Stanford head coach David Shaw was uninspired in his press conference following the Cardinal’s 20-17 victory over the San Jose State Spartans on Friday night.

“They played well, we didn’t play as well,” Shaw said. “We played hard, we didn’t play smart. We missed some critical blocks in short yardage situations, which is inexcusable.”

The team that stepped out on the field at Stanford Stadium last night looked a lot like the 2011 squad manned by Andrew Luck… for the first 10 minutes, anyway. What followed looked like a team in transition, and one that will have a hard time keeping up with Pac-12 powers like Oregon and USC.

The opening drive, powered mostly by tough running from Stepfan Taylor, saw the Cardinal march down the field easily for an easy 1-yd touchdown. After the Stanford defense forced the Spartans into a quick 3-and-out, the Cardinal made equally easy work of the Spartans’ defense again, engineering a drive that culminated in a beautiful 11-yd fade pass from Josh Nunes to Drew Terrell.

Stanford’s offense stalled after that; they only managed one field goal in the next two periods and didn’t get into the Spartans’ red zone again until late in the game. Meanwhile, San Jose State started clicking, adding a field goal early in the second quarter and a pair of touchdowns in the third to knot it at 17. But a fourth quarter field goal from Jordan Williamson put the Cardinal ahead by 3, and the Stanford defense kept the Spartans from driving with 2 minutes left in the game. Ultimately the Cardinal hung on, winning their first game in the post-Luck era.

Stanford noteCard 

- Nunes was no Andrew Luck last night, but he was solid overall in his first college start. He went 16-for-26 for 125 yards with the aforementioned touchdown. Coach Shaw and offensive coordinator (now ironically named the ‘Andrew Luck Director of the Offense’) Pep Hamilton were cautious with Nunes, relying heavily on the run for most of the game. The passes that Nunes did throw included a lot of short outs to wide receivers, especially early on; there wasn’t a ton of deep passing from the senior in this game.

- This wasn’t Stepfan Taylor’s most explosive outting, but the Cardinal halfback was efficient nonetheless. He got a Gore-esque share of the offensive load, carrying the ball 26 times for 116 yds (4.5 avg) and a touchdown.

- The offense that was so effective in Stanfords’ first two touchdown drives looked awfully familiar – it was a complex combination of personnel groupings, often with two tight ends and three back sets. Stanford rushed the ball a lot behind pulling offensive linemen and complicated blocking schemes, something that San Jose State had trouble defending at times. Former head coach Jim Harbaugh may have taken his offensive acumen to the 49ers, but much of his philosophy still remains on the farm.

- Speaking of the offensive line, Stanford’s new group of guards and tackles did a good job protecting Nunes and opening holes for Taylor, especially early on. Shaw wasn’t impressed with the blocking in short yardage situations, as was pointed out in his earlier quotes. Hopefully the squad will gel as the season continues, because this is a team whose only blocking incumbent is their starter center, Sam Schwartzstein.

- The Stanford defense took a step back Friday night, and that’s not surprising after losing several key players to the NFL. Their secondary got attacked regularly, allowing Spartans’ quarterback David Fales to go 24-for-35 for 216 yards and a touchdown. SJSU actually outgained Stanford 288-280 on the game.

- Coach Shaw attributed some of the Cardinals’ defensive woes to the front seven. “(The front-seven didn’t play) up to their capabilities,” Shaw said. “I told them flat out after the game that they are much better than the execution of what was out there. The group that we have out there… those guys shouldn’t stay blocked. It’s one thing to get blocked, it’s another thing to stay blocked.”

 

- Stanford should see the defense improve with the return of linebacker Shayne Skov, who sat out of the game last night while serving a one-game suspension for a DUI arrest back in December. He will return to action next Saturday when the Cardinal take on the Duke Blue Devils.