Stanford’s offense answered some pressing questions with a strong performance in its season opener.
Now the focus turns to the defense.
One of the nation’s top-ranked rush defenses squares off against one of the country’s best running teams when the fifth-ranked Cardinal visit Army on Saturday.
There were plenty of uncertainties heading into last Saturday’s opener against San Jose State, as Stanford had to work in new starters at running back and wide receiver. Coach David Shaw was encouraged with what he saw as the offense gained 404 yards in a 34-13 win.
Tyler Gaffney, who played baseball in the minor leagues last year, replaced school rushing leader Stepfan Taylor and ran for 104 yards and two scores on 20 carries. Ty Montgomery, limited to 213 receiving yards in 2012 because of a knee injury, caught four passes for 81 yards and a touchdown. Devon Cajuste, who entered the season with one reception, caught three passes for 62 yards and a TD.
“We’re finally getting trust as a receiving corps,” Cajuste told Stanford’s official website. “We’re making a statement that we can throw the ball. Not only can we run but we can throw. So it’s really awesome to see everybody else get a piece of the ball.”
Nine players caught passes from dual-threat quarterback Kevin Hogan, who completed 17 of 27 attempts for 207 yards and ran for another 17.
“We don’t live on stats,” Shaw said. “We don’t work on trying to score as many points as we can. We want to control the ball. We want to score on every possession. We want to play great defense.”
The Cardinal return nine starters from a defense that had an FBS-best 57 sacks in 2012 and ranked fifth against the run, allowing an average of 97.0 yards. The vaunted 3-4 defense didn’t seem to miss a beat, sacking San Jose State quarterback David Fales four times and limiting the Spartans to 35 yards rushing on 23 attempts.
Still, the team sees room for improvement.
“I thought we played average at best,” said senior linebacker Trent Murphy, who had two sacks.
It will likely face a greater test against an Army team that rushed for an FBS-best 369.8 yards per game in 2012.
Running a triple-option offense, the Black Knights (1-1) have already amassed 658 yards on the ground. They’ve run 106 running plays while throwing the ball 28 times.
“I respect what they do. I really do,” Shaw said. “They’re determined to do what they do and do it as well as they can do it. And they challenge you to stop it.”
Army coach Rich Ellerson thinks his squad could have an advantage because Stanford isn’t familiar with his team’s offense.
“They have not seen our style of play,” he said. “Obviously, we have the advantage of reading and having finesse with some guys, but you have to block somebody. You still have to run, you still have to make some guys miss, throw the ball, catch and get open.”
Junior Larry Dixon leads Army with 214 rushing yards and is averaging 8.2 per carry.
Quarterback Angel Santiago has rushed for 157 yards and a team-high three scores, but he might see his playing time decrease after being pulled in the fourth quarter of last Saturday’s 40-14 loss at Ball State.
Backup A.J. Schurr passed for 27 yards and ran for 41 on five carries in two drives, and Ellerson said he could get more playing time.
“I liked when A.J. came in the game,” he said. “He can do all of the things that we want at quarterback. I will say what I said in the beginning of the season, don’t be surprised if you see two quarterbacks.”
This will be the first meeting between the programs since Army’s 17-13 victory in 1979, which evened the all-time series at five wins apiece.
The Black Knights haven’t defeated a ranked opponent since a 17-14 win over No. 15 Air Force in 1972.