Saturday, September 3, 2011
Shaw: Maturity leads to continuity
By Kevin Gemmell
PALO ALTO, Calif. -- In the first 30 minutes of Saturday's season opener -- despite holding a 27-3 lead -- the Stanford Cardinal showed their immaturity.
Seven carries inside the San Jose State red zone produced a mere 5 yards scattered over four possessions. Two of the carries went for a loss. If not for quarterback Andrew Luck's 1-yard touchdown run, the running game would have been blanked in the first half at Stanford Stadium.
In the following 30 minutes of Saturday's season opener -- this time with a 29-3 lead -- the Stanford Cardinal showed their maturity.
Running back Stepfan Taylor plowed ahead from 3 yards out for a touchdown midway through the third quarter. And the Stanford sideline started to exhale.
A revamped Stanford offensive line kept prized quarterback Andrew Luck from getting sacked against San Jose State.
"I made a statement to the coaches that we were going to run the ball into the end zone," said first-year Stanford coach David Shaw. "We needed that as an offensive line. Our fullback needed that. Stepfan needed that. We need to run the ball physically into the end zone and we did that."
Tough to call a touchdown that puts you ahead 36-3 a "turning point."
But it was.
"Coach came up to me and said, 'What do you want to do?'" said tackle Jonathan Martin, one of two returning starters on the offensive line from last year's 12-1 squad. "I told him we have to run the power. It's a simple guard pull, but that's what we go to when we need to get things going."
That's the veteran leadership Shaw is looking for as his team moves forward with national championship aspirations.
The Cardinal (1-0) cruised to a 57-3 victory. By halftime, the only real drama was whether San Jose State would take the Interstate 280 or Highway 101 from Palo Alto back to downtown San Jose. It's a push on Googlemaps. About 30 minutes either way depending on traffic.
But today's game was more about Shaw finding out what his team is made of -- particularly running the ball.
"That's where we start," Shaw said. "That's our attitude. That's our scheme. That's the heartbeat of everything we do. This is our first victory. And it didn't come perfectly. But it's a stepping stone and hopefully we'll do better next week."
Left guard David Yankey, center Sam Schwartzstein and right tackle Cameron Fleming are the newcomers to the offensive line -- joining Martin and David DeCastro, all-conference performers last year. And it took some time for the continuity to kick in. It's going to take more time.
"The biggest jump is between Week 1 and Week 2," Martin said.
But they also did a lot of things right. They kept Luck clean and sack-free, allowing the Heisman favorite to throw for 171 yards and two touchdowns on 17-of-26 passing.
"That's important, given who we have at quarterback," Shaw said.
Luck said he expected some first-game jitters from the offense, specifically his re-vamped line.
"I think they started to realize everything in the second half," Luck said. "It's one play at a time. Do my job and everyone around me is going to do their job and we'll get something done. I think that was a big step in terms of building that continuity up."
After rushing for 64 yards in the first half, they came back with 77 yards in the second half -- including a pair of touchdowns from Taylor and another from running back Tyler Gaffney.
Continuity is important -- given the transitions this team has endured since last year's 40-12 romp over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. There's a new head coach; rebuilt offensive and defensive lines; new starters at wide receiver.
But there is also Luck. And linebacker Shayne Skov. And linebacker Chase Thomas. And Taylor.
"Our maturity is the biggest thing we have going for us," Shaw said. "We have athletes and we're pretty deep at some positions. We have guys that don't let the game get too big or let the outside influences affect us. Leaders like (safety) Michael Thomas, Skov and Luck. Those guys were here when it wasn't pretty. We weren't ranked and nobody was patting them on the back. They remember that. They'll take the praise, but then they'll turn around and put their heads back on."
That being said, there were certainly first-game mistakes that must be corrected looking forward.
"We had a lot of guys who were unsatisfied with the performance today," Shaw said. "We put our hands on three balls we should have caught. That's not us. We missed a couple of blocks up front. That's not us. Our running back got hit behind the line a couple of times. That never happens to us."
Tough to be unhappy about 8-for-8 on red zone opportunities. Tough to be unhappy with a 54-point victory. But they were.
Mature teams usually aren't happy until the season is over and there's a No. 1 next to their name.