While Stanford was thoroughly beaten in Saturday's opening contest at Northwestern, there were positive signs from the 2015 squad.
1. The opening drive
Stanford's best drive was their first, moving the ball 64 yards on 12 plays, eating up 6:27 worth of clock. While it's disheartening that the offense went effectively an entire game after this drive without producing anything, we caught a glimpse of how talented this team really is. Mixing runs and passes, and showing the most creativity you would see all day, Stanford carved up the Northwestern D before a few questionable playcalls killed the drive in the red zone.
It's important to note that opening drives are normally scripted. Stanford has shown a propensity to move the ball on these precalled plays early in the game, only to struggle once the playcalling is on the spot (think 2014 vs. Utah). If the coaching staff can learn this easy lesson and stay creative for 60 minutes, the sky is the limit.
2. Missed Opportunities
While it's frustrating to imagine how this game goes without these missed opportunities, it's encouraging to think of how easily this game could be won should the Cardinal convert their chances.
Prior to Northwestern's first field goal, Kodi Whitfield (who impressed all day) dropped a potential interception. Should he make this play, the Cardinal are likely in a one score game on their final drive. On the lone touchdown of the day, sophomore linebacker Jordan Perez missed his assignment, allowing Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson to scamper 42 yards for the score. If either of these plays are made, the Cardinal likely have a shot to win on their final drive, instead of hurrying to make up the two score deficit. There were numerous other lapses defensively, many of which are unlikely to happen again. The secondary dropped a few easy picks and gave up a few key third down conversions. A play here or a play there, and Stanford is right back in it.
Offensively, the Cardinal had numerous drops as well. Rector's missed catch stands out most, mainly because it would likely result in a score. Dalton Schultz also dropped a catchable ball, and Francis Owusu played a game to forget. These early season mistakes are unlikely to continue as the season wears on, and the impact of a single play being made can alter the entire game.
Of course, you can always make the argument for the other side. That said, I think Stanford committed more important and frequent fixable mistakes than Northwestern.
3. The potential
Going along with the missed opportunities is the misuse of the coaching staff. Yes, Shaw is stubborn, and yes, this might go on for far too long. But, the potential of this team, specifically the offense might be the greatest it's ever been. From a running back who might be the best athlete the school has seen in a decade, to a quarterback who has been to two Rose Bowls, the offense is teeming with talent. Sooner or later, the, this will be unleashed.
Here's to hoping it's Week 2.