Stanford QB Josh Nunes was one of the (few) bright spots in the Cardinal's 20-17 win over San Jose State at Stanford Stadium Friday night.
The ugliest game that we've played since I've been at Stanford. But a wins a win. We'll take it and come back fired up next week. #beatduke— Ben Gardner (@BennyG49) August 31, 2012
Yep, that pretty much sums it up.
In what had me thinking, and I'm sure many of you out there reading this, about that disastrous UC Davis game from 2005, Stanford nearly gave away a game it should have been winning by several touchdowns in the second half. The lauded defensive line? Definitely nowhere near being in the top half of the Pac-12 right now. The offensive line? The running game was basically shut down the second half, so what does that say? The Wildcat? If it's not going to work against SJSU, Coach Shaw, it's not going to work later in the season.
The San Jose St. Spartans are not the same team they were last year when they rolled over and played dead for a top-10 ranked Stanford team that beat them 57-3. This team looked worked up, energized, and ready to play this year. Their passing, led by junior transfer David Fales, was leaps and bounds better than last year's season opener. In fact, San Jose State actually outgained Stanford in yardage 288-280. If it wasn't for a seemingly miraculous interception by junior free safety Ed Reynolds on San Jose State's final drive, coupled with former goat Jordan Williamson hitting on all his kicks (save for a kickoff that went out of bounds), this very well could have been a story about Stanford dropping its first ever Friday night home game and first season opener since 2007.
What concerns me the most is Stanford's defense, including its secondary. It actually looks like Stanford regressed in its downfield coverage from last year, if that's even possible. The first half saw Stanford hold SJSU to only a field goal. The offense managed to score two touchdowns on its first two drives while the Spartans were kept well away from the endzone all but once. The second half, though, Fales, along with standout wide receiver Noel Grigsby, made Stanford's safeties and backs look like they were lost, not to mention that the Spartans' running game was given basically rights-of-way down the center of the field. San Jose State came out of the half and scored two touchdowns on their first two drives to tie the score 17-17 by the end of the third quarter. Shaw did make note, at least on defense, that one of the things that he was not pleased with in his postgame press conference on the Pac-12 Networks was that his linemen were staying blocked -- it's alright to get blocked, but unacceptable to stay blocked.
Compounding the problem was the Cardinal's inability to get anything on the ground offensively in the second half. It wasn't that Stepfan Taylor and Anthony Wilkerson weren't getting the ball enough. Together, the running backs carried the ball 32 times for 147 yards. Averaged out, though, they got approximately 4.25 yards per carry. Usually this would be a relatively decent run, but when you're given a running play on 3rd and long, just over four yards isn't going to get you the first down. Another interesting rushing stat: Stanford ran for only 34 yards in the final two quarters. Coach Shaw or whoever was calling those rushing plays needs to reevaluate their decisions or reevaluate their guys on the OLine.
This game didn't stink completely, though. Josh Nunes showed himself to be a capable game manager for the most part. Did he throw some bad throws? Yeah. Did he make some bad decisions? Sure. Was he slow to get the ball out of his hands, even under pressure? More than once. But no one can expect Nunes to be the second coming of Luck, especially in his first career start. For the challenges he was given today (following Luck on the Farm, Shaw starting 10 true freshmen after playing only four all last year), Nunes wasn't all that bad. Going 16-25 in his first start actually proved to be a better efficiency mark than Andrew Luck had in his debut against Washington State in 2009. Even though the close game may not quiet those "experts" who say Stanford has no chance at being good without Luck this year, I feel reasonably confident about having Nunes under center this year.
Another standout player was Usua Amanam. If you had the opportunity to see the game, you'd see what I mean. His name kept popping up during the game while Stanford was on defense. He's going to be an amazing guy as the season goes on. The Senior nickelback had a game-best 4 tackles for a loss of 23 yards, and two sacks for a loss of 17 yards. Amanam almost carried the entire defense on his back during the fourth quarter. He even threw in a fumble recovery to boot.
Stanford football is back, and by the looks of it, still needs to dust some cobwebs off. This was not a pretty win, by any account. If you're having lumps in your stomach watching the first game of the season against a team that won only four games last season that you beat by 54 points, that's not a good thing. Going 2-13 on third down, being outthrown by 91 yards at home, and a defense falling flat on its face after being called one of the best in the country is bad news. Suddenly Duke (!) at home is no longer an assured victory. They did, after all, grab a pick-6 from Luck and gave the Cardinal fits last year. It's going to be a long week, but Stanford has eight days to regroup, recompose itself, and look a whole heck of a lot better than it did against San Jose State.