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.
It’s only February, but this week marks the beginning of the 2017 football season in the Bay Area. Spring practice has arrived.
Most schools now begin “spring” practice in the winter. In the Pac-12, for example, Oregon State began on February 17, Arizona on Feb. 18 and Colorado on Feb. 22. Stanford’s drills start this Tuesday, while Cal’s kick off on March 15.
Schools are limited to a total of 15 sessions, and safety concerns have led the NCAA to strongly recommend that only eight involve full-contact drills. Indeed, if you ask most head coaches what they hope to gain from spring ball, the first thing most of them say is, “I hope no one gets hurt.”
There’s more to it than that, of course. Typically, spring is the time teams look to fill spots lost to graduation, resolve competition for starting spots, move players to new positions, and evaluate redshirts and early-admit freshmen. It also can be a time to find a quarterback and install a new system, which is the case at Cal this spring.
In certain parts of the country, spring practice is a much bigger deal than it is here in the Bay Area. As longtime Texas sports information director Jones Ramsey used to say, “we only have two major sports at Texas—football and spring football.”
In the SEC and Big Ten, huge crowds are commonplace for the spring intra-squad game. Last year for example, Ohio State drew 100,129 fans to its spring game. Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Penn State and Nebraska routinely draw 75,000 to 90,000. Cal and Stanford are thrilled if 3,000 fans show up.
Perhaps the most significant spring practice in the history of Bay Area football took place in 1968 at Stanford. Head coach John Ralston had been recruited from Utah State in 1963 to turn around a moribund program that had won 14 games in five years, low-lighted by an 0-10 record in 1960.
But Ralston’s run-oriented attack wasn’t producing the kind of results Athletic Director Chuck Taylor had hoped for when he hired him. Taylor, a member of Stanford’s 1941 Rose Bowl championship team that introduced the T-formation to college football, and coach of Stanford’s ‘52 Rose Bowl team that lived and died by the forward pass, made a not-so-gentle suggestion to Ralston after three middling seasons: throw the football.
So Ralston recruited a couple of local quarterbacks who could sling it—Jim Plunkett from San Jose’s James Lick High School and Don Bunce from Woodside—and announced that he would switch to a pro-style passing game for the ’68 season. Spring practice would serve as the test kitchen for Ralston’s new offense.
Back in those days I was a wet-behind-the-ears sports editor of the Stanford Daily. My timing was good, as I was fortunate enough to cover the ’68 spring practice and football season. In the spring game, Plunkett completed 22 of 39 passes for 335 yards and two touchdowns to solidify his hold on the starting job.
That fall, Stanford opened with San Jose State and Plunkett made his debut by throwing for four touchdowns—including three bombs to quarterback-turned-wide receiver Gene Washington—in a 68-20 rout. No one who was in the stadium that day will ever forget it…it was the beginning of a new era in Stanford football and, in many ways, a new era in college football.
Two years later, Plunkett led Stanford to the conference title and an upset win over Ohio State’s team of the decade in the Rose Bowl. He also won the Heisman Trophy over Notre Dame’s Joe (don’t call me THEES-man) Theisman.
Bunce, the forgotten quarterback, backed up Plunkett for two years before red-shirting his senior year (1970) so he’d have the job to himself in 1971. All he did was win another Pac-8 championship and Rose Bowl.
This spring has the potential to be another important milestone for Stanford and Cal with a new coaching staff at one school and major holes to fill at both.
Cal: New coach Justin Wilcox and his team open spring ball on Wednesday, March 15. The Bears will have three open practices—Friday March 24 at 3:30, Saturday, April 8 at 11 a.m., and the spring game on Saturday, April 22, also at 11. The Pac-12 network will televise the spring game and admission is free. Cal’s March 24 practice will be preceded by “Pro Day” (also open to the public) at 10 a.m., when selected graduating players will work out before NFL scouts and coaches.
In addition to installing a new system and introducing a new coaching staff, Wilcox must find a replacement for record-setting quarterback Davis Webb (a key attraction on Pro Day).
Stanford: The Cardinal divides spring practice into two sessions—February 28-March 12 and April 3-15, separated by a three-week break for dead week, finals and spring break. Four practices will be open to the public—Saturday, March 4 at 10 a.m., Sunday, March 12 at 11:45, Saturday, April 8 (time tbd), and the spring game on Saturday, April 15 at 1:00 p.m., which also will be televised on Pac-12 network.
Stanford’s “Pro Timing Day” on Thursday, March 23 is open to the public at 11:15. The main attractions will be running back Christian McCaffrey and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, both of whom are turning pro after their junior seasons. Unlike McCaffrey, Thomas played in the Sun Bowl and elevated his pro stock with several game-changing plays.
Coach David Shaw has a quality replacement for McCaffrey in junior Bryce Love, who averaged 7.4 yards per carry during the season and broke two long plays in the bowl game. But he will have to replace Thomas, record-setting kicker Conrad Ukropina, and possibly quarterback Keller Chryst, who is rehabbing from knee surgery.
We’ll be back with a roundup after the conclusion of spring ball. In the meantime, let's hope both Cal and Stanford unearth a few nuggets and that no one gets injured.
MORAGA — Jock Landale scored 17 points and No. 20 Saint Mary's beat Santa Clara 70-56 on Saturday night in the West Coast Conference regular season finale for both teams.
Emmett Naar and Calvin Hermanson scored 13 points apiece and Dane Pineau added 10 points to help the Gaels (26-3, 15-3) complete a season sweep of the Broncos.
Saint Mary's will get a week off before playing in the WCC tournament as the No. 2 seed in Las Vegas next week.
The Gaels will go in at full strength after suffering a brief scare midway through the second half. Joe Rahon, the team's emotional leader and workhorse in the backcourt, limped off the court with an apparent knee injury and was taken into a tunnel to be examined. He returned to the court a few minutes later wearing tape around his right leg below the knee. He then later got his entire knee wrapped.
Saint Mary's led by as many as 20 in the second half despite coming out of halftime missing six of seven shots with two turnovers.
Landale, as he has much of the season, got the Gaels back on track with a short hook over Henrik Jadersten to start a 10-0 run. Landale later scored on consecutive trips down the floor to push Saint Mary's lead to 66-47.
Jared Brownridge and Matt Hauser scored 15 points apiece for Santa Clara. The Broncos (16-15, 10-8 WCC) lost for only the second time in the last five games.
The Gaels led nearly the entire way.
Saint Mary's came out strong from the perimeter, making five of seven shots beyond the arc in the first half. Naar had two of the 3s and was one of six Gaels players to score as part of an 11-2 run that pushed their lead to 41-29 at halftime.
Santa Clara: Another tough night for the Broncos, who couldn't get much going despite Saint Mary's going through a pair of lulls on offense. Brownridge scored nine of his team's first 11 points, a pattern that played out much of the game. Jadersten gave Santa Clara an early lift with two 3s but picked up three fouls over a span of 1:41 minutes during the first half.
Saint Mary's: With four straight wins the Gaels have regained some of the momentum they lost after falling to No. 1 Gonzaga on Feb. 11 for the second time this season. A third showdown between the conference's two best teams appears likely.
Santa Clara: The Broncos are the fourth seed for the WCC tournament and will have a bye in the first round.
Saint Mary's: The Gaels also receive a first-round bye and won't play until March 4.