breakdowns in pass protection from linemen, which allowed defenders to make quick runs into the backfield.  However, the first and second team offensive lines on display Wednesday afternoon were not Stanford's best.  Four of the Cardinal's top eight or nine offensive linemen were out of the extended scrimmage with varying injuries.  None of those injuries are serious enough that we believe those players should remain out of action this time next week.  Some could return to contact in practices as early as today or tomorrow.  Additionally, the defense will almost always start camp ahead of the offense, and even with equal talent, we would expect the defense to win the first scrimmage of August.  Considering the depth of the offense's changes in scheme, relative to a good deal of holdover on defense, that gap in the early going of fall camp is exacerbated.  We may have to wait until the second or third scrimmage before we can more accurately measure this offense.

We do know that several playmakers on the defensive side of the ball are for real.  The speed on display from the linebackers was simply awesome.  The overall attack from the defensive front seven looks as impressive as any in recent Stanford history.

"I thought they did a nice job up front," Hayes praises.  "We have speed on our defense - guys who can run.  That's what you want to see.  You want to see your guys around the ball, chasing the ball all over the field.  From that end of it, it looked in live action like that's what we were doing."

The first-year Cardinal defensive coordinator was anxious to watch film and better evaluate the scrimmage, but he had clear kudos to hand out to Michael Okwo, Kevin Schimmelmann, Jon Alston and Julian Jenkins.  Those players will be hard for a lot of offenses to handle this fall.

"We have some players on defense who are extremely quick," Harris offers.  "Mike Okwo and Jon Alston - they are extremely quick.  This is a game of quickness more than speed.  A lot of times you don't get to open up, but those guys can accelerate.  They've got good quickness.  We're working on finding some more guys who can run around and make things happen.  Julian Jenkins, I think, provides a lot of physical-ness up front.  Of course, we're missing the other two guys right now, so hopefully those guys will be back here pretty soon."

Other standouts plays on defense came from Michael Craven, Pannel Egboh, Brandon Harrison and T.J. Rushing.  There is talent and depth on this defense, and the good news for the offense is that they have top shelf competition against which to test themselves during this camp.

Standouts on offense were not as quick to come of Walt Harris' lips.  You should get used to little commentary and analysis from Stanford's new head coach immediately following scrimmages and games.  He says that experience has taught him to wait until he watches the film.  Harris also says that the current environment makes it additionally difficult to assess his signal callers, which are still competing for the starting job.

"It's hard to evaluate the quarterbacks.  Any time they are in a yellow shirt, it really hurts them," Harris maintains.  "It keeps them healthy, but it hurts their chances of playing because [defenders] get close to them and we blow the whistle."

Our ability to evaluate this team in this scrimmage is likewise limited by all the yellow jerseys - not the ones worn daily by the quarterbacks and kickers, but instead those indicating injured players.  By our unofficial count, nine players in the two-deep on offense were held out of Wednesday's scrimmage.  Another five were missing from the defensive two-deep.  This has been a physically challenging August thus far for Stanford, but Walt Harris rebuffs the suggestion that he change and lighten the camp schedule.

"Training camp is supposed to be rough.  We need to get a lot tougher.  One of the ways is to be out there practicing," he says.

The next scheduled extended scrimmage for the Cardinal in this camp will come Saturday afternoon, again in Stanford Stadium.

  • Offensive depth chart notes: at the quarterback position, Trent Edwards took all the repetitions with the first team offense.  T.C. Ostrander ran the second unit.  Only at the end of the scrimmage did a third team offense appear, which was led by freshman Tavita Pritchard.  Redshirt freshman Garrett Moore took some snaps with the third unit after Pritchard, but trailed in total number of plays... Anthony Kimble and David Marrero had all the work with the first team offense at tailback.  Jason Evans was the second team running back... Most other positions on offense are hurt enough that it is difficult to gauge a depth chart from this scrimmage.
  • Only two fullbacks were healthy and suited out.  In just his second day at the position, freshman Ben Ladner was asked to be the fullback for the second team offense, which saw a lot of snaps.  The work, both physical and mental, for him Wednesday had to be trying.  He was spelled on occasions by junior Nick Frank in the latter parts of the scrimmage.  There were also more single-back looks by the offense than we have seen this fall or than we saw in the spring.  I would be inclined to believe that a result of the fullback body count more than Walt Harris' intended mix of single-back and two-back sets in the Stanford offense.
  • There are less questions on the defensive side of the ball, where nearly all starting positions are set.  The second team for several positions may be up for grabs, but like the offense, injuries make it difficult to read that from this scrimmage.  One position that is now as healthy as we have seen this fall is cornerback.  Nick Sanchez has held down the first team spot at the corner opposite senior T.J. Rushing all camp and much of the spring, but who comes in as the nickel back for a third cover corner has remained up for grabs.  Tim Sims was the defensive back who came on the field for nickel situations with the first team defense on Wednesday.
  • One defensive position where we are still looking for resolution is free safety, where Trevor Hooper and David Lofton are battling.  "Those guys are equal players right now," Tom Hayes reports.  "Hoop ended the spring a little ahead, but we're lucky to have two guys like that.  Both they can both play the strong safety and free safety positions.  It gives you added depth."
  • Something else we are watching as camp nears the half-way point is which freshmen might be in the mix for playing time this fall.  Excuse the broken record, but there are some injuries here that have a couple kids temporarily out of action.  That caveat delivered, the true frosh who saw the field before the final third team offensive and defensive units lined up Wednesday were: fullback Ben Ladner, tight end Erik Lorig, defensive end Matt Kopa, outside linebacker Tom McAndrew, outside linebacker Clinton Snyder and outside linebacker Will Powers.

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