STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — David Shaw has never been one to show too much emotion, keeping his cool no matter the circumstances. He heaps praise on players but isn’t afraid to call out poor performances, either.
Late Friday night was different.
Following No. 21 Stanford’s season-opening 20-17 victory over San Jose State, the second-year coach had little patience trying to explain one of the most frustrating games of his tenure. At one point, a reporter asked him if this season might be more fun without No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck, considering the room for growth his young team could make.
“Fun?” Shaw asked. “For whom?”
Certainly not for the coach.
The post-Luck era got off to a disappointing debut, with former backup Josh Nunes throwing for 125 yards and a touchdown, and struggling to move the offense in the running game before getting bailed out by Jordan Williamson’s rejuvenated right foot.
Williamson kicked a career-long 46-yard field goal and the go-ahead score from 20 yards to save Stanford from what would’ve been a stunning start to this season.
“It was real close,” senior running back Stepfan Taylor said. “But close will get you beat in a heartbeat.”
Williamson, who missed three field goals — including a potential game-winner in regulation — in a 41-38 overtime loss to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2, might have been the only one with a reason to hold his head down following that fantastic effort from both sides.
Now he might be the only Stanford player who should hold his head high after a shaky start this season.
Nunes finished 16 for 26 with no interceptions in place of Luck, but the offense stalled when it counted most — and it almost cost the Cardinal (1-0) dearly against the Spartans (0-1).
“We were close to doing a lot of really good things tonight,” Nunes said. “But close doesn’t always win football games.”
It usually loses them.
The David Fales-Blake Jurich quarterback combo gave Stanford fits until De’Leon Eskridge fumbled in Spartans territory late in the third quarter. That set up Williamson’s tiebreaking kick, giving the redshirt sophomore a small stroke of redemption after months of public silence and tissues and tears back home.
“That shows the kind of person he is,” said Taylor, who ran for 116 yards and a touchdown. “That’s a lot of pressure, and missing them in the Fiesta Bowl you know all the pressure is going to be on him. He’s cold blooded.”
So was San Jose State’s passing game.
Fales threw for 216 yards with one touchdown and an interception that landed in the hands of Ed Reynolds with 71 seconds remaining to seal Stanford’s victory. Jurich ran for 32 yards and a score.
The fight Stanford showed so many times behind Luck dissolved.
With the two-time Heisman Trophy finalist now with the Indianapolis Colts, the Cardinal converted only 2 of 13 third downs (although it was 2 for 3 on fourth downs) and allowed the Spartans to move methodically at times down field. San Jose State outgained Stanford 288 to 280 in total yards.
Stanford beat San Jose State 57-3 last year and has won five straight meetings.
“Since we got our butts kicked here last year, we could have won every game since,” third-year San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre said. “So we’re making progress. We’re getting bigger, stronger and faster. We’re making strides. But in no way, shape or form is this a moral victory. We’re a better football team, but we have to finish it off.”
Taylor ran for 38 yards almost untouched until a defender tackled him on the game’s first drive. Remound Wright converted a fourth-and-1 from the 10-yard line, and Taylor dived over the pile for a 1-yard TD on fourth down to give Stanford a 7-0 lead.
Nunes quickly led Stanford down field again and tossed a perfect ball in the corner on a stop-and-go route by Drew Terrell for an 11-yard score and his first career touchdown pass.
The first-game hiccups eventually surfaced, though, and bubbling later than expected until they almost completely popped Stanford’s season.
Game-clock management became an issue on Stanford’s final drive of the first half, tossing a short pass over the middle to tight end Zach Ertz, then throwing incomplete and running on third down to settle for a field goal. Williamson, who tore a groin muscle last October and was never the same when he returned, made his career-high 46-yarder as time expired to extend Stanford’s lead to 17-3.
“I feel like I finally put everything from the past in the past and now I can focus on the future,” a smiling Williamson said. “It was a tremendous feeling.”
All the same problems that plagued the Cardinal defense in losses last year to Oregon and Oklahoma State — no cornerback coverage, poor open-field tackling and quarterback pressure when it counts — looked even worse with two new starting safeties.
Jurich ran for a short touchdown on San Jose State’s first possession of the third quarter and Fales floated a 21-yard touchdown pass to Noel Grigsby to tie the score at 17-all late in the third quarter.
Fales, who transferred from Monterey Peninsula Community College in the spring, redshirted at Nevada in 2009 but quickly had San Jose State in position for the season’s first shocking upset.
One mistake ended all that.
Reynolds stripped Eskridge on a pitch play, and Usua Amanam recovered the fumble at San Jose State’s 38-yard line. Stanford’s offense stalled again, and Williamson made his second field goal.
San Jose State stuffed Taylor on fourth-and-1 with fewer than 7 minutes to play, sending MacIntyre jumping and high-fiving all over the sideline and on the field. Fales and the offense failed to even get a first down on the next two possessions and Reynolds stepped in front of his final pass to close out San Jose State’s rally.
Follow Antonio Gonzalez at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP
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