Sunday, September 8, 2013
Stanford sticks to winning formula
By Kyle Bonagura
STANFORD, Calif. -- At a place where complex formulas are commonplace, Stanford coach David Shaw prefers simplicity. Power runs plus tough defense equals victory.
It was the equation the Cardinal used in trips to BCS bowls the last three years and remained the same in Saturday's season-opening 34-13 win against San Jose State before a sold-out crowd of 50,424 at Stanford Stadium.
"We don't live on stats. We don't worry about trying to score as many points as we can," Shaw said. "We want to control the ball. We want to score on every possession and we want to play great defense."
No. 5 Stanford (1-0) didn't score every time it touched the ball, but none of its nine possessions ended with a punt. There was a missed field goal, a fumble and a kneel-down, but the Cardinal was 12-of-15 on third down as it slowly beat San Jose State (1-1) into submission.
"From the teams that I watched play last week and earlier today, there are not a lot of teams that look like us anymore," Shaw said, "and that's fine."
He and new offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren, who replaced Pep Hamilton after he accepted the same role with the Indianapolis Colts, are doing their best to keep the huddle and fullbacks off college football's list of extinction. Other schools are speeding it up and spreading it out; Stanford is slowing it down and packing it in. It continuously trotted out packages of seven and eight offensive lineman to plow the way for Tyler Gaffney, who made his return from professional baseball.
A year ago at this time, Gaffney had just wrapped up a successful first year in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. But after hitting .297 and getting on base at a .483 clip, Gaffney realized getting hit by pitches -- 20 times in 38 games in the New York-Penn League -- wasn't as rewarding as hitting the hole behind a pulling guard.
He reaffirmed the decision was correct while running for 104 yards and a pair of touchdowns on a career-high 20 carries.
"The first drive out there, I was light-headed, didn't have my legs under me," Gaffney said. "There were some butterflies, but after that, I started picking up things and felt more comfortable. It was like riding a bike."
Stanford is expected to employ more of a running back-by-committee following the graduation of all-time leading rusher Stepfan Taylor, but that wasn't the case Saturday. Gaffney carried the load for the first three quarters before Anthony Wilkerson added four of his nine carries in the fourth.
Shaw made it clear that won't always be the case.
"[Gaffney] was great when he came back. And I don't want to completely make this the Gaffney show," Shaw said. "I thought Wilkerson ran great as well. There were about three plays that should have been big hits for him early on also, that just didn't block well, guys got off the block.
"I really believe there are going to be times when Wilkerson has a day just like [Gaffney's]. I can't wait for that day as well."
Defensively, Stanford's plan was to give San Jose State quarterback David Fales underneath throws while taking away everything deep. The strategy allowed Fales, who led the nation in completion percentage a year ago, to complete 29 of 43 passes, but they yielded just 216 yards.
Shaw came away pleased with his defense and impressed, again, with Fales.
"David Fales is a phenomenal quarterback. He is outstanding. You know, it's special when you see a guy that can throw the ball the way he throws it," Shaw said. "With a guy like that, you've got to play smart, try to keep the ball in front of him."
Safety Ed Reynolds picked off Fales to extend Stanford's takeaway streak to a national-best 25 games, but was left with mixed emotions in regards to the way his unit played.
"To be honest, I felt on the defensive side of the ball, we played average out there," he said. "I'm not sure if we had it tonight, kind of difficult for us."
The game likely marks the end of the Bill Walsh Legacy Game for the foreseeable future. The Silicon Valley schools, which have now played 67 times -- with Stanford holding a 52-14-1 edge -- aren't scheduled to play in the future.
Stanford will look to extend its winning streak to 10 next week at Army -- its lone road nonconference game of the year.