Offense Arrives

Stanford Football conducted their third extended scrimmage in the stadium yesterday afternoon, though it was closed to the public. The first team offense had a big day, though we believe greater evidence of offensive improvement was found on Tuesday. Read on for the details of the scrimmage action, including a running back blossoming before our eyes.

We know that the first team offense had a big day Wednesday in the final full scrimmage of this fall camp, though the closed practice at Stanford Stadium limits our ability to report details.  Trent Edwards had a field day.  Mark Bradford went for a game-high three touchdowns.  Anthony Kimble ran for 100 yards, while Jason Evans shared running duties and powered for a solid day himself.  The offensive gave pass protection and run blocking, in control throughout the scrimmage.

But the first team offense, for the first time in this preseason, was matched up against the second team defense.  While the closure of Wednesday's scrimmage may leave us cloaked in uncertainty, there is an equal size question mark that surrounds proficiency produced against a second string defense.

We drew more meaningful conclusions about the surge for Stanford's offense from the last live (i.e. full contact) scrimmage held at the end of Tuesday afternoon's practice, which included the first team offense battling the first team defense.  In both a normal drive situation and in the two-minute drill, the "O" unlocked some yardage that brought a smile to many a visage.  Here is the transcript of what transpired:

1st team offense vs. 1st team defense
(Trent Edwards at quarterback; Anthony Kimble at tailback)

1st & 10:  Kimble four-yard run on an option pitch
2nd & 6:  Edwards seven-yard pass to Mark Bradford
1st & 10:  Kimble three-yard run
2nd & 7:  Nick Frank six-yard run
3rd & 1:  Kimble three-yard run
1st & 10:  Edwards 22-yard touchdown pass to Bradford

2nd team offense vs. 2nd team defense
(T.C. Ostrander at quarterback; Jason Evans at tailback)

1st & 10:  Ostrander four-yard run (scramble after nobody open)
2nd & 6:  Evans five-yard run
3rd & 1:  Ostrander three-yard run on a quarterback sneak
1st & 10:  Evans five-yard run on an option pitch
2nd & 5:  Evans eight-yard run
1st & 10:  Ostrander nine-yard pass to Marcus McCutcheon
2nd & 1:  Evans 11-yard run
1st & Goal:  Ostrander five-yard touchdown pass to Justin McCullum - corner fade

That was a nearly flawless operation for both the offensive units.  It was as encouraging as anything we have seen on that side of the ball in this camp.  Next followed the two-minute drill.  Both offenses were given the ball on their own 40-yard line with just 40 seconds on the clock.

1st team offense vs. 1st team defense
(Edwards at quarterback; Kimble at tailback)

1st & 10 @ own 40:  Edwards 26-yard pass to Michael Horgan
1st & 10 @ opp. 34:  Edwards 15-yard pass to Evan Moore
1st & 10 @ 19:  Edwards nine-yard pass to Marcus McCutcheon
2nd & 1 @ 10:  Edwards spike to stop clock
David Marrero in for Anthony Kimble
3rd & 1 @ 10:  Marrero five-yard run
1st & Goal @ 5:  Edwards pass incomplete (caught by Moore out of bounds)
2nd & Goal @ 5:  With 0:01 left on the clock, Edwards five-yard touchdown pass to Moore - corner fade.

2nd team offense vs. 2nd team defense
(Ostrander at quarterback; Evans at tailback)

1st & 10 @ own 40:  Ostrander pass incomplete - intended for Gerren Crochet
2nd & 10 @ own 40:  Ostrander pass incomplete - intended for Crochet
3rd & 10 @ own 40:  Ostrander 11-yard pass complete to Crochet
1st & 10 @ opp. 49:  Ostrander 19-yard pass complete to McCullum
1st & 10 @ 30:  Ostrander spike to stop clock
2nd & 10 @ 30:  With 0:06 left on the clock, Ostrander "hail mary" into the endzone incomplete

There were some stutters on the second unit offense's two-minute drill, but the four possessions in toto were an impressive display.  The ball is moving in the air with both accuracy and precision, while the ground game is starting to chew up yardage.  Tuesday's end-of-practice scrimmage follows on the heels of progress displayed on Saturday in Stanford Stadium in a more extended scrimmage.  After failing to score any touchdowns in last Wednesday's extended scrimmage, the first team offense tallied two touchdowns Saturday.

The one player who is making the biggest push forward on the offense is redshirt sophomore running back Jason Evans.  He has had a handful of flashes to excite us his first two years in practices.  He can look smooth and quick the way he slashes through a defense.  But he had not put together the strength and power to augment his gliding ability.  Evans was not ready for prime time.  This last week-plus of camp, he is radically changing our perception.  Both Saturday and Tuesday, he ran low and hard.  He powered through tacklers, carrying them with him or spinning away for bursts of extra yardage.  You expect and need that from a 6'1" running back, and Evans is starting to deliver.

"Jason Evans played better in the scrimmage than he ever has since I've been watching. That was impressive," praised head coach Walt Harris prior to Tuesday's performance.  "I think he ran the way Coach [Wayne] Moses wants him to run, which is with his pads down and relentlessly...  He spun off and he broke tackles.  Guys missed.  He was running down the field and ended up with his head toward the goalline.  That's how you're supposed to run, and that's what we are trying to get."

It takes more than one or two rousing performances to enrapture Harris, however.  The head coach and offensive coordinator is looking to see if Evans can put these outings together, day-in and day-out.

"A guy shows that kind of hard running ability - that shows where his bar is.  Then I expect that bar all of the time," Harris comments.  "Being younger, I don't think he comes out every day with the intent of trying to move the bar up."

"114th out of 117 last year, or whatever it was last year.  We obviously need someone to step up," Harris says of the running game.  "Our line needs to help them - no question about it.  But we need some backs who can run through some arm tackles, make people miss and finish with their head ahead of their body at the end of the run."

Walt Harris may be starting to get what he wants from his running backs.  A starting tailback could be named as soon as today, with Wednesday's scrimmage marking the end of the camp component of the preseason.  Game preparation for the season opener at Navy begins this afternoon, with a firmer depth chart in place.  We expect Kimble to be named the starter in the backfield, though Evans has made a strong push this past week.  He could be a solid number two.  And frankly, nobody is an established performer among Stanford's running backs such that they would be "the man" carrying the ball in Annapolis.  Harris could easily go two or three deep with his running backs at Navy.  With just nine days until the 2005 season and Walt Harris Era kicks off, we will know soon enough.

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