By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
If he had to do it over again, Stanford football coach David Shaw would want to be a participant of the opening weekend of college football instead of being the observer.
"It was harder than I thought it was going to be," Shaw said. "We talked about it with the staff, talked about it with the players who wanted to watch with a critical eye and see teams that maybe came out flat or maybe took timeouts because this guy lined up wrong or got motion penalties, etc. We want to make sure we don't start that way. So hopefully we can learn lessons from what others teams did their first game."
Part of the weekend was spent watching San Jose State beat Sacramento State, 24-0, in Ron Caragher's debut as the Spartans' head coach.
The former Bellarmine Prep quarterback has a few things in common with Shaw, as both followed in Jim Harbaugh's footsteps as he made his way from San Diego to Stanford to the San Francisco 49ers. Caragher replaced Harbaugh at San Diego while Shaw did the same at Stanford.
The two young head coaches also were influenced by Bill Walsh, as well. Caragher was a graduate assistant at UCLA when the Bruins and Stanford met during the 1994 season.
"To me, this is very exciting to be part of the Bill Walsh Legacy Game," Caragher said. "Coach Walsh had a profound impact on me, with game plans, strategies and schemes."
Both coaches enter the season with their respective teams on an eight-game winning streak, tied for third-longest active streak behind Ohio State's 13 and Arkansas State's nine.
Fifth-ranked Stanford will become the last college football team to kick off its season, thanks to Saturday's 8:07 p.m. start. At least the season finally will be in full swing.
"I didn't even realize the season started Saturday until I turned on the TV and saw college football live," Stanford cornerback Usua Amanam said. "Watching them against Sacramento State, and having a week to prepare for them, in that sense, is going to help us."
Stanford's 20-17 victory over San Jose State last year felt more like an escape than a win. No one knew it at the time, but the Spartans used that first game to springboard the program to one of its best years ever.
San Jose State finished in the top 25, following a victory in the Military Bowl and the most wins (11) in a season for the school.
"I think this year we're a little more aware of what they're capable of," Amanam said.
Caragher compared Stanford to a school in the SEC because of its depth, strength and athleticism.
"It's generally agreed the strongest athletes are in the SEC," Caragher said. "Stanford has athletic linemen up front, they run the power run game, use the I-formation and have an athletic defensive line. You see that in elite programs and Stanford has done a good job. They are making the right choices."
San Jose State has experience at the quarterback position in David Fales, who was having a very good game against the Cardinal last year until he threw an interception late that sealed the win for Stanford. That was his first college game.
Josh Nunes, of course, was Stanford's starting quarterback and while he was mostly effective in his starts, he was ultimately benched in favor of Kevin Hogan, who led the Cardinal to a Rose Bowl victory.
The Spartans are a little thin at running back. Starter Tyler Ervin was hurt on the game's first offensive series and Shane Smith is a redshirt freshman. Enter fifth-year senior Jason Simpson, a fullback out of Woodside High, who rushed for a career-best 135 yards on 21 carries.
Stanford lost the school's all-time rusher in Stepfan Taylor but can count on solid contributions from Anthony Wilkerson and Tyler Gaffney, who sat out last year while playing professional baseball in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.
"It's hard not to play when other people are playing, especially the start of the season, because the start of the season has such a buildup," Shaw said. "Now, not that it's changed anything for us, but we're antsy."
NOTES: LB Shayne Skov was cleared by doctors to play without a brace around his surgically repaired left knee. He's gotten used to it, though, and may wear it anyway. "It's kind of like a crutch," he said. "But just to kind of be liberated in that sense is incredible." . . . Kodi Whitfield will return the first punt for Stanford, though Ty Montgomery, Keanu Nelson and Barry Sanders also may get a chance . . . This could be the final game in the rivalry for a while. San Jose State has been trying to get a home-and-away agreement . . . Stanford leads the series with the Spartans, 51-14-1.