1. San Jose State only manages 300 yards, and has to fight for them
Last year (box score here), Stanford jumped to a comfortable 17-3 halftime lead. Then, in a telling sign of what the next two months had in store, the offense disappeared. The Cardinal could manage only 104 yards in the second half, punted on four of six drives, and yielded all of a field goal. It was just enough for a 20-17 win, with the defense forcing two second-half turnovers to make up for the two touchdowns allowed.
In this year's matchup, we're expecting much more from Stanford's offense, both because the Cardinal attack should be much better and because San Jose State should take a step back after a top-25 season. But defensively, last year's performance is a fair baseline. San Jose State managed only 288 yards in the 2012 game, with just 72 yards on 27 carries. The 17 points allowed is better than it sounds too, considering five of Stanford's 11 drives took less than 90 seconds off the clock.
Stanford's defense hopes to make the jump from great to elite in 2013. If they can replicate last year's results this weekend, against a senior quarterback (David Fales) with a game already under his belt, they'll be off to a fine start. Target: 300 yards and 14 points allowed
2. Offense: Ugly, but it works
Early-season cobwebs are more apparent on this side of the ball, Kevin Hogan is just a sophomore, and the unit is breaking in new starters at several positions. Plus, even after Hogan took over the reins, last year's offense was perhaps top-25 caliber, but not a top-10 unit.
Thus, inconsistency is okay, at least for week one, but Stanford fans would be heartened to see some evidence that this year will be different. Maybe one or more of the key new faces can have a breakout game, be it a running back, a receiver, or Luke Kaumatule. Maybe the offensive line can plow, plow, plow their undersized opponents into oblivion, with Khalil Wilkes looking particularly comfortable at center.
So there will be sputters, there may be turnovers, there may be stalls in the red zone, but show us something, offense. With a fan base more optimistic than ever before in school history, you don't need to hang 50 to keep us believing this could be the year (though we wouldn't complain). And again, it's okay if you shoot yourselves in the foot a few times, this being week one and San Jose State being sneaky good. But we'd like see to you move the ball, and, against a squad that a top-five team should have its way with, generally look the part. Target: 450 yards, 35 points and someone breaking out (a wide receiver?)
3. A Night of Big Plays
There's major overlap with the offensive targets here, though obviously the defense and special teams can contribute to this metric as well. Stanford these past few seasons has ground it out; they have plodded; they have methodically worn down opponents. That's all well and good, but a truly elite team will also have the ability to pack an explosive burst or two. I trust the defense can continue in Ed Reynolds' big-play mold, but I miss Chris Owusu returning kickoffs for touchdowns (not to mention, stretching the field on offense) [Ed: it's a stated Stanford goal that Ty Montgomery provide an Owusu-like jolt on kick returns]. Stanford, we're told, has more speed than ever before on the roster, be it in the secondary, at wide out, or in the backfield. Not only should the Cardinal exploit their size advantage against the Spartans, but hopefully the speed gap as well.
Target: Two big plays that don't come from the defense (a relatively known quantity). A blocked kick, a kickoff return past midfield, a punt return that breaks free, an offensive touchdown of over 25 yards, or an offensive gain of over 40 yards all qualify.
4. Cardinal in Control
Combining the over/under and the line, Vegas calls for a 38-11 Cardinal victory. Admittedly, whether Stanford covers that final margin can be fluky, especially in a game in which backup players figure to see action. Still, as a near four-touchdown favorite, Stanford should look in control if it's half the team we think it could be. Plus, given the gauntlet the Cardinal face in the months to come, the more game action the backups can see, the better.
Target: A 20-plus point lead by the third quarter, allowing the second- and third-teamers see plenty of action. Unlike last year's squeaker, which portended offensive troubles ahead, we're looking for an emphatic win that leaves no doubt.
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