The Stanford Cardinal came into the 2016 season with high expectations all around, and passed their first true test with a convincing victory over Big 12 power Kansas St., 26-13.
Stanford showed flashes of brilliance on both sides of the ball with several players stepping into the limelight in week 1.
Junior pre-season All-American Christian McCaffrey did not disappoint with another stellar effort with 126 yards rushing, and 210 total all-purpose yards; while providing one of the most electrifying displays that will never go in the history books due to a block in the back on a 97-yard punt return.
First time starter, QB Ryan Burns, played well in the first half to keep the Cardinal offense moving in the right direction, and ended the game 14-18 and 156 yards in the air.
The stars of the night were on the defensive side of the ball as the nation witnessed the Cardinal with one of their best defensive efforts against a team that is used to putting up large numbers on the offensive side of the ball. The Cardinal registered 8 sacks, 2 interceptions, and a safety with their tremendous effort.
In the post-game press room, Coach David Shaw was very clear with his statements:
Afterward, Coach Shaw was adamant that “the win was great, but there is still a ton of work to do, and not just one area that needs to be fixed”.
Report Card Breakdown
Total Offense: B
The offense for the Cardinal looked very efficient in the first half; but the 2nd half was a different story. The Cardinal will need to make adjustments, and be prepared to open up the offense a bit as the USC Trojans have a fast defense and will be looking to make amends for their devastating opening weekend loss to Alabama.
QB Ryan Burns stepped into the unenviable position of taking over for a 4-year starter that led the program to new heights. Burns moved the offense with precision and great ability in the first half, and put K-State on their heels. Then, K-State made adjustments at halftime, and Burns did not. Burns looked confused, and could not seem to move the ball well at all in the 2nd half, which included an egregious turnover with a botched hand off that almost cost the Cardinal big time in the 3rd quarter. Burns did post decent numbers and did not have an incompletion until the 3rd quarter, but there were several times that he needed to read the defense better, and make the check down. Is that all to blame on Burns? Of course not, Coach Shaw is not going to turn over full autonomy to his new QB in game one, but the young QB also has to be able to read when there are eight men in the box, and check out to a swing pass or spread out the offense; Coach Shaw would certainly allow for that. Coach Shaw inserted Keller Chryst for a drive, and the young QB led the Cardinal to a score while making another highlight reel block downfield to lead Christian McCaffrey for a 35-yard score. As of now, there is no controversy at QB; Burns is the penciled in starter at the moment, and Coach Shaw will surely keep a keen eye on the situation.
Heisman contender Christian McCaffrey was stellar again on Friday night with 120 yards on the ground and 2 scores that led the Cardinal to victory. The stat most folks did not notice is the 7 receptions made by McCaffrey that were crucial to keeping the offense moving. There is no doubt that every team is going to key in on McCaffrey every play, and it will be up to the rest of the Cardinal to step up for the team to be successful in 2016. The Cardinal sorely missed sophomore Bryce Love in the game, as the rest of the RBs were non-existent with a negative yardage game.
5th year Senior Michael Rector was phenomenal in the game, and provided an early season highlight reel grab with his 40-yard TD early in the 1st half. Rector is just getting started, and you can see that he will be heavily relied upon this season. Trenton Irwin shows flashes of his skill on several plays, but he was rarely looked upon in the game. The Cardinal will need to open it up a bit, so that the pressure and eyes can be taken off Christian McCaffrey to make plays.
TEs Greg Taboada and Dalton Schultz both played solid and made a few big grabs in the game. Taboada has really worked on his route-running skills, and it showed in the game with his big 25-yard reception that kept a drive alive early in the game. The big issues that arose was the blocking ability for these TEs as K-State was able to get off the line early, and rack up Christian McCaffrey for short gains or losses on several rush attempts. Stanford is TE University for a reason, so look for these two young TEs to make adjustments, and be ready for USC.
Offensive Line: B
Stanford answered one of their big unknowns coming into the season with a solid performance from their offensive line. The O-line kept Burns upright while in pass protection, and gave him plenty of time to make reads and throws in the pocket. The right side of the line played fairly well, but the left side needs to work a bit with their run-blocking ability. Returning lineman Casey Tucker is now the anchor on the left side of the line at Tackle and performed well in pass blocking; but there were several occasions that he made the wrong block on a run to his side that cost the offense yards. It’s a new position for Tucker, and with experience on the left, he will be better off in the long run. The best part was zero holding penalties committed by the line.
Total Defense: A-
The defense for the Cardinal was superb all the way around, and will just need to make a few adjustments here and there to be successful throughout the season.
Defensive Line: A
Junior Solomon Thomas is a beast, pure and simple. Many are already comparing the young man to former USC standout and current NFL stalwart Leonard Williams. It just seems that the young Defensive End has a non-stop motor and is always in the face of the quarterback, or making the tackle. The Cardinal are stacked this year on the defensive line with the return of Harrison Phillips, and will need the DL to continue the mantra of “party in the backfield” for the Cardinal to be successful.
The LB corps had a solid start to the season with Peter Kalambayi leading the way on the outside by providing constant pressure up the field, and was a terror to the K-State QBs all game-long by registering 2.5 sacks and 3 tackles for loss. The ILBs were gaining traction throughout the game, and played better once they were more comfortable with the offensive spread of the Wildcats. Kevin Palma did step up, but also missed a few opportunities that sprung K-State for solid gains up the middle. Joey Alfieri played well, but needs to set the edge better, and make sure to always keep to the outside.
The Cardinal Secondary had a fantastic game on Friday night. Zach Hoffpauir came back to the Farm exactly where he left off by living up to his nickname “The Tackling Machine” with 9 tackles. Quenton Meeks is quickly making a name for himself on the outside as a cover corner and living up to his moniker as it seems every time the Cardinal play under the bright lights, it’s “Showtime” for the young corner. The “Governor” Dallas Lloyd has steadily improved every year and made a big INT early in the game that proved to be a big turning point. The secondary played well, and made only a few mistakes that surely will be cleaned up prior to next week. Safety Ben Edwards was a little too eager in his first playing time, and missed a few plays that proved costly and kept drives alive for the Wildcats.
Special Teams: B
The Special Teams for the Cardinal opened the season to a mixed performance as Kicker Conrad Ukropina booted a 50-yard FG with plenty of room to spare, and Punter Jake Bailey has dramatically improved his hang-time ability with his booming punts. The kickers for the Cardinal will be a bright spot this season, and look for Coach Shaw to place more faith in this group throughout the season. The issues were on the penalties from the kickoffs, and on the 97-yard electric punt return by McCaffrey that was called back. Coach Shaw pointed out that: 1. McCaffrey should never try to return a punt within his own 5-yard line, and 2. The call on the block to the back seemed justified to him. Also, three penalties were called in a row on the kickoff team that made Coach Shaw state out loud that this will NOT happen again. There is a distinct feeling that there will be some conditioning drills added to this group in the coming weeks before USC.
Head Coach David Shaw did not open up the playbook this week; he kept it simple and did not want to inundate his new QB. He did not want to go away from the inside run, and did not want to show his hand this early in the season. This style tends to infuriate fans, as they want to see big offense and a swarming defense. After the game, Coach Shaw said, “There is not just one thing he wants to fix, it’s about 10 things that need to be fixed.” Coach Shaw will not change his way, and why should he? He is one of the most successful coaches in Cardinal history. Fans just need to accept he is not going to all of a sudden change; Coach Shaw has proven his system works.
This match up was a slug fest from the beginning. K-State played very well, and made adjustments late to put some fear into the Cardinal. Stanford took the shots to the chin, survived, and will be stronger for the season. There is a lot to clean up on both sides of the ball, but fans should be excited about the prospects for the Cardinal in the 2016 season.
Stanford comes into the week on a bye, and will be facing the USC Trojans on the Farm under the bright lights on Saturday Sept. 17th at 5 PM on ABC.