STANFORD, Calif. – The offense started slowly but finished strong Saturday to secure a 37-30 victory in the annual Cardinal and White Spring Game witnessed by an overflow crowd at Cagan Stadium.
After sputtering early and trailing 8-0 in the controlled scrimmage that awarded points for defensive stops, forced turnovers and scoring plays, the offense rallied behind senior quarterback Ryan Burns and running backs Cameron Scarlett, Dorian Maddox and Trevor Speights.
“Our running backs got us going and I’m excited about all three of those guys,” said David Shaw, Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. “When Bryce Love comes back, I think it’s a phenomenal group.”
Love, who shared time with All-American Christian McCaffrey last season, sat out the spring session along with quarterback Keller Chryst and fullback Daniel Marx. All are expected to participate in fall camp.
“The athletic ability is there,” Shaw said of Speights, who logged a game-high 21 carries. “He’s strong and physical. You want to see the decisiveness, knowing what the blocking scheme is and knowing where the cut is going to be and having patience. That’s what you saw from all three guys today.”
Scarlett and Maddox ran 10 and eight times, respectively.
Speights set up a short field goal by slipping free down the left sideline and took a Burns pass 27 yards to the White 20. The defense stiffened, resulting in a 34-yard field goal by freshman Jet Toner.
The defense surged to an 18-3 advantage with a fumble recovery and stop, but Scarlett countered with a 65-yard touchdown run, breaking free off left tackle. On the next possession, Maddox ripped off a 58-yard scamper through a hole created by freshman guard Nate Herbig to narrow the deficit to 18-17.
The offense scored again on a nice 38-yard throw-and-catch from Burns to 6-foot-4 freshman wide receiver Donald Stewart, who absorbed a tough hit but muscled his way across the goal line. A defensive stop lifted the White to a 27-24 halftime lead.
On the second play of the second half, Maddox injured his left knee on an inside run and limped off the field.
“He got banged up a little bit,” Shaw said. “We’ll see, but it’s not as bad as it could have been.”
Speights, a freshman from McAllen, Texas, set up the go-ahead score with a 33-yard burst to the White 20. He later finished it off with a 3-yard run.
Toner, a freshman from Honolulu, Hawaii, ended the scrimmage by drilling a 47-yard field goal. He also converted from 42 and 40.
Freshman quarterback K.J. Costello handled the first three series but was unable to get the Cardinal on the board, finishing 5 of 13 through the air.
Burns connected on 10 of 15 attempts.
“It was great to a see a fifth-year senior come in and settle down the offense, call the plays and get the guys pepped up again,” said Shaw of Burns, who was 4-3 as a starter last season. “He made some throws to our tight ends, played with poise and had a calming presence.”
Shaw has said Chryst has earned the right to be the starter when he returns, but until then, Burns and Costello are battling for the No. 2 spot.
“My preference is they don’t look at it as competing against the other guy but competing against themselves,” said Shaw. “The big thing going into the spring was Ryan said he wanted to play better this spring than he did during the course of the year. I think that has showed up.”
Costello, who did not play last year, has also progressed.
“K.J. has made a big jump in the last two weeks,” Shaw said. “I’m really proud of both guys and where they are right now.”
Burns admitted the offense struggled at times last season, but expects improvement in 2017.
“It helps us knowing what we did wrong and knowing exactly how to fix that,” he said. “There were a lot of times where I just did not give guys chances last year. I just need to put the ball where they can grab it and put more on them.”
During the spring, Shaw experimented with starting outside linebacker Joey Alfieri, moving him inside.
“That’s a big discussion,” said Shaw. “He’s really put himself into the mix on the inside. He’s got some natural instincts in there and it’s exciting to have somebody who is that explosive and athletic. The good thing for us is we have a good group on both sides. He may be able to play a little bit of both.”
Shaw was pleased with the production of outside linebackers Mike Tyler and Casey Toohill. Their play, along with the rapid development of freshman Curtis Robinson, gives Shaw flexibility with Alfieri.
“He’s continued to grow,” Shaw said. “If we do move Joey, we’re two-deep on both sides.”
Shaw said his offensive line made good strides this spring. David Bright moved from right to left tackle, switching spots with A.T. Hall.
Asked how settled he was with the unit on his current two-deep depth chart on a scale of 1-10, Shaw said, “Somewhere between six and eight. Today was probably a seven. We feel like we have some depth and competition.”
Free safety Brandon Simmons put a hard lick on wide receiver Trenton Irwin in the end zone. No flag was thrown by the officiating crew, but the play was reviewed to see if the hit near the head was illegal.
“Brandon Simmons is a full-speed, contact football player,” said Shaw. “That’s what I love about him. He’s really made a big jump this spring. He’s going to play a lot for us.”
Love stepped up in several starting roles last season and many predict a breakout season. Considered one of the hardest workers on the team, he paid close attention to every practice this spring.
“It was a good opportunity to learn more about the offense,” Love said. “Trevor, Dorian and Cameron had amazing days today.”
Love will not try to replace McCaffrey. His goals are to be himself and play to the best of his ability.
“Christian was one of the best players to ever play here,” he said. “No matter what I do, I won’t be Christian. I aspire to be better and do amazing things.”
Wide receiver Isaiah Brandt-Sims and cornerback Terrence Alexander are competing in track and field and did not participate in the spring game.
Extra Points … Strong safety Justin Reid collected a game-high seven tackles, while Tyler, inside linebacker Kevin Palma and inside linebacker Lewis Burik each registered two sacks … Stanford kicks off the 2017 season on Aug. 26 against Rice in Sydney, Australia … Former Stanford All-American defensive lineman and head coach Paul Wiggin threw out the first pitch Friday night in the baseball game against UCLA.