Stanford's defense lifts Cardinal past Spartans 20-17

870867.jpg

Stanford's defense lifts Cardinal past Spartans 20-17

STANFORD (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."Almost did.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.

Stanford star McCaffrey boosts NFL Draft stock with special teams skills

Stanford star McCaffrey boosts NFL Draft stock with special teams skills

INDIANAPOLIS -- More and more college coaches are putting their starters and even their stars on special teams as they seek to pile up every possible point in an era of pedal-to-the-metal shootouts and never-safe leads.

Fading fast are the days when superstars would catch their breath on the sideline when the kicker or punter trotted onto the field with the scrubs.

NFL teams love it.

Watching how players handle themselves as a blocker, gunner or returner provides a glimpse into a prospect's range, selflessness and versatility. It also delivers a sneak peek into how coachable he'll be, says Phil Savage, the SiriusXM NFL Radio host who spent two decades as an NFL coach, scout and executive and now oversees the Senior Bowl.

"I think because of the landscape of college football where scoring is at a premium, you've got to figure out a way to put points on the board not only on offense but through your special teams and defensively, as well," Savage says. "These coaches want to get these young players on the field as soon as possible, and a way to do that is utilize them on special teams."

These tapes provide a bonus to pro scouts.

"Now you have a vision of what that player might forecast to in the NFL as a young player and, specifically, as a rookie," Savage said.

Offensive and defensive coaches have a better idea of the types of players they're integrating into their schemes, and special teams coaches no longer get blank stares and blank canvases from the rookie class.

"Not only do you like the fact that they come in and have experience doing it, but you love the mentality if you're a coach and a decision maker that this guy isn't a diva, he's got no ego about it, he understands the team and puts team before self," says ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay.

"And he comes in with the mindset of 'What can I do to help the team and how can I contribute?' Those are the guys that seem to make it and last longer in the league because they're just willing to do different things and whatever it takes."

The prime example in this year's draft class is Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey , a "dynamic player than can do it all," according to Broncos GM John Elway.

McCaffrey gained more than 5,000 yards from scrimmage in his college career and added almost 2,000 more as a returner.

"There's just a lot of big plays open in the return game," McCaffrey says. "You see special teams have such an impact on the game today. Any time I can have the ball in my hands, I feel like I can do something dangerous, and that's really why I love the return game."

Other highly touted draft prospects who polished their resumes on special teams include Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers, LSU safety Jamal Adams, Washington wide receiver John Ross, and USC cornerback Adroee' Jackson, all of whom are projected as high selections.

McShay says "we're seeing more and more programs put an emphasis on special teams and having their key players contribute in one or more areas on special teams."

He pointed to Ohio State, where Urban Myers coaches special teams himself.

"It's a major emphasis there, and so you'll see some more guys typically lined up and contributing that are starters and stars," McShay says. "It's an honor to be on special teams."

Not a burden.

"It is not uncommon now to see people that are going to be picked in the first round having 100-plus special teams plays," suggests NFL draft consultant and former Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt.

He pointed to the University of Florida, where Gators defensive backs cover kickoffs as well as they do receivers.

"Everyone's always trying to get their best guys on the field," Brandt says.

That's a change from years past when coaches feared exposing their star players to the extra hits.

The added value benefits the players, whose multiple talents allow NFL general managers to address many needs.

"We're seeing more emphasis on it in college, and I think NFL teams love to see it because if just means you're getting a bit more for your buck," McShay says.

Top talents who bolstered their value by playing special teams:

CHRISTIAN McCAFFREY , RB, STANFORD: He shined at the combine working out with the running backs and was as impressive running routes. Asked if there was anything he couldn't do, the son of former NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey said then: "I can't sing."

JABRILL PEPPERS , S, MICHIGAN: He worked out with safeties and linebackers at the combine, where teams talked of him playing RB and WR in addition to returning kicks. "The bottom line is I'm a ballplayer and I'm a hell of a ballplayer," Peppers said.

JOHN ROSS , WR, WASHINGTON: He caught 81 passes with 17 TDs last season but actually posted more return yards (2,069) than scrimmage yards (1,924) in his college career.

ADOREE' JACKSON , CB, USC: One of the best special teams coverage players in the NCAA, Jackson also scored eight TDs on punt and kick returns in college. His punt return averages rose from 6.0 yards to 10.5 and 15.8.

JAMAL ADAMS , S, LSU: Another star in coverage, Adams' defensive mentality extends to special teams. "I love being on the field and just playing football," said Adams, whose father, George, was a first-round pick by the Giants in 1985.

ALVIN KAMARA , RB, TENNESSEE: In a deep running back group, Kamara separates himself with his special teams acumen. "A lot of teams have been bringing up special teams," Kamara said.

DESMOND KING , CB, IOWA: He had eight interceptions as a junior and three as a senior. "I had a really good special teams season," King said. "Not being targeted as much, I still went out there and competed the best I could and was still making plays."

CHRIS WORMLEY , DE, MICHIGAN: Wormley touts playing for Jim Harbaugh as one of his attributes. "Coach Harbaugh came in and ran our program like an NFL program, like he had with the 49ers," said Wormley, who blocked three kicks his senior season.

ZAY JONES , WR, EAST CAROLINA: Like McCaffrey, he has good NFL bloodlines (son of Robert Jones, brother of Cayleb Jones). He caught 158 passes as a senior, but spent his first two seasons in college also making his mark as a returner.

Former Napa star Josh Jackson leaving Kansas, entering NBA Draft

josh-jackson-kansas-ap.jpg

Former Napa star Josh Jackson leaving Kansas, entering NBA Draft

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Josh Jackson declared for the NBA draft on Monday after one of the best freshman seasons in Kansas history, one marked by plenty of highlights on the floor and a few distractions off it.

The 6-foot-8 swingman, who is considered a certain lottery pick, was the Big 12 newcomer of the year after averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds. He helped the Jayhawks to a 31-5 record and its 13th straight regular season Big 12 title before losing to Oregon in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

Jackson signed with former NBA player B.J. Armstrong of Wasserman Media Group.

"After thoroughly consulting with my family, I have decided to enter the 2017 NBA draft and pursue my dream of playing professional basketball," Jackson said in a statement Monday.

"I am very thankful for all of the support I have received from my coaches and teammates at Kansas," he said, "and I look forward to starting my career in the NBA."

Jackson was the nation's No. 1 recruit when he signed with the Jayhawks out of Prolific Prep Academy in California. He immediately earned a spot in the starting lineup, teaming with national player of the year Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham to form one of the nation's top backcourts.

With natural athleticism and ability to slash to the basket - not to mention defensive chops that are rare among freshmen - Jackson quickly established himself as one of the nation's top draft prospects.

His importance was never more evident than in the Big 12 Tournament, when he was suspended by coach Bill Self following a series of off-the-court issues. The top-seeded Jayhawks stumbled in a quarterfinal loss to TCU, ending their run at the conference tournament before it really began.

He returned for the NCAA Tournament and played well in wins over UC Davis, Michigan State and Purdue, but was hamstrung by foul trouble and managed just 10 points in a season-ending loss to the Ducks.

Jackson's suspension came following an incident outside a Lawrence bar in December, when a member of the Kansas women's basketball team got into an altercation with Jackson's teammate, Lagerald Vick.

Jackson followed the woman to the parking lot and the woman said he kicked her car and caused hundreds of dollars in damage. He pleaded not guilty last week in Douglas County District Court to one misdemeanor count of criminal damage to property and a trial is scheduled for May 24.

His attorney, Hatem Chahine, said he was planning to file for diversion.

Jackson also was ticketed in February after he struck a parked car and fled the scene, and that drew Self's ire when he didn't tell his coach about the incident until several weeks later.

His decision to declare for the draft came a week after teammate Svi Mykhailiuk announced he would skip his senior season. But unlike Jackson, the 6-8 sharpshooter has not hired an agent and could withdraw his name by May 24 and return to the Jayhawks.