Saturday’s 8 p.m. PT kickoff between Stanford and San Jose State ensures that the Cardinal, who had a Week 1 bye, will be the last team in college football to start its season. So yeah … Stanford’s players are more than a little anxious to get going.
“I was 50-50 before but now I’m in favor of playing (in Week 1),” Stanford head coach David Shaw said. “It’s hard not to play when other people are playing -- especially the start of a season. The start of the season has such a buildup. We’re antsy.”
Shaw split last Saturday watching games and pulling dad duty. Most of his players rallied around TVs and watched games with as critical of an eye as possible. Still, others were so focused on Stanford’s Week 1 that they failed to realize it was actually college football’s Week 1.
“I didn’t even realize the season started on Saturday until I turned on the TV and saw College Football Live,” defensive back Usua Amanam said. “It was awesome. I love watching football.”
Now he gets to play some, finally, with a familiar foe coming to town. Last year the Spartans pushed the Cardinal in the opener. Not that the Cardinal took SJSU lightly last year, but they probably weren’t expecting Mike MacIntyre’s team to come out with such tenacity. A fourth quarter field goal was the difference in Stanford’s 20-17 victory.
“We were ill-prepared,” Amanam said. “They came out fast and punched us a couple of times in the mouth. It wasn’t until the third or fourth quarter that we realized we were in a dog fight. Looking back at that game will help prepare us better for this year.”
It’s also, for the foreseeable future, the last Bill Walsh Legacy game on the schedule. Whether the game will/should continue in the future has added a little fuel to the rivalry in the Bay Area media this week.
The Spartans are led by new head coach Ron Caragher. Ironically enough, Caragher replaced Jim Harbaugh and Shaw -- Harbaugh’s assistant -- at the University of San Diego after Harbaugh left for Stanford.
“We met for the first time at the Bay Area Media Day, about a month ago, which is strange because we know so many of the same people,” Shaw said. “We had never met before or been in the same room before. I feel like I know him because I’ve heard so much about him from guys we’ve both coached at USD as well as other places he’s been.”
Pleasantries aside, the Cardinal will be out to rattle and disrupt Caragher’s QB. San Jose State quarterback David Fales, the most accurate quarterback in FBS last year, is a top priority for the Stanford defense. With some good receivers around him like Noel Grigsby and Chandler Jones, the pressure is on Stanford’s front seven to create some pressure, while the back half of the defense closes up passing lanes.
“He can fit tight balls in,” Shaw said. “He played extremely well (last week) and still had a few balls that were dropped on him that were very well-placed. He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. He’s hard to get to. He sees things quickly and gets the ball out of his hands.”
The Cardinal offense, on the other hand, spent this past week installing new red zone schemes. With some critical weapons -- like running back Stepfan Taylor and tight end Zach Ertz – gone to the NFL, Shaw is looking for the next generation of players to step up.
“We’ve had good receivers, but the guy (Ertz) was phenomenal," Shaw said. "And I loved Coby Fleener. Coby Fleener was special. But I don’t know if I’ve ever been around a guy like Zach that can run all the routes. He’d run every single route the smaller, quicker, faster guys could run and most of the times run them better.”
Expect a heavy rotation of Anthony Wilkerson and Tyler Gaffney at running back, with others trying to carve out their own niche. The maturation of quarterback Kevin Hogan will also be a storyline to watch.
Stanford's defense, which is being heralded as one of the nation’s best, is also looking to make a good first impression.
“We have a chance to do something special this year,” Amanam said. “We want to make the most of the opportunities we have.”