STANFORD — So much for any rust for Tyler Gaffney in his return to football. So much for any hangover from the defending Rose Bowl and Pac-12 champions.
Unlike a year ago, Stanford sure looked ready in its season opener.
Gaffney ran for 104 yards and two touchdowns in his first game back after playing baseball in the minors last year, leading the fifth-ranked Cardinal past gritty San Jose State 34-13 late Saturday night.
“Like riding a bike,” Gaffney said.
With school-rushing leader Stepfan Taylor in the NFL now, Gaffney made sure the ground game kept going strong. Stanford scored on its first three possessions, racked up 197 yards rushing and never punted.
Kevin Hogan threw for 207 yards and two touchdowns for the Cardinal in front of an announced sellout crowd of 50,424 — the largest since 50,425 showed up for Southern California in 2008. Stanford has won nine straight games.
“There are not a lot of teams that look like us anymore, and that's fine. We don't live on stats,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “We don't work on trying to score as many points as we can. We want to control the ball. We want to score on every possession. We want to play great defense.”
For the most part, Shaw's squad did.
The Cardinal's relentless rush sacked prolific passer David Fales four times, held the Spartans (1-1) to 35 yards rushing and never lost its physical prowess. Fales was forced to throw mostly short and intermediate passes, completing 29 of 43 for 216 yards and a touchdown with one interception.
San Jose State converted just 3 of 12 on third downs.
“We had to nickel and dime them because they took away the big plays,” Fales said.
With almost every starter back from the Pac-12's top defense, most of the questions for Stanford revolved around all new starters at the offensive skill positions: running back, wide receiver and tight end.
Some of those answers started to come into focus.
Gaffney, who played center field for the Class-A State College Spikes in the Pittsburgh Pirates' organization last year, carried the ball 20 times and looked like he never lost a step.
He bounced off a defender and sprinted to the corner pylon to complete a 16-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. In the fourth, he plowed through the line for a 2-yard score to put Stanford up 34-13.
“The first drive out there, I was light headed and didn't have my legs under me. There were some butterflies,” Gaffney said.
Devon Cajuste doubled his career catch total with a pair of receptions on Stanford's opening drive, including springing free down the middle and barreling through a defender for a 40-yard TD. He finished with three catches for 60 yards.
Ty Montgomery, saddled most of his sophomore year with a partially torn ligament in his knee, finished with four catches for 81 yards and a physical touchdown: colliding with Jimmy Pruitt — popping the cornerback's helmet off — at the end of his 17-yard score in the third quarter for his first since TD since the 2012 Fiesta Bowl.
The Cardinal controlled the flow from start to finish, something they failed to do while squeaking out a 20-17 victory over the Spartans in last season's opener when they underestimated their opponent. San Jose State won a school-record tying 11 games last year, earning the first national ranking since 1975 and the sixth bowl victory in the program's history.
Fales, who led the nation with a 72.5 percent completion percentage last season, passed with his usual efficiency — making some “Sunday throws,” as Shaw put it — but his receivers struggled to get open deep as San Jose State's eight-game winning streak ended.
“I told the team afterward that it's all about the Mountain West. If we get better and learn from this and it helps us in conference play, that's great,” new San Jose State coach Ron Caragher said.
Fales found Noel Grigsby for a 13-yard touchdown that sliced Stanford's lead to 27-13 late in the third quarter.
He directed drives inside Stanford's 20 twice in the first half that stalled. Austin Lopez kicked field goals of 30 and 22 yards to slice Stanford's lead to 17-6 at the half.
The one major mistake Stanford made, its defense quickly corrected.
Backup quarterback Dallas Lloyd lost the ball on a play-action keeper at San Jose State's 33. Four plays later, Ed Reynolds intercepted a pass from Fales — just as he did in the fourth quarter last season — to give Stanford its 25th straight game with a least one takeaway, the longest active streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Even still, allowing 251 total yards still had some Stanford players steaming.
“I thought we played average at best,” said linebacker Trent Murphy, who had two sacks.
Jordan Williamson also made field goals of 48 and 40 yards for Stanford. He missed wide left from 52 yards.
The Spartans are 0-21 against ranked teams since a 27-24 victory over No. 9 TCU on Nov. 4, 2000. Stanford and San Jose State, located about 20 miles apart, are not scheduled to play again.