STANFORD (CBS/AP) — Shayne Skov felt helpless in his dorm room watching Stanford squeak out a 20-17 win over San Jose State in last season’s opener while serving a one-game suspension for a DUI arrest.
The offense struggled for long stretches under new quarterback Josh Nunes. But the linebacker’s frustration really simmered when junior college transfer David Fales started carving up the Cardinal defense in the second half.
“It was probably worse than when I was hurt because at least then I was on the field,” Skov said. “Just that disconnect from being able to help people you care about, it was tough.”
With last year’s memory still fresh, Skov and the fifth-ranked Cardinal promise to be ready for San Jose State (1-0) when the Rose Bowl champions open their season late Saturday night at Stanford Stadium. They know now that this is not the same Spartans squad Stanford steamrolled 57-3 two years ago.
“We’re aware of the talent they have,” he said.
The Spartans, who handled FCS foe Sacramento State 24-0 in their opener, are out to prove last season was no fluke. They won a school-record tying 11 games and finished ranked No. 24 in the final AP poll—the school’s first ranking since 1975 — in large part because of Fales, who led the nation with a 72.5 percent completion percentage while throwing for 4,193 yards and 33 touchdowns.
But Fales will always look at the Stanford game as a missed opportunity. He completed 24 of 35 passes for 217 yards and a TD before throwing an interception at Stanford’s 45-yard-line with a little more than a minute remaining.
“We were like, ‘We’re right there. We can get this,”’ Fales said. “We needed to learn how to finish. If we were in that situation later on in the season, it would have been a different outcome.”
Here are five things to watch when Stanford and San Jose State meet again:
1. QB PLAY. The main reason the game was so close last year was the disparity in quarterback play. While Fales was nearly flawless for San Jose State, Stanford’s offense was 2 of 13 on third down and often looked lost under Nunes. That was not the case late last season, when Kevin Hogan took over at quarterback and led wins over four ranked teams—including at top-ranked Oregon—before beating Wisconsin for Stanford’s first Rose Bowl victory in 41 years.
2. DAUNTING DEFENSE. Fales will have his hands full against a much more experienced defense. The Cardinal led the Pac-12 in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense, sacks and tackles for loss last season. They return nine of 11 starters and go two deep at nearly every position. “Stanford is stockpiled with future NFL players,” said new San Jose State coach Ron Caragher, who was hired after Mike MacIntyre left for Colorado in December. “Defensively, that’s how you would draft a defense.”
3. CATCHING ON. The Cardinal are counting on almost all new wide receivers and tight ends. The only player who caught a touchdown pass last season was fullback Ryan Hewitt, who had one. Luke Kaumatule, who has never caught a pass, will start at tight end. Freshmen Eric Cotton, Austin Hooper and Eric Taboada also could see time at the position. As far as wide receivers, junior Ty Montgomery is healthy again and hoping to rebound from a sophomore slump. Devon Cajuste, Michael Rector, Kodi Whitfield and Jordan Pratt—who have a combined four catches—will be the other primary receivers.
4. SIMPSON’S SHOT. Fifth-year senior Jason Simpson had only 31 career carries until San Jose State’s season opener. After starter Tyler Ervin left the game with an undisclosed lower-leg injury, Simpson finished with 135 yards on 21 carries, including a dazzling 55-yard TD run. He will need a repeat performance to help open up the field for Fales. “It’s great to see a fifth-year senior having a great night,” Caragher said. “We need him to have a great season.”
5. RUNNING CARDINAL. Stanford ran the ball 57.9 percent of the time last season and will rely on as many as six running backs to carry the load with Stepfan Taylor—the school’s career rushing leader—playing for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals now. Anthony Wilkerson and Tyler Gaffney, who returns for his final season of eligibility after playing baseball in the minors last year, will be the primary running backs. The transition without Taylor should be eased behind a stacked offensive line, which should be one of the best in the country again. Of course, as last season’s opener showed, preseason projections can change in a hurry. “One of the things I’ve learned,” Stanford coach David Shaw said, “is you don’t really know what your team is until you start playing football games.”
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