Uploaded: Thursday, September 6, 2012, 4:17 PM
Duke looks for important road victory over Cardinal
|By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Duke is looking to earn its first road victory over a ranked team since 1971. That was when the Blue Devils won, 9-3, at Stanford in a Rose Bowl season. Saturday will mark Duke's first return to Stanford Stadium since that game.
"Defensively, they're going to be aggressive," said Stanford coach David Shaw. "They have some long, rangy guys on the defensive side, and they try to make it as difficult on you as possible, based on their alignments."
Fullback Ryan Hewitt, a key member in Stanford's offense, sat out the season opener with an ankle injury and is questionable against Duke.
"I'm leaning toward not playing him," Shaw said, "he's leaning toward playing."
Sanders could redshirt
Freshman running back Barry J. Sanders, the son of the Detroit Lions' Hall of Famer, did not play against San Jose State and is "most likely" going to redshirt this season, Shaw said.
Finding a home
The revelation of the season opener was senior nickelback Usua Amanam, a convert to the position after playing running back his first two years at Stanford. Amanam, who starred at San Jose's Bellarmine Prep, had six tackles, and two sacks among his four tackles for loss, and a fumble recovery.
An energy resource engineering major, Amanam aspires to be a reservoir engineer, involved in exploring and drilling.
Named after his father, who works in the oil industry in Nigeria, "Usua" pronounced OOO-sue-ah means "one who despises evil things. "Amanam" means "job well done."
Amanam had difficulty with the position change, which was first suggested by then-defensive coordinator Vic Fangio during practices in preparation for the Orange Bowl. It wasn't because he resisted the switch. Rather, it did not come as naturally as he expected.
"The mental aspect for me was realizing that when I'm in the game, I don't always have to have the ball in my hands," Amanam said.
He began to fit into the position when Amanam realized that he could use the skills that made him such a great high school running back - his quickness and strength - in the secondary.
"It really clicked for me was when I started blitzing during spring ball," Amanam said. "I started realizing I could use some of that ability to dodge linemen. And I realized my future in football was solely on defense, and stopped wondering if they were going to move me to offense. That really helped me progress as a player."
"I love playing nickel," he said. "It's a mix of everything. I can get down and dirty, and I can play in coverage."
It also allows him to be in the middle of the action, like he did when he played running back.
Asked to pinpoint Stanford's struggles against San Jose State in a game the Cardinal was expected to win handily, Shaw said the answer wasn't so simple.
"It's hard to point and say, There's the problem," Shaw said. "It was the combination of a lot of little tiny things that makes you feel, just `blah.' Outside the first two drives, it was just `blah.'"
However, "A month from now, people are going to be saying Stanford beat a pretty good San Jose State team," Shaw said.
After Stanford bolted to a 14-0 lead by scoring touchdowns on its first two drives, the Cardinal played lackluster offensively thereafter, allowing San Jose State to tie the game, 17-17, in the third quarter. Shaw's praise went to his defense, which shut down the Spartans in the fourth quarter and clinched the game on Ed Reynolds' late interception.
"Our defense played extremely well in the fourth quarter," Shaw said. "Our defense played their hearts out. They needed to make plays and they got stops. The defense kept us in the game."
Another positive: "You don't know your team, you don't know your individuals, until they've been hit in the mouth and had to fight for something," Shaw said. "I didn't feel panic. That was a test of our character. The guys passed that test. There was no quit. Guys were disappointed, but they never stopped fighting."
Need to improve
As for areas of improvement, there were many.
"You didn't see a lot of missed tackles," Shaw said. "But at the same time, they were able to squeeze through a bunch of holes.
"We missed two sack opportunities in the third quarter alone. That can't be us. I told the team yesterday. We're going to play athletic quarterbacks. We're going to play guys who can escape and buy time. If we let a guy move around on us, he's going to make us pay."
Offensively, Stanford converted only two of 13 third-down plays, falling short on a pair of short-yardage situations, including a fourth-and-one deep in Spartan territory.
"We have to play better," Shaw said. "We have to convert third downs. We have to get the ball past the line of scrimmage. It's about execution. It's about us making sure we're doing the right things off our lead plays, that we're not just running the same plays over and over again. We have to make sure we're attacking where we should be attacking."
Though his stats weren't spectacular -- 12 of 26 for 125 yards with one touchdown pass and no interceptions -- quarterback Josh Nunes performed admirably. And one pass behind the defense, a potential 59-yard scoring play, was dropped.
"I thought Josh played pretty well," said Terrell, who caught an 11-yard scoring pass from Nunes in the first quarter. "I thought he made the throws that he needed to. The touchdown was a great throw by Josh. I was singled up man-to-man. Great call in that situation."
Shaw agreed, saying Nunes put Stanford in position to be successful by making the right calls at the line of scrimmage, but the team often didn't execute when it was put in those spots.
What does Nunes think?
"I did some good things, but there were things I need to improve on for this week," he said. "We got into all our checks for the most part, but I could make them faster and with a little more time on the play clock."
Tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo combined for five catches for 39 yards. That will change, Nunes said.
"I don't think they ever have trouble getting open," Nunes said. "Definitely, we'll get them the ball a little more this week."
— also contributing was Dave Kiefer/Stanford Sports Information
Are you receiving Express, our free daily e-mail edition? See a sample and sign-up for Express.
There are no comments yet for this story.
Be the first!