Published September 08, 2013
STANFORD, Calif. – Pick a moment.
Ty Montgomery lowering his shoulder and plowing through Jimmy Pruitt — popping the cornerback's helmet off in the collision — to complete a 17-yard touchdown reception. Tyler Gaffney bouncing off a defender and dragging another into the end zone. Trent Murphy manhandling linemen for a pair of sacks.
Yup, the same physical formula that carried Stanford to a Rose Bowl victory and Pac-12 title looked as steady as ever in a season-opening 34-13 victory over San Jose State late Saturday night.
"There are not a lot of teams that look like us anymore, and that's fine. We don't live on stats," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "We don't work on trying to score as many points as we can. We want to control the ball. We want to score on every possession. We want to play great defense."
For the most part, Shaw's squad did.
The Cardinal controlled the flow from start to finish, something they failed to do while squeaking out a 20-17 victory over the upstart Spartans in last season's opener. While the competition will surely get tougher in the weeks ahead, Stanford appears ready to live up to its lofty preseason expectations.
They began by answering some of the looming questions about replacing starters at running back, wide receiver and tight end.
Gaffney ran for 104 yards and two touchdowns in his first game back after playing baseball in the minors last year. Devon Cajuste, who had one career reception entering this season, caught three passes from Kevin Hogan for 60 yards and a TD. And Montgomery, saddled most of his sophomore year with a partially torn ligament in his knee, finished with four catches for 81 yards and his first since touchdown since the 2012 Fiesta Bowl — when Andrew Luck was quarterback.
"They have a chance to be pretty good," Shaw said of his revamped receiving corps.
The tight ends, which have been the staple of Stanford's offense the past few seasons, appear headed for a different role with All-American Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo in the NFL. Luke Kaumatule and Charlie Hopkins each caught one pass — their first career receptions — but didn't do much else besides block as Stanford utilized its wide receivers more.
One thing still remains a constant: an intimidating defense.
The Cardinal's relentless rush sacked David Fales four times and never allowed the nation's most efficient passer last season to let loose. Fales was forced to throw mostly short and intermediate passes, completing 29 of 43 for 216 yards and a touchdown with one interception.
The Spartans (1-1), which won a school-record tying 11 games last season and entered the AP poll for the first time since 1975, were held to 35 yards rushing and converted just 3 of 12 third downs. Even so, allowing 251 total yards had some Stanford defensive players steaming about too many missed tackles and too many opportunities to get off the field faster — surely a sign of a senior-stacked team.
"I thought we played average at best," said Murphy, who had two sacks.
Shaw, for a change, seemed more pleased than his players.
"We tightened up in the red zone. Played great red-zone defense, which is one of our calling cards," Shaw said. "We don't worry about what happens between the points. If we keep them out of the end zone, our defense will keep them out of the end zone on offense and we'll win games."
The only major mistake came when backup quarterback Dallas Lloyd lost the ball on a play-action keeper at San Jose State's 33. But the Cardinal defense quickly corrected the error.
Ed Reynolds intercepted a pass from Fales — just as he did in the fourth quarter last season — to give Stanford its 25th straight game with a least one takeaway, the longest active streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Stanford plays at Army on Saturday in a final tuneup before Pac-12 play. After that, the Cardinal's competition will increasingly get tougher — starting with Arizona State on Sept. 21 — and players know they must improve, too.
"Happy to get the win, but on Monday, Tuesday, we need to do a lot more tackling drills and things like that," Reynolds said. "I mean, coverage is going really well. We had a lot of pressure on the quarterback and throwing the ball. But it was fun. But I wouldn't say we played our best out there."
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP