Take the Physical Advantage to the Perimeter
Given Stanford's size advantage, the formula to beat San Jose State 34-13 was not complicated. As expected, the Cardinal had little trouble asserting their will at the line of scrimmage. The Spartans rushed for only 35 yards on 23 carries (an average of 1.5 yards per carry) while the Farm Boys dropped quarterback David Fales five times. Trent Murphy, in particular, looked as strong and explosive as ever in his successful quests to pulverize the passer.
The final trick would be to shift the physical dominance to the perimeter, where the Spartans challenged with a quartet of talented receivers, including active FBS catch leader Noel Grigsby. Here, the job to contain San Jose State's quickness was obviously more difficult. But since the Spartans barely cracked six feet in height with only one of their wideouts, Stanford's size advantage remained significant. Grigsby (6 catches, 55 yards, TD), Jabari Carr (8 catches, 36 yards), and Chandler Jones (5 catches, 43 yards) all had some success, but the Cardinal's physicality in the secondary eventually won out. San Jose quarterback David Fales averaged only 5.02 yards per attempt. The Spartans collectively only gained 3.7 yards per play.
Fales himself admitted that Stanford forced San Jose State to dink and dunk its way to any progress. The Spartans' longest pass play went for only 18 yards, and they're normally an explosive unit. As much as some folks may have wanted a completely suffocating Cardinal defensive performance, expecting so against an NFL-caliber talent like Fales was simply unrealistic. Two of his two biggest passing plays came on perfect throws to Grigsby against Alex Carter downfield, while Billy Freeman's sensational one-handed grab netted another longer gain. Stanford could only tip its hat after those impressive bursts. But immediately afterward, the Farm Boys always clamped down and suffocated the dangerous Spartans' offense.
Grade: A- (13 points, 251 total yards allowed: Consider it a solid opening act. Stanford players thought they were a bit 'soft' defensively, so there's some room to grow, but that makes their game one performance all the more encouraging)
Deliver Downfield: Loosen the Box
For anyone that suffered through the ordeal of watching the Stanford offense throughout the first two-thirds of last season, the 2013 season opener's playcalling aggressiveness and relatively crisp execution was a wonderful sight to behold. Last year, the Josh Nunes-led attack produced a measly 4.8 yards per attempt. The Cardinal converted only 2 of 13 third downs. This season, Kevin Hogan delivered 7.7 yards per attempt, and Stanford converted 12-of-15 third downs.
The primary reason behind this massive improvement was the Cardinal's credible downfield passing attack. Devon Cajuste's coming out party (3 catches, 62 yards) included an early 40-yard touchdown off playaction that dissuaded the Spartans from stacking the box in the same way that they had in 2012. Ty Montgomery's explosive four-catch, 81-yard effort added another downfield dimension to Stanford's offense. The newfound balance got the job done: A year after averaging only 3.8 yards per carry against San Jose State (and only 2.6 in the second half), Stanford gained 4.8 per rush on the game Saturday. Tyler Gaffney (20 carries, 104 yards, 5.2 average) and Anthony Wilkerson (9 carries, 65 yards, 7.2 average) both enjoyed ample running room.
Grade: B+ (Stanford racked up 404 yards of total offense a year after gaining only 288 versus San Jose State. Hogan overthrew a trio of deep passes, so there's still room for improvement, but the explosiveness of the Cardinal's offense showed assuaged many worries)
Translate the Win from Paper to the Field
The Farm Boys were, on average, over 20 pounds heavier at a handful of key positions on the football field. Crisp execution would be enough to win handily, and it earned Stanford a three-touchdown win over quality opponent that ultimately didn't have the size to keep up. Sure, Dallas Lloyd did fumble once, and Hogan must work to fix his overthrow issues on go patterns.
But at the end of the day, Stanford never punted, they never surrendered a sack, and they delivered a well-balanced (207 passing yards, 197 rushing yards) victory to set an excellent tone for the 2013 campaign. Now comes a chance to work out the early kinks. Rest assured, the Cardinal is worlds ahead of where it was at this time last year.
Grade: B+ (Stanford was solid, but not flawless, in all three phases of the game)
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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