Saturday, the atmosphere was naturally calmer, but coach Jim Harbaugh was still smiling. After his team wrapped up spring ball with the annual Red-White game, Harbaugh pointed out that his team emerged without a "major injury."
For a program that typically lacks depth, that's as big as a 35-yard touchdown pass from Alex Loukas to Doug Baldwin on the opening series of the game.
"A lot of credit goes to Shannon Turley, our strength and conditioning coach," Harbaugh said after the Red routed the White 24-6 in front of about 1,500 fans at Stanford Stadium. "The difference between the level of the conditioning and the level of the physicality of the team and the stamina of the team is so much better than it was at this time last year."
But health wasn't the only reason Harbaugh was smiling Saturday. Loukas, who is competing against Tavita Pritchard and Jason Forcier for the starting quarterback job, capped his spring by throwing for a touchdown, catching three passes for 49 yards and setting up the final touchdown with a 31-yard run on a fake punt.
"Alex Loukas was the difference in the game," Harbaugh said.
Because Harbaugh divided the team into two squads, roster sizes weren't all that big. So that meant Loukas and Forcier, for instance, took some snaps at receiver when they weren't playing quarterback.
Harbaugh, who spent 15 seasons as an NFL quarterback, spiced up this year's game with a pro-style draft. He split up the coaching staff and held the draft six days before the game. Pritchard, the man who beat USC, was the first quarterback chosen by offensive coordinator David Shaw, who coached the White team.
New defensive coordinator Ron Lynn coached the Red side.
"I wanted to get competition," said Harbaugh, who wore the hat of commissioner for the game. "I wanted to make it as competitive as possible, and I really believe we did that. The coaching staffs were competitive. The teams were competitive. The play was very competitive. Playing this game was important to our players."
Pritchard took the majority of the snaps at quarterback for the White team. He finished 12-of-28 passing for 106 yards. His teammate, Richard Sherman, caught nine passes for 96 yards.
"I loved it," Pritchard said of playing a spring game as opposed to a glorified scrimmage. "It was much more of a game atmosphere. We separated locker rooms. Guys were kind of jawing at each other during the week. It was a lot of fun."
Pritchard said he "absolutely" believes he'll be the quarterback when the Cardinal opens the season Aug. 28 at home against Oregon State. But he knows the competition is still open.
On the defensive side, safety Bo McNally intercepted two passes (including one from Loukas) and defensive end Pannel Egboh nailed Jeremy Stewart for no gain on fourth-and-inches.
"We're kind of learning the ins and outs of a new coordinator, which is always hard," McNally said. "But I feel like we're at a good point. At the end of spring ball, we know the defense pretty well."
Tailback Anthony Kimble aggravated a thigh bruise and didn't finish the game. He rushed for 35 yards in three carries.
Harbaugh said of the players who missed spring ball entirely, only tight end Jim Dray (knee) and left tackle Allen Smith (kneecap) are questionable for the season.