We knew that there would be growing pains for the Stanford Cardinal. They just lost their four best players on offense, and perhaps at the most critical spots in their scheme. The best quarterback in the country, gone. The best pulling offensive guard of the past decade, gone. A solid All-American left tackle, gone. A solid number one receiving tight end, gone. You can't expect to lose all of that and still be a top team.
Still, it was pretty surprising to see how far Stanford looked from their top 25 ranking against a spirited San Jose State squad. The Spartans have the potential to be good, so it's no surprise that they gave the Cardinal some difficulty. David Fales threw some great passes to Noel Grigsby and fit them into tight windows that causes Stanford's defensive backs troubles. The Cardinal linebackers just didn't showcase their pre-season hype, as they had steady but hardly overwhelming moments. Most surprising of all was the Cardinal defensive line getting barely any pressure on an average Spartan offensive line. If Jabari Carr didn't drop a deep pass, SJSU could have pulled off the upset.
But the defense was generally steady compared to the offense.The Cardinal run offense managed only 3.8 yards per carry with Stepfan Taylor and was bottled up in the second half. The offensive line had trouble protecting and pass blocking. To be fair, Stanford didn't play Ryan Hewitt, and that totally limited their offensive versatility from their power set. And Josh Nunes played okay. But the story was the offensive line, which has so much work to do before the really ready to beat Duke, much less USC.
Meanwhile, Washington, Cal and Oregon State have to be licking their chops. If Stanford keeps on struggling, the door is open to contend with Oregon as the main Pac-12 North contenders.
SB Nation snippet
What concerns me the most is Stanford's defense, including its secondary. It actually looks like Stanford regressed in its downfield coverage from last year, if that's even possible. The first half saw Stanford hold SJSU to only a field goal. The offense managed to score two touchdowns on its first two drives while the Spartans were kept well away from the endzone all but once. The second half, though, Fales, along with standout wide receiver Noel Grigsby, made Stanford's safeties and backs look like they were lost, not to mention that the Spartans' running game was given basically rights-of-way down the center of the field. San Jose State came out of the half and scored two touchdowns on their first two drives to tie the score 17-17 by the end of the third quarter. Shaw did make note, at least on defense, that one of the things that he was not pleased with in his postgame press conference on the Pac-12 Networks was that his linemen were staying blocked -- it's alright to get blocked, but unacceptable to stay blocked.
David Shaw press conference