Breakthrough: Stanford finds its scoring groove in home opener against UCF

September 19, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Sept. 19, 2015

Stanford football’s 2015 home debut against the University of Central Florida was one of the final games to begin last weekend, with a kickoff at 7:35 p.m. Pacific Time. It took more than two minutes of game time before either team got a first down.

On the second play of the Cardinal’s second possession, fifth-year running back Remound Wright ripped off a 10-yard carry. That seemed to get Stanford’s attack untracked — sort of — as two of the next three plays resulted in first downs. (In order, they were an incomplete pass by Kevin Hogan, a 13-yard rush by Christian McCaffrey and a 15-year connection between Hogan and wideout Michael Rector.)

Rector’s reception gave the Cardinal first down and 10 yards to go at the UCF 45-yard-line, but the team soon faltered. A holding penalty on Stanford nullified the snap at the 45; a false start followed, as did an illegal block call on senior left guard Joshua Garnett that wiped out what might otherwise have been a first-down run by Hogan. Stanford punted from UCF’s 33, and the remainder of the first quarter was one gigantic bog of mediocrity.

It’s worth noting that two players exited the game in the first quarter. The Knights’ starting quarterback, Justin Holman, was apparently injured on his second pass attempt, possibly because junior linebacker Peter Kalambayi hurried Hulman’s throw. UCF played backup quarterbacks the rest of the game. And with 2:43 left in the period, senior defensive end Aziz Shittu was ejected for targeting, leaving an already thin Stanford D-line shockingly thin. (Shittu is eligible to play this week.)

Both teams mounted long drives that came up empty at the start of the second quarter. The Cardinal stalled at the UCF 38 after Hogan was unable to connect on a well-defended throw to Rector. The Knights then drove 60 yards on 13 plays before senior strong safety Dallas Lloyd forced a fumble that Brennan Scarlett recovered at the Cardinal 36.

Stanford scored its first touchdown of 2015 on a trick play. On first and 10, senior running back Barry Sanders took a handoff, paused before crossing the line of scrimmage and pitched the ball back to Hogan. Rector was streaking uncovered, and Hogan connected with him on a beautiful throw. The play covered 53 yards.

The Cardinal was finally beginning to get on a roll. Stanford’s defense forced a three-and-out by the Knights before Hogan led the offense on a nine-play, 32-yard drive that resulted in Conrad Ukropina knocking in a career-long field goal that spanned 52 yards.

That left the score 10-0. Matters stayed there until Stanford’s second possession of the third quarter, which represented perhaps the team’s best drive of the young season. The first play of the possession was a 42-yard pass to speedy freshman Bryce Love. Hogan’s second pass attempt, to junior tight end Austin Hooper, went for 11 yards and another first down, while his third throw, to McCaffrey, went for a 7-yard touchdown. UCF unaccountably failed to guard McCaffrey on that play despite his having rushed four times for 12 yards on the drive. Hogan also ran for eight yards and a first down during the possession.

The Knights’ next drive ended after just two snaps when Blake Martinez, the senior linebacker who is one of four Stanford team captains this year, picked off Bo Schneider at the UCF 21-yard line and returned it 10 yards. The Cardinal turned the ball over after failing to convert fourth and 3 from the UCF 4 early in the final period, but the Knights attack was again stymied by Stanford.

The next Cardinal possession was full of missteps. Fifth-year wideout Devon Cajuste was flagged for holding, wiping out what otherwise might have been a 10-yard rush by McCaffrey. After two rushes by Sanders that netted only three yards and an improper substitution penalty, the Cardinal faced third and 20 from their own 7-yard line.

But all would be redeemed on the next play. After faking a handoff to Sanders, who was charging toward the right end of the line, Hogan pivoted and threw to Love on the left flank behind the line of scrimmage. The freshman out of Wake Forest, N.C., picked his way through traffic and took it to the house, giving the home squad a 24-0 lead with 9:06 remaining to play.

A heavy rotation of substitutes were inserted for the rest of the game, but there were still a few highlights yet to come. Both Cardinal backup quarterbacks played in the next drive, with junior Ryan Burns running for three yards and sophomore Keller Chryst finding fifth-year wideout Rollins Stallworth for a 20-yard gain on a pass that may have been intended for a different Cardinal player. (The younger player got the majority of the snaps.) The drive was capped with a 20-yard Sanders rushing touchdown on which he juked his way past a Knight defender while heading around the left end of the line.

The Knights would score on the ensuing drive as third-stringer Tyler Harris combined with Tre’Quan Smith for a 36-yard touchdown. But the final result, a 31-7 Cardinal win, represented a satisfying overall outing for the home team.

There are two major caveats, however: UCF was playing without its starting passer, and UCF, despite finishing 9-4 last season, is a far cry from the likes of USC.

Speaking of the Trojans, the Cardinal will kick off against them at the Los Angeles Coliseum less than an hour from the time I complete this post. USC is back at full strength after the end of NCAA penalties, and Stanford has yet to prove that it can play consistently against a quality opponent, especially on the road. David Shaw and his team have their work cut out for them.

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