STANFORD (AP) — After watching his team fall flat in the season opener a year ago, Stanford coach David Shaw decided to change his approach this season.
Shaw eliminated one two-a-day practice, cut out two more practices and reduced a few others all in hopes of making sure the eighth-ranked Cardinal are fresher for Friday night’s game against Kansas State than they were a year ago in a loss at Northwestern.
“I don’t think it put us at any disadvantage because we still went scrimmages, we still went live,” Shaw said. “We were very, very physical but I think we shaved off just enough so that we could get into this week pretty fresh. I think we saw a little of that toward the end of last week where we were still running well. We didn’t have a lot of tired legs. So far it seems to have worked.”
Just about nothing worked a year ago at Northwestern when the Cardinal were held to 240 yards, 17 first downs and no touchdowns in a 16-6 loss to start the season. Making that result stand out even more was the fact that Stanford scored at least 30 points in each of the final 13 games with one of the country’s most dynamic offenses.
There were factors in last year’s game that won’t apply to the opener Friday night. The Cardinal will be at home instead of on the road, playing at night instead of a morning kickoff for their body clocks and have learned from that loss.
“We got beat in the first game of the year last year and it wasn’t close,” Shaw said. “Not to take anything away from them, but we didn’t play our best game. It’s incumbent on us to play our best game.”
Shaw said there has been some talk this summer of that game and how to avoid a repeat. In an odd coincidence, this year’s game will also be against a team nicknamed the Wildcats that wears purple.
Kansas State also presents a tough test for Stanford’s first-year starting quarterback Ryan Burns with nine returning defensive starters from a unit that improved as last year progressed and figures to be even stouter this season.
“We need to up the ante a little bit,” star running back Christian McCaffrey said. “It’s definitely tough to win a Division I football game. Going in and playing a team like Kansas State that’s extremely talented and well-coached, we know we have to do everything to get the job done.”
That season-opening loss might have cost the Cardinal a chance at a bid for the College Football Playoff. They finished the regular season sixth in the rankings after losing just one more game the rest of the way, falling two spots out of a playoff spot.
“We use it as motivation,” defensive lineman Solomon Thomas said. “It’s not something we’re thinking about all the time. It’s something in the back of our head. We learned from this mistake. It’s time to move on and make sure this doesn’t happen again. We have to start fast from day one.”