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September 1, 2012

Stanford slips by Spartans

Stanford's first game of the Josh Nunes era looked an awful lot like many games with Andrew Luck at the helm - for about the first 11 minutes of Friday night's surprisingly close 20-17 win over San Jose State.

Nunes engineered scoring drives on Stanford's first two possessions, but the Cardinal's offense stalled for much of the evening. Stanford scored only six points in the game's final 49:37, and was actually outgained by San Jose State 288-280 on the night.

Few could have imagined that scenario unfolding on an unusually chilly late August evening before an announced crowd of 40,577.

Not surprisingly, Stanford coach David Shaw was decidedly lukewarm about his team's performance in the postgame press conference.

"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 Positives

Although there was a general sense of disappointment in the postgame media interviews, there were a few positives.

-By and large, Josh Nunes had a solid game. The first-time starter went 16-26 for 125 yards and a touchdown in his collegiate debut. He also threw a perfect strike to Ty Montgomery in the fourth quarter which could have easily been a Cardinal touchdown, or, at the minimum, a long reception.

After the game, Shaw said that Nunes "played great…. He got us to the right plays. He was spot on there. I'm very proud of him. He never flinched all game. He didn't play like a first-year starter, he played like the senior that he was. I was very pleased with his performance."

-Usua Amanam was everywhere on Friday night. He recorded a team-high four tackles for loss, including two sacks, from the nickel position.

Shaw lavished Amanam with heavy praise during the coach's postgame press conference.

"I'll tell you what, Usua is the name whenever you guys have asked during training camp, I kind of spit that name out, and you saw why," Shaw said. "He's quick, he's explosive, and he's not the biggest guy, but he's about the most determined guy. He did a great job for us on offense when he was on offense two years ago. We flipped him over, it took him about a year really to understand what to do on defense and how to do it. He has all the physical tools to play that nickel position. He could play corner if he wanted to, but I was excited to see him go after it tonight. He played a great game."

-Nearly eight months after enduring heartbreak in the Fiesta Bowl, Jordan Williamson was solid all night for the Cardinal. Aside from one kickoff that sailed out of bounds, Williamson helped limit the Spartans on kickoff attempts while making both of his field goal attempts, including a career-long 46-yarder

"He's healthy, he's confident, he's kicking the ball extremely well," Shaw said. "Outside of the one kickoff I thought he had a heck of night."

-Although the run blocking left much to be desired, Nunes didn't absorb many hits. The Spartans managed only one sack, and Nunes was kept upright for most of the evening. Much of the credit for that has to go to redshirt sophomore David Yankey, who saw the majority of snaps at left tackle.

Negatives

-After the first few drives, Stanford had trouble moving the ball at all on offense. The Cardinal gained 131 yards over its first two drives but under 200 the rest of the game.

"They made some adjustments, which always happens," Shaw said. "We made some adjustments after that. And then honestly, we made a lot of mistakes. There were plays that we made in the first half that were the same call against the same defense and their guy beat our guy."

Shaw added that the coaching staff would look at the film to determine whether any schematic or tactical changes are needed on offense.

-After an offseason of hype and high expectation, Stanford's defensive front-seven wasn't all that disruptive on Friday night. The Cardinal's rush defense played well, limiting San Jose State to 2.7 yards per rush attempt, but the pass rush was virtually non-existent for much of the evening.

"(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, I don't need to say the names, you guys know all the names, those guys shouldn't stay blocked. It's one thing to get blocked, it's another thing to stay blocked."

-Neither Ty Montgomery nor Alex Carter did much of anything in the kick return game. The duo combined to average 13.3 yards per return.

-Perhaps the most disturbing statistic of the night was Stanford's success on third down: 2-13. The Cardinal did convert two fourth down plays, but its third down efficiency must improve for the team to be successful this season.

Other Notes

-Four true freshmen played for Stanford in 2011. 10 saw the field in the season opener against San Jose State last night - Reed Miller, Kodi Whitfield, Joshua Garnett, Andrus Peat, Kyle Murphy, Luke Kaumatule, Blake Martinez, Alex Carter, Drew Madhu, and Zach Hoffpauir.

"We've recruited very well and I told these guys that we didn't recruit them to sit on the bench," Shaw said. "If they can help us play, if they're physically, mentally and emotionally ready to play, we're going to play them and we expect them to play well."

-Somewhat surprisingly, neither Murphy nor Peat saw much time at left tackle. While Garnett and Murphy played a significant amount of snaps in the Hulk formation, Peat didn't play at all on offense that I can recall, instead seeing time only on the field goal block team.

-Notably, Stanford didn't have any snapping issues in the punting or kicking game. That has to be reassuring to the Stanford coaching staff, who is breaking in a new long snapper this year.

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