Sept. 3, 2011
STANFORD, Calif. - Andrew Luck said he wasn't the first to think of it - too many teammates suggested it first. But Luck felt giving the game ball to coach David Shaw after his head-coaching debut was the obvious thing to do.
"As much as we wanted to win," Luck said, "We really wanted to win for him."
Stanford's 57-3 season-opening victory over San Jose State at Stanford Stadium on Saturday seemed to justify the Cardinal's No. 7 preseason ranking and in some way seemed to prove that the football program will be fine in Shaw's hands.
As Shaw sat down for his first postgame press conference as Stanford's head coach, he proudly carried the ball and proudly placed it on the table next to him.
"When the players presented it to me, I told them it didn't come perfectly, but hopefully, we'll get better next week."
For a 54-point game, the team's largest margin of victory since a 58-0 rout of Washington State in 2008, Stanford came off the field without the sense of a job well done that such an output might elicit. Instead, the Cardinal left wanting more.
Andrew Luck, the 2010 Heisman runner-up, began the new season by completing 17 of 26 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns, and he ran for another, in three quarters of work. The offense gained 373 total yards.
"We really didn't get into a rhythm," Luck said. "We scored 57 points, but a large part of that was our defense and special teams. They put us in great position."
Stanford scored on its first four possessions to build a 27-0 first-half lead. But, even so, the typical offensive tempo wasn't quite there. However, the defense held San Jose State to only 182 yards and smothered the Spartans' ballcarriers, holding them to minus-two yards rushing on 25 carries.
For Shaw, "the biggest thing is we're a deeper team than a lot of people thought," he said.
The defense substituted liberally, partly to keep players fresh for hot-weather road games the next two weeks, at Duke and Arizona.
On offense, however, Shaw kept the starters in longer than a 57-3 victory might require.
"I wanted to leave all the starters in as long as they could, so they could feel that rhythm," he said.
That elusive rhythm seemed to manifest itself in the second half, Luck said. With three new starters on the offensive line and different personnel packages, Stanford finally got into a groove as the game evolved.
"I feel like it was a step in right direction," Luck said.
Luck and Chris Owusu (7 catches, 76 yards) began to connect in the third quarter, and the Cardinal passing game began to take shape.
Asked to assess his game, Luck said, "Average.
"There were some throws I'd like to have back and some things I wouldn't do again," he said.
Linebacker Chase Thomas provided his usual beast-like game, forcing two fumbles and earning a sack. His second-quarter hit on San Jose State quarterback Matt Faulkner knocked the ball loose for defensive end Henry Anderson to pick up and sprint for the end zone in what may have been the most entertaining play of the game.
"When I was running down the field, I wondered, Why haven't I been tackled yet?" Anderson said.
He finally was, but at the 1-yard line after a 37-yard run. That set up a 2-yard scoring toss to fullback Ryan Hewitt from Luck on a naked bootleg for a 27-0 lead.
The consensus: More to work on. But the victory? A promising start to a new coaching era.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics