By David Kiefer
Stanford center Sam Schwartzstein, making his starting debut at the position, made an impression on football coach David Shaw with his performance in Stanford's 57-3 season-opening victory over San Jose State on Saturday.
Schwartzstein, a senior, was one of three new starters on the offensive line. Overall they produced a good showing, but there's room for improvement.
Stanford, with great field position most of the game, had 373 total yards, but after the game, quarterback Andrew Luck said the offense lacked rhythm.
"Sammy Schwartzstein was outstanding, off the charts," Shaw said. "He surpassed our expectations, especially in leadership and field vision."
Schwartzstein won the job during a healthy competition in training camp.
"He made all the calls," Shaw said. "And he made them all right, even when the front wasn't what we expected. When he came back on the sideline, he said, 'Here's the adjustment that we need to make.'"
Noticing the little things and making adjustments usually reserved for veterans may have impressed Shaw the most.
"That's huge for coaches, and for him to have that command, and be so certain, and to hit all of his targets blocking," Shaw said. "He blocked everybody he was supposed to block and blocked them well."
Redshirt freshman Cam Fleming was also impressive in his debut at right tackle.
"He did a good job, especially in pass protection," said Shaw, who also said freshman left guard David Yankey "played solid, but not spectacular. It was good for both of them, but we can still play a lot better."
Stanford was 5-of-13 on third-down conversion tries and rushed for a mere 141 yards, a year after averaging 213.8.
"The run game was not to our standards," Shaw said. "We wanted it to be cleaner than it was, but the young guys are still becoming a cohesive unit. We'll improve as the communication improves. It's got to."
This will be the second regular-season trip in three years playing at an Atlantic Coast Conference school. The Cardinal lost in their previous adventure, 24-17, at Wake Forest in 2009.
Shaw said the biggest benefit is recruiting.
"We're one of the few true national recruiters," Shaw said. "And for us to play an East Coast game is really big because we can send some coaches out on the road to recruit the night before. And we can be visible to have some guys who are within driving distance to come watch us play."
In the wake
Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck says he doesn't remember much about that Wake Forest game. A gentle reminder: the Cardinal lost on a touchdown run with two seconds left after leading 17-3 at halftime.
"That left a sour taste with me," Luck said. "I'd like to personally right that ship. I don't remember much about that game, other than we lost, and the five-hour plane ride back. That was awful."
The Impressive Era
First-time starting nose tackle Terrence Stephens left an impression on a play in which he didn't make a tackle.
Stephens got hit by two linemen and split the double team, forcing a running back to help block him. In all, Stephens occupied three blockers on the play.
"Hopefully, this is a sign of things to come for Terrence," Shaw said.
Plowing for points
First-time starting defensive end Ben Gardner forced San Jose State quarterback Matt Faulkner to the ground in the end zone for a safety.
On the play, the ball squirted out of Faulkner's hand as he tried to throw, creating a confusing situation in which the ball bounced near the foot of linebacker Chase Thomas, who never saw it.
"It's about Ben Gardner, the guy just doesn't stop," Shaw said. "He makes the effort plays, he goes hard. He gets blocked, he doesn't stay blocked. He's the guy we point to and say, 'This is how we all need to play.'"
The need for speed
Stanford's fastest player?
"Chris Owusu," senior safety Delano Howell said.
Who is second?
"There are a lot of people in the mix," he said slyly. "I don't want to name names."
Howell began his Stanford career as a running back. He said playing the position, until he switched two years ago, has helped his play on defense.
"Running to, through, and beyond contact," he said of the similarities of the position. "Being aggressive, being used to contact and not being afraid of it."