STANFORD, Calif. — Stanford won its season opener on Friday, but it discovered life might be a lot more difficult without quarterback Andrew Luck running the show.
Luck’s replacement, Josh Nunes, had decent numbers in his first collegiate start, but No. 21 Stanford had a much tougher time than expected and needed a fourth-quarter field goal to manage a 20-17 victory over San Jose State at Stanford Stadium.
Nunes, who had not played in a game since 2010, was 16-for-26 for 125 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions, and Cardinal tailback Stepfan Taylor rushed for 116 yards. However, the Cardinal defense had trouble controlling Spartans quarterback David Fales, who was 24-for-35 for 216 yards and touchdown in his first Division I start. And four of his throws were dropped.
Fales, a junior college transfer, rallied the Spartans for two third-quarter touchdowns to tie the game entering the fourth quarter, but a Spartans turnover stopped the momentum and helped the Cardinal survive.
Stanford jumped out to an early 14-0 lead and appeared headed for easy victory. But the Cardinal offense was unable to continue its dominance as San Jose State worked its way back into the game.
The Spartans closed a 17-3 halftime deficit to 17-10 by going 78 yards on their first possession of the second half. Fales completed passes of 20, 21 and 20 yards on the drive, which ended with backup quarterback Blake Jurich scoring from three yards out.
San Jose State then tied it on an 82-yard drive that ended on Fales’ 21-yard scoring pass to Noel Grigsby with 2:17 left in the third quarter.
San Jose State regained possession after a Stanford punt, but a fumble by De’Leon Eskridge was recovered at the Spartans’ 38-yard line by Cardinal defensive back Usua Amanam, who also had two sacks in the game.
Stanford turned that into a 20-yard Jordan Williams field goal to take a 20-17 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Taylor was stopped short of a first down on 4th-and-1 at the Spartans’ 15 on the next Cardinal possession.
However, San Jose State was unable to mount much offense in the fourth quarter, and Fales’ fourth-down pass from the San Jose State 30-yard line with a little more than a minute left was intercepted by Ed Reynolds.
Nunes was 12-for-16 for 83 yards and a touchdown in the first half, which ended with Williams kicking a 46-yard field goal on the final play of the second quarter to give the Cardinal 17-3 lead.
Fales was 12-for-15 for 84 yards in the first half, and two of those throws were dropped, including one that bounced off Jabari Carr’s chest at the Stanford 23-yard line and could have become a 63-yard touchdown play.
Stanford demonstrated its 2012 offensive philosophy on its first possession, when it simply bulldozed the Spartans’ defense.
The Cardinal used 13 plays, 10 of which were runs, to cover 81 yards, eat up 6:27 and score its first touchdown.
Nunes completed his first two passes for 19 yards but the bulk of the work was done by Taylor, who carried the ball nine times in the drive, including a fourth-down touchdown run from inside the 1-yard line.
The key play was a 38-yard Taylor run out a three-tight end formation that got the Cardinal to the Spartans’ 19-yard line.
Stanford made it 14-0 at 4:23 of the first quarter on a 50-yard scoring drive. Nunes finished it with a perfectly placed 11-yard scoring pass to Jamal-Rashad Patterson.
Fales’ passing enabled the Spartans to get to the Stanford 29-yard line early in the second quarter, at which point he was replaced by Jurich even though Fales was not injured. The drive stalled, but Austin Lopez kicked a 38-yard field goal to make it 14-3.
NOTES: Stanford inside linebacker Shayne Skov was suspended for Friday’s game because he was arrested for DUI last January. He is expected to play in next Saturday’s game against Duke, which would be his first game since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in the third game last season. … The San Jose State-Stanford game is known as the Bill Walsh Legacy Game. Walsh was a head coach at Stanford and a graduate of San Jose State. … This was the first Friday night game ever played at Stanford Stadium. … Stanford’s top two fullbacks, Ryan Hewitt (ankle) and Geoff Meinken (knee), did not play because of injuries. … Friday was the San Jose State debut for running back De’Leon Eskridge, who twice led Minnesota in rushing before transferring to San Jose State for his final season of eligibility. … Entering Friday’s game, Stanford led the series against South Bay neighbor San Jose State 50-14-1, with San Jose State’s last victory in the series coming in 2006.