STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — Tyler Gaffney ran for 104 yards and two touchdowns in an impressive return after playing baseball in the minors last year, leading No. 5 Stanford past gritty San Jose State 34-13 on Saturday night in its season opener.
With career-rushing leader Stepfan Taylor in the NFL now, Gaffney made sure the defending Pac-12 and Rose Bowl champions kept the ground game going strong. The Cardinal scored on their first three possessions and forced prolific passer David Fales to toss short passes for little gain.
Kevin Hogan threw for 207 yards and two touchdowns for Stanford 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.
The Cardinal's vaunted defense sacked Fales four times, held the Spartans (1-1) to 35 yards rushing and never lost its physical prowess. Fales completed 29 of 43 passes for 216 yards and a touchdown with one interception.
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 defensive line for a 2-yard score to put Stanford up 34-13.
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.
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: he collided 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.
For all the new faces on offense, the defense really carried the Cardinal most of the way.
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 the upstart school.
Fales, who led the nation with a 72.5 percent completion percentage last season, is back along with several key starters return from a team that won a school-record tying 11 games, earned the first national ranking since 1975 and got the sixth bowl win in the program's history to make sure the Spartans will no longer be overlooked as they moved into the Mountain West Conference.
Both teams entered the game on eight-game winning streaks.
Now Stanford stands alone.
The Cardinal forced Fales to throw mostly short and intermediate passes, and the Spartans offense struggled to finish drives. Fales finally 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, and Foloi Vae recovered 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.
Jordan Williamson made field goals of 48 and 40 yards for Stanford. He also 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. That's also the highest-ranked team San Jose State has ever beaten.
Stanford and San Jose State, located about 20 miles apart, are not scheduled to play again.
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP