San Jose St.-Stanford Preview
Stanford coach David Shaw spent the first weekend of the season finishing training camp and glancing at games while spending time with his children. Most of his players huddled around televisions in dining halls and dorm rooms. Others had been so focused on practice they forgot the kickoff date.
"I didn't even realize the season started Saturday until I turned on the TV and saw college football live," Stanford nickel cornerback Usua Amanam said.
Everything is back to normal now.
It's finally game week on The Farm again.
After spending the first week of the season on the sidelines, the fifth-ranked Cardinal are set to start at home against San Jose State (1-0) on Saturday night.
The defending Pac-12 and Rose Bowl champions believe watching other teams play could be as much of a benefit as a burden when the horn sounds and they run out of the tunnel to an expected sellout crowd at Stanford Stadium.
Coaches and players had a little extra time to study quarterback David Fales and the Spartans as they blew past Sacramento State 24-0 last Thursday night. They also got a chance to watch teams struggle, including then-No. 25 Oregon State losing 49-46 to Eastern Washington and Kansas State falling 24-21 to North Dakota State.
Even still, nobody really enjoyed being a spectator.
"It was harder than I thought it was going to be," Shaw said. "But we talked about it with the staff, talked about it with the players who wanted to watch with a critical eye and see teams that maybe came out flat or maybe took timeouts because this guy lined up wrong or got motion penalties, etc. We want to make sure we don't start that way. So hopefully we can learn lessons from what others teams did their first game."
The biggest lesson learned might be from the Cardinal's last season opener.
In the first game in three years without Andrew Luck, Stanford squeaked out a 20-17 victory over San Jose State in a game it easily could've - and perhaps should've - lost at home. Fales threw for 217 yards and a touchdown and had the Spartans in position for an upset before Ed Reynolds intercepted his final pass at Stanford's 45-yard line with a little more than a minute remaining.
That was Fales' first game with the Spartans, and the first start for so many others on each team.
"I think this year we're a little more aware of what they're capable of," Amanam said. "We had a chance to watch them against Sacramento State last week. So having a week to prepare for them, in that sense, is going to help us."
Shaw has tried his best to prepare players in practice for the first game they'll face since the Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin on Jan. 1. But he's the first to admit he'll always have some questions and curiosities about his team until the first game has been played, which is something he'd rather not wait so long for in the future.
"I was 50-50 before, but now I'm in favor of playing," Shaw said. "It's hard not to play when other people are playing, especially the start of the season, because the start of the season has such a buildup. And now, not that it's changed anything for us, but we're antsy."
Dual-threat quarterback Kevin Hogan is back after sparking Stanford's surge last season, going 5-0 after taking over for Josh Nunes. Hogan led wins over four ranked teams - including at top-ranked Oregon - before beating the Badgers for Stanford's first Rose Bowl victory in 41 years. The redshirt sophomore will be asked to carry the offense more this season with all new starters at wide receiver, tight end and running back.
All-American tight end Zach Ertz and 6-foot-8 target Levine Toilolo are in the NFL now, while wide receivers Drew Terrell and Jamal-Rashad Patterson also graduated. Along with school-rushing leader Stepfan Taylor, the quintet combined to catch 18 of Stanford's 19 touchdown passes last season.
Stanford is hoping Ty Montgomery, who had a strong freshman season but was saddled most of his sophomore year with a knee injury, will bounce back stronger. Devon Cajuste and Michael Rector, who redshirted last season after tearing the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, both impressed in the spring and could make some noise.
Luke Kaumatule is expected to start at tight end, but the Cardinal are counting on at least one - if not two - highly touted freshmen to emerge from among Eric Cotton, Austin Hooper and Greg Taboada.
With the offense working in new starters, Stanford will need its defense to dominate the way it did last season.
The Cardinal ranked first nationally in sacks (4.07) and second in tackles for loss (8.86) per game. They held opponents to 17.2 points per game, best in the high-scoring Pac-12 and 11th in the nation.
Nine of the 11 starters are back and depth is at an all-time high, especially at linebacker, where Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy anchor the vaunted 3-4 defense.
"They are a physical football team, play multiple linemen," San Jose State coach Ron Caragher said. "In today's day and age of spread offenses they do the opposite. They line up multiple people and power run. It will be a physically challenging game but one we're looking forward to."