Sports

Stanford looks to improve upon Cardinal sin: lack of offense

 

Devon Cajuste and Michael Rector return to the starting lineup this weekend when Stanford hosts University of Central Florida in its home football opener on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. The senior receivers will be counted upon as the Cardinal looks to get the ball into the end zone.

Touchdowns went missing in action during last weekend's season-opening 16-6 loss at Northwestern, Stanford's first season-opening loss in eight years.

"It's about being efficient, gaining positive yards and completing passes," said Stanford coach David Shaw, whose team was held to just 240 total yards. "There are a ton of things to clean up. Hopefully we can start to get on a roll this weekend."

Cajuste, although healthy, only began practicing with the team two weeks before the season opened and continues to round into shape.

"It's the conditioning of getting back to playing," Shaw said. "Devon is a big part of what we have planned. Francis Owusu was in great shape and had a great camp, so he played the bulk of the first half."

Owusu and Rollins Stallworth, both seniors, started in place of Cajuste and Rector and both are back on the sidelines for the Central Florida contest. Stanford has not lost a home opener since 2007.

"I felt comfortable with Owusu and Rollins," Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan said. "But sure it hurts when you don't have guys the caliber of Devon and Rector in there."

Sophomore running back Christian McCaffrey also will see his role expand as the year progresses. He accumulated 171 all-purpose yards against Northwestern, 66 rushing.

"He missed a pass protection and turned the ball over," Shaw said. "I know that eats him alive, but he played solid. You're just seeing the start. We will continue to be versatile in the way we use him. He can run between the tackles and he can get more involved in the passing game."

The offense, with nine returning starters, was expected to be more in synch against the Wildcats. The defense, with nine new starters, was expected to struggle a little more.

"We didn't play indicative of how we prepared, how we practiced and how good training camp was," Shaw said. "The defense did a good job of holding on but just didn't play to the level we're used to, and how I think they are capable of playing, given the 55 percent third-down conversation rate. That's not something we do. The offense and its 30 percent third-down rate is not what we want to happen."

Shaw gave high marks to individuals along the offensive line, particularly left guard Josh Garnett and center Graham Schuler.

"That's not what the offensive line is about though," Shaw said. "It's about cohesiveness; a couple of times we got rushed. (right tackle) Casey Tucker; you can see the beginning. He's powerful, athletic. (right guard) Johnny Caspars was great. The line is still coming together."

Hogan completed 20 of his 35 passes, but misconnected on a couple of a crucial plays that could have made a difference and finished with a lackluster 155 passing yards.

"Kevin started off outstanding," Shaw said. "I'd say that was a 'B.' He made some nice throws and we dropped some passes. He gave us a winning performance. We got sacked by guys that should have been blocked."

Northwestern contained Hogan for the most part and sacked him three times. There were a couple of designed runs that he checked out of because of what he saw defensively.

"He's an athletic quarterback," Shaw said. "We need him to get out and go. His rushing yards will come from scrambling and from called plays."

For his part, Hogan said that the little mistakes, which cost the offense valuable yardage, are correctable.

"You have to move on but we learned a lot," Hogan said. "There's so much room for improvement. We could have done so many things better. It was a good lesson for week one."

The injury to defensive lineman Harrison Phillips, out for the year with a torn ACL, already puts a strain on the one area Stanford lacks depth.

"We have to lean on guys," Shaw said. "Jordan Watkins; we need him to step up and play."

The depth chart lists four players for all three front line positions, including starters Brennan Scarlett, Solomon Thomas and Aziz Shittu.

Shaw is also concerned about playing a home game before school is in session. After Saturday, Stanford doesn't have another home game until Oct. 3 against Arizona, and school will be in full swing. The Cardinal plays seven home games this season.

"It's rough but (Athletic Director) Bernard Muir has done a great job of trying to get more home games a little later," Shaw said. "It's unfair to the players and it's unfair to the students. We get tremendous support from the student body."

Central Florida comes into Saturday's game following a 15-14 loss to Florida International last weekend. This will be the first meeting between Stanford and UCF.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Sep 10, 2015 at 6:05 pm

Could try the old Weaver on a keeper play - minimize the risk of a miscue, but maximize the chance of losing.


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