For the first time in 540 days, fans were able to watch a snap of Stanford football at their home stadium. The annual scrimmage was neither timed nor scored this year, putting all the attention on players’ performances.
Fans watched all five of Stanford’s quarterbacks take snaps, in a public preview of the contest to be named the team’s starter in the fall. If head coach David Shaw had to make a decision today, his best bet would be Tanner McKee. The sophomore led the most successful drives of the afternoon, completing six of eight passes for 68 yards.
McKee already has experience in an official game. Backing up senior Jack West in the 2020 season opener against Oregon, he completed three of his seven passes for 62 yards. West is McKee’s closest competitor for the starting job, though he struggled to find his receivers on Saturday.
Regardless of who was behind center, the ball did not travel far through the air. Most of the passes from West, McKee and the rest of the quarterbacks were short throws outside the hashes.
Aside from one long throw from senior Dylan Plautz to junior wide receiver Elijah Higgins, the rest of the deep targets were intended for senior Brycen Tremayne, who will be one of the team’s top options down the field in the fall.
In addition to the Cardinal’s deep wide receiver room, the Stanford backfield is teeming with talent. Nathaniel Peat and Austin Jones — both junior running backs — were pivotal in moving the ball for the Cardinal last season. Jones was the team’s work horse, receiving the lion’s share of carries, yards and touchdowns while Peat often provided breakout plays. Stanford fans should add three more names to the list to the committee of running backs: sophomores E.J. Smith and Casey Filkins, as well as senior Justus Woods.
Smith, a son of NFL hall-of-fame running back Emmitt Smith, played in three games last season and logged as many catches. On Saturday, Smith demonstrated his patience and athleticism, waiting for gaps to open on the field and racking up yards after contact. Filkins was used extensively in one Tanner McKee-led drive in the first half. He logged four carries and brought the ball to the seven-yard line. From there Woods brought the ball to the house on a seven-yard run.
On the other side of the ball, players continue to gather experience. Fifth-year Gabe Reid made the switch from outside to inside linebacker on Saturday, and will look to lead the defense with the Fox Brothers, sixth year Jordan and senior Andres flanking him. Free safety Malik Antoine ’20 was the only player to leave the secondary during the offseason; the unit should improve after struggling in 2020.
The defensive line will look to find a replacement for Thomas Schaffer ’20 who was signed by the Chicago Bears as an undrafted free agent. Early signs indicate that the role will belong to fifth-year Ryan Johnson, who started the game on Saturday, with fifth-year Dalyn Wade-Perry playing in between them at defensive tackle.
Before the Cardinal kick off against Kansas State on Sept. 4 for the start of a new season, they will welcome 26 new incoming freshmen, two of whom have already enrolled at Stanford.