Stanford football game day is finally upon us, and the matchup is more intriguing than most openers. In 2012, San Jose State gave the Cardinal a serious run for its money before a final comeback attempt fell short.
Though the Spartans lost their head coach to Colorado, the return of star quarterback David Fales and his top four receivers should give San Jose State some hope of a repeat performance against the Rose Bowl champions.
This early in the season, it’s hard to pinpoint specific matchups that could be the key to victory. However, there are a few key themes that will make a big difference in this game and, for Stanford, the season as a whole. Here are the three that will be the most important:
Finishing in the backfield
Stanford’s “Party in the backfield” theme for the 2012 season didn’t have the most promising beginning. Though the Cardinal was able to apply almost constant pressure on Fales from the start, Stanford’s defenders struggled to bring down the shifty quarterback for actual sacks. The Cardinal finished with only three sacks, two of them coming from then-senior nickel back Usua Amanam.
Let me be clear, Stanford’s defense does not deserve the blame for San Jose State almost upsetting the Cardinal. But with Stanford’s size advantage and ability to generate constant pressure, Fales should have been brought down more than three times.
Now, with San Jose State needing to replace its left tackle David Quessenberry who left for the NFL, there are even fewer obstacles for the pass rush. So even if the Cardinal offense starts the season off with another shaky performance, Stanford’s ability to finish in the backfield should be enough to ward off the pesky Spartans.
Can Stanford’s young receivers live up to potential?
This matchup might be important tonight, but it will be even more crucial in the long run. You’re going to see a new look Stanford offense tonight. For all of 2012, especially under Hogan, tight end Zach Ertz was the star, the go-to target in the passing game. Now he’s playing with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Though one of Hogan’s favorite targets, fifth-year senior fullback Ryan Hewitt, returns, the rest of the offense will look very different. There is no lack of talent at receiver — junior Ty Montgomery, junior Devon Cajuste, sophomore Michael Rector and sophomore Kodi Whitfield have received consistent praise from coaches and teammates throughout the offseason — but there has been very little proven production.
Tonight is the first stage of the test for these four. Stanford might not need success from that group tonight to beat the Spartans, but to win the conference and reach the BCS National Championship, the Cardinal will need to develop a strong offense starting with its group of talented, yet unproven weapons. Look for Whitfield to make a strong first impression tonight and Montgomery to begin to show signs of his 2011 form.
Stanford’s cornerback depth versus San Jose State’s receiving corps
This is the one spot where the Spartans could actually take it to Stanford. San Jose State has two of the most productive wide receivers in all of college football in Noel Grigsby and Chandler Jones, and Stanford has only one Alex Carter at cornerback. I’m not worried about Carter, who played like a senior last season when he was just a true freshman, but that second corner slot is unproven.
Junior Wayne Lyons will get the start, but seniors Devon Carrington and Barry Browning may also get time behind him. All three have shown brief moments of greatness in their time at Stanford, yet none of them make me comfortable against great receivers, which the Spartans have. One of those three will have to step up and perhaps separate himself from the pack to earn more playing time as the season goes on.
Contact Sam Fisher at safisher ‘at’ stanford.edu.