By Joseph Beyda
Stanford football head coach David Shaw defended rookie quarterback Josh Nunes during his weekly press conference Tuesday, amidst criticism of the first-time starter’s 16-for-26, 125-yard performance against San Jose State on Friday.
Some accounts of the game were critical of Nunes’ handling of a two-minute drill to end the first half when, starting at his own 31 with 1:23 left, Nunes drove the ball to the Spartans’ 29 before kicker Jordan Williamson nailed a field goal to make it 17-3 at halftime. Shaw emphasized that the drive “was exactly as we practiced it.”
“It was reported that we mismanaged the clock, it was reported that we didn’t trust our quarterback,” he said. “If people don’t like it, that’s fine. But that was probably the most impressive part of the game for me from Josh.”
Shaw also deflected the blame from Nunes when it came to third-down conversions, as one of the best teams in the nation in that category over the last few seasons went just 2-for-13 on Friday.
“It has nothing to do with the quarterback,” Shaw said. “It’s about execution.”
Execution has become the buzzword following the Cardinal’s close 20-17 win, especially for the offensive line, which paved the way for just 37 rushing yards in the second half. According to Shaw, the decision to run the ball on third-and-short was more a result of the Cardinal’s early-season mentality than any lack of faith in Nunes, but the offensive line did not come through as expected.
Explaining that he wasn’t disappointed with any particular lineman’s overall performance, Shaw said that a different player was making a mistake every play.
“It’s a sign of mediocrity,” he said. “It’s hard to just point and say, ‘There’s the problem.’”
“We can’t make mistakes and beat good football teams,” Shaw added. “It’s something that we know, it’s something that was proven to us once again…I didn’t have to say a whole lot. [Fifth-year senior center] Sam Schwartzstein was sick to his stomach about the way the guys up front played. Once again, it’s not like they played terribly, but they didn’t play up to our standards. You play like that for any length of time and you’re going to get beat.”
He did note that freshman Andrus Peat will likely see more playing time at left tackle this week, though versatile junior David Yankey has been “great” so far.
Shaw was also very complimentary of the Spartans, which didn’t allow another blowout after being dominated by the Andrew-Luck-led Cardinal for three consecutive seasons. He called first-time starting quarterback David Fales “a slippery sucker” and noted San Jose State’s overall improvement under head coach Matt McIntyre.
“In a month from now, everyone’s going to be saying, ‘Well, Stanford beat a pretty good San Jose State team,’” Shaw predicted. “They recruited extremely well, Coach Mac has done a phenomenal job to turn around that program and those kids played really hard. They have an offensive line that is unrecognizable from the offensive lines that they’ve had the last four years.”
For Shaw, the play of Friday’s game was a fumble forced by fifth-year senior Alex Debniak, a reserve outside linebacker, to halt a Spartan drive in the third quarter with the score tied at 17 apiece.
“Pure, unadulterated effort,” Shaw described. “[Debniak] was away from the play. When he saw the ball, the guy was about 12 yards away from him, and he ran full-speed all the way across the field and hit the guy from behind to knock the ball out.”
The communication issues stressed after the game by senior running back Stepfan Taylor were in both directions, Shaw claimed. Besides making sure all the players are on the same page, Shaw wants to see improved communication back to the sideline in between plays to adjust to what an opponent is doing.
“We don’t have rewind on game day,” he said.
After missing the opener, fullback Ryan Hewitt is “really close” to game-ready, Shaw said, but he is leaning towards letting the redshirt junior’s sprained ankle rest another week against Duke this Saturday. He also said that freshman running back Barry J. Sanders will likely be redshirted this season.