Sure, the spring game isn't the most serious of events. David Shaw didn't even coach in the second half, and the loudest cheers of the afternoon came when a video man on a scissor lift caught the football after an extra point. It was a pretty good snag, I have to say.
But that doesn't mean that the Spring Game wasn't important in learning more about the new Cardinal team. Progress was made in the quarterback battle and the offense "won" the game 42-31, among other things on a busy day on the Farm.
Coming into Saturday, Keller Chryst had been hailed as the favorite in the quarterback competition with Ryan Burns, according to sources close to the team. However, Saturday certainly made us appreciate how difficult of a decision Shaw has on his hands. Both quarterbacks had their moments and performed essentially comparably, but Burns seemed to gain momentum on Saturday.
We saw a new, more confident Burns, who stood up in the pocket under pressure and made throws into tight windows. For Burns, getting the bulk of the reps in a leadership role helped him become a much more confident signal-caller:
"When you're getting reps and you're the number two or number three guy, you can't get those guys behind you 100 percent," Burns said. "Ever since spring started, things have just started clicking a little more. The guys have gotten behind me a little bit, and that helps with your confidence and your overall play tremendously."
Chryst was pretty accurate and poised as well, but took more time to settle in and get his timing right, and was picked off by Noor Davis on an underthrown ball on his second drive. Once he found a rhythm, he pretty much matched Burns -- this race is going to go down to the wire.
"It's hard to say who had the upper hand because we had to see what the decision-making looked like [on tape], but I was excited to see both guys come back and make some big throws," Shaw said. "We've got two big quarterbacks with strong arms that are athletic, and they made some big plays downfield and some accurate throws down the middle to Dalton Schultz and the tight ends and checking the ball down. There were a lot of positives for both guys."
Stats were taken by hand and were pretty fluid -- Chryst had a big throw on third down "wiped out" for no apparent reason -- but Burns had the slightly more efficient day. Burns completed 17 of 23 attempts for 153 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, while Chryst completed 16 of 25 for 156 yards, one touchdown and an interception.
Christian McCaffrey's Absence
Noticeably absent from the festivities on Saturday was Heisman
winner runner-up Christian McCaffrey, who took the field for just three punt returns, no-contact plays. Don't worry, he's okay. He made it through all of the practices and will return for training camp, but Shaw just wanted to rest McCaffrey for the grind that is the college football season.
"I'm convinced that we start spring so early now, there's no way that he's physically ready for what we do in practice," Shaw said. "There's no way with 400+ touches and with how physically he runs, there's no way he's ready. For me, it was just a mileage thing, to get him completely recuperated before we start beating him up again."
For McCaffrey, his time on the bench was a non-issue: "I wish I could be out here, but it makes sense," McCaffrey said. "I feel great, and excited to be a part of this team."
In his absence, Bryce Love and Cameron Scarlett took the majority of the carries. Love stood out, rushing for 48 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries. He made the defense look lost at times with his blazing track speed, and showed Shaw he could provide him with a lot of flexibility:
"I'm excited for when we have both [Love] and [McCaffrey] on the field at the same time. One guy could play receiver while the other plays running back, they could both be in the backfield at the same time, or they could both be flexed out at receiver and have Cameron Scarlett in the backfield because of the special things those guys can do."
Finding a Blake Martinez Replacement
The graduation of All-American inside linebacker Blake Martinez has left a major hole at the position, but Shaw feels like he has a plethora of options to fill that void. Among those that stepped up were Noor Davis, who made a big play to pick off Keller Chryst, and Sean Barton, who racked up seven tackles on the afternoon.
"Kevin Palma is the most consistent he has been," Shaw said. "He's really stepped his game up. Bobby Okereke does a lot of great things but he's got a lot to learn. He's long and athletic and explosive. Noor Davis made some plays in pass coverage and he's physical against the run. Sean Barton made some plays and we have high aspirations for him. And Mustafa Branch is coming on and Jordan Perez has a lot of experience. Nobody should get worn down."
Offensive Line Update
Stanford's retooled offensive line, attempting to replace three starters, played fairly well on Saturday, opening holes for Love and Scarlett, and at times, Stanford's physical quarterbacks on option runs.
The first team line had Casey Tucker at left tackle, Brandon Fanaika and left guard, Jesse Burkett at center, Johnny Caspers at right guard, and David Bright at right tackle, but it was shuffled around as the game went along.
"We're seeing glimpses of what we want to see from the group," Shaw said. "We still might shuffle the lineup a little bit during training camp to make sure we have the right combination of guys."
Bright stood out for Shaw on Saturday: "One guy whose name really doesn't get mentioned very much is the guy who helps me sleep at night right now -- David Bright. I know he can play left tackle, I know he can play right tackle, and I know he can play guard. He's really smart, knows all the positions, and he's physical."
On Friday, the NCAA released a decision banning all satellite recruiting camps, which schools would use to haul in players outside of their region. All of the Power Five Conferences voted to end the practice, save for the Big Ten, home of Michigan and Jim Harbaugh, a famous practitioner of these camps. Shaw doesn't use these camps, so he didn't have strong feelings either way about the ban, but didn't like the way the narrative has been crafted:
"I have no opinion," Shaw said. "It's never affected us. People do them, and people don't do them. We've got great attendance at the camps we have here -- we get a lot of guys we want to come....But I didn't like the way that a lot of people have put this as the SEC against Jim Harbaugh. That's not what this has been about. Conference by conference, this has been going on for three plus years, since Jim was with the 49ers. This has been a battle. As a conference, we had a long discussion three years ago about what we were going to do about satellite camps....I'm great with whatever college football says, because it doesn't affect us. It doesn't make sense for us to go hold a camp some place where there might be one person in the entire state that's eligible to get into Stanford."
New Venue a Success
Despite the rain, Cagan Stadium, the home of Cardinal soccer, worked very well for the Spring Game format. It only seated 1,900, but it gave the game a much more cozy feel. Fans generally seemed to enjoy the venue, and so did Shaw:
"It was awesome," Shaw said. "It was a close environment. In the second half, I didn't call plays and passed it off to the staff, and was able to walk around and shake people's hands and thank them for coming. I think this was a great environment, and hopefully we can continue to do it here."