Colorado Notebook: Veteran Line
THE CARDINAL OFFENSIVE line answered some questions in the opener against Oregon, and the results bode well for Saturday's home opener against Colorado and beyond.
Injuries on the line hampered the ground game in 2019 and the group's top player, preseason All-America tackle Walker Little, bypassed the season to prepare for a professional career.
However, injuries allowed last year's freshmen to sink or swim. Now, with three sophomore starters – left tackle Walter Rouse, left guard Barrett Miller, and right guard Branson Bragg – and sophomore guard/tackle Jake Hornibrook rotating into the lineup, Stanford's bigger and stronger line looks far more seasoned. The Cardinal rushed for 197 yards in the 35-14 loss to Oregon. Stanford averaged 6.4 yards per carry, scored twice on runs, and gained 413 total yards.
"Against one of the better defensive fronts in our conference, our guys played well," said David Shaw, Stanford's Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. "They blocked well, no sacks, only two hits on quarterbacks."
The seven returning offensive linemen who appeared on the season's initial depth chart combined to add 147 pounds in the offseason, from an average of 289 pounds to 310.
"I still believe Week 7 of this season they're going to be a lot better than they were in Week 1," Shaw said. "We're nowhere close to the ceiling for this group. Over the next few years, it's really looking like we're putting a group together that's going to be one of the best offensive lines in America. That's been our standard around here."
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STANFORD'S SUCCESS IN home openers has mirrored its rise as a football program. In 2008, Stanford began a winning streak in home openers that has reached 12. In those years, the Cardinal has accumulated a 111-47 record and reached bowl games 10 of the past 11 seasons, winning two Rose Bowls and an Orange Bowl.
The streak began with a 36-28 victory over Oregon State and was extended to 12 last year with a 17-7 triumph over Northwestern. Among the great rushing performances in that stretch: Bryce Love's 263-yard day against UCLA in 2017, 147 yards by Toby Gerhart against Oregon State in 2008, and Christian McCaffrey's 126 and 210 all-purpose against Kansas State in 2016.
Bryce Love ran for 263 yards in the 2017 home opener against UCLA. Photo by Bob Drebin/ISIphotos.com.
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THERE WILL BE spectators at Stanford Stadium this season. They just aren't human. The Cardinal will be 'cheered' by 470 trees, donated by Lowe's and brought into Stanford Stadium and placed in the front row of the east stands and behind the end zones.
Among the 22 species on site are natives such as Coast Redwoods, California Bay Laurels and Coast Live Oaks. After the season, public works departments and nonprofits will replant the trees, aiding the growth of an urban forest canopy, addressing climate change, and creating healthier greener communities.
Trees are symbolic of Stanford's past and present. The official Stanford crest includes a redwood, "El Palo Alto," a landmark in the city's early days, and the Stanford Athletics logo includes a redwood inside a block 's', which is depicted on the team's helmets.
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THE CARDINAL STAYED close to Oregon, the defending conference champion for much of the game, but good was not good enough, Shaw emphasized.
"We're not satisfied playing a good team close," he said. "That's never been our goal. I know we had a difficult situation, but the bottom line for us is we played OK, and I believe we can play a lot better.
"The positives were getting turnovers on the defensive side (an interception and fumble recovery by Levani Damuni) and running the ball on the offensive side. But we have an overall standard that we didn't meet. We're still a young football team, but those guys will have to grow up in a shortened season. It's up to us to get closer to our standard."
Levani Dumani was responsible for both of Stanford's takeaways. Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer/ISIphotos.com.
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DAVIS MILLS WAS a late scratch at quarterback against Oregon because of COVID-19 protocol and his status for Saturday remains up in the air. His absence gave an opportunity to Jack West, who made his second career start, and Tanner McKee, a freshman who made his collegiate debut in a short stint. Stanford's passing numbers were nearly identical to Oregon's. West was 13 of 19 for 154 yards and McKee was 3 of 7 for 62. Neither was intercepted.
"I thought Jack played very well," Shaw said. "He understood and managed the game well. This is a mature, very smart young man. He was able to get all the things down under the course of the game plan, all our line-of-scrimmage checks and audibles. Tanner, the only throws he missed were the deeper throws. He didn't look like a freshman out there. We're very pleased with both."
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EVEN WITH PRECAUTIONS and testing, COVID is ever-present, and Colorado coach Karl Dorrell acknowledged as much at his weekly press conference on Monday:
"The way I approach it with my team is day to day," Dorrell said. "You really have to treat each day of the week as if anything and everything can happen."
"When you're in your normal game week of preparation, you're really locked in and doing your gameplanning. Now that we have tests every day, you're always crossing your fingers. There's so much more on the coach's plate now than football."
Jack West had a solid performance in his second collegiate start. Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer/ISIphotos.com.