Third-string quarterback jump-starts Cardinal offense in an unexpected walloping of UCLA

October 2, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 2, 2017

Author’s note: This post was delayed because I was significantly slowed down by a cold the previous week. More (and arguably more timely) stuff to come shortly! MEM

The Stanford football team’s first possessions against UCLA on Sept. 23 were hardly promising. On the first drive of the game, quarterback Keller Chryst helped the squad gain 35 yards and score a field goal. But on the offense’s next play from scrimmage, a five-yard bootleg, Chryst sustained a hard hit to the head; the starter left the game and did not return. Fifth-year senior Ryan Burns came in under center, after which Stanford gained 18 yards and punted.

Sophomore K.J. Costello then took over, but his initial drive was a three-and-out. The squad settled for a field goal on the second drive Costello led, even though it had begun at the UCLA 18-yard line after third-year strong safety Justin Reid intercepted Bruins passer Josh Rosen. Costello and Burns then combined on the Cardinal’s next drive, with the team trailing 13-6, but this too was a three-and-out.

Bruins fans, who haven’t seen their football squad beat Stanford since 2008, likely smelled blood in the water at this point. The scent surely intensified when, three plays into the UCLA possession, Rosen threw to Caleb Wilson for 31 yards, setting up goal to go from the Cardinal 10-yard line.

But on third down from the 6, Rosen tried to force a throw into double coverage. The pass fell incomplete, so J.J. Molson trotted out for his third field-goal attempt of the game, from 23 yards out, in a bid to give the visitors a 16-6 lead.

It was not to be. Senior Harrison Phillips, by far Stanford’s best defensive lineman, blocked the kick, which junior Frank Buncom recovered for a touchback. It may have been a sign that the entire tenor of the game was about to change.

On third and 2, Costello threw an 11-yard pass to Arcega-Whiteside, giving Stanford its first third-down conversion to come from anything other than Wadood’s penalty. Love then got free for runs of 27 and 32 yards, setting up goal to go from the UCLA 2. Cameron Scarlett immediately cashed in with a 2-yard touchdown run, tying the score at 13-13. For the first time in what felt like a long time, the Cardinal offense was imposing its will on the opposing defense.

Perhaps the red-clad defense sensed this, too, because they forced a three-and-out from the Bruins. Costello and company came back out with a varied attack: A 14-yard Love run; Costello strikes of 20 and 11 yards to Kaden Smith and Arcega-Whiteside; and a gutty 9-yard Costello scramble that was ruled a touchdown, a call that was upheld after review. Suddenly Stanford, which had been on the verge of going down by two scores, had a 20-13 lead with 55 seconds remaining in the half.

Rosen came out passing, and completed a nine-yard throw on third down. But Alijah Holder forced a fumble that Kevin Palma recovered at UCLA’s 30-yard line with 35 seconds remaining. Toner kicked a 39-yarder as the quarter expired, putting the hosts up by 10 points.

UCLA cut into the lead on the opening possession of the third quarter, driving 75 yards on eight plays in a little more than three minutes before Soso Jamabo scored on a short touchdown run. But the Cardinal responded with a 92-yard scoring drive of its own, highlighted by a 43-yard gain on a Conor Weddington end-around and capped by Costello’s 15-yard touchdown throw to Trenton Irwin. That made it Stanford 30, UCLA 20.

Two plays into the ensuing drive, Phillips sacked Rosen, whose fumble was alertly recovered by a UCLA lineman. (The lineman is named in the play-by-play as Breland Brandt, which may be a mistake, as the Bruins list that player as a linebacker.)

But UCLA also fumbled on the next play, as a scrum of Stanford defenders held up Christian Pabico after a 27-yard reception long enough to enable Brandon Simmons to strip the ball. Alameen Murphy’s recovery put the Cardinal back in business at the Bruins 42-yard line.

This time, it was Stanford that smelled blood in the water. Costello and the Cardinal slowly eked out yards and renewed downs, enabling Scarlett to score a 1-yard touchdown on first and goal. The series was notable because, after a delay of game set up fourth and 6 for the Cardinal at the UCLA 38-yard line, “Shawgren” sent Costello out for a pass. The call worked out beautifully — senior tight end Dalton Schultz bulled his way forward for nine yards and a first down after two defenders nearly stopped him shy of the marker.

UCLA answered with a 39-yard Lasley touchdown reception to cut the Cardinal’s advantage back down to 37-27 with 19 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

Stanford then embarked upon its most time-consuming drive of the night, a 12-play, 72-yard series that ate up more than six minutes. The possession featured two key penalties. One was a fortuitous Schultz hold that wiped out most of what would have been a 48-yard Love touchdown on the fifth play, which would have left UCLA plenty of time to rally. A few plays later, Costello smartly threw a ball toward freshman tight end Colby Parkinson, who was in the process of being mugged by a Bruins freshman defender; the 15-yard pass interference flag bailed out the Cardinal on third down. (The distance to go was six yards; it would have been 11 but for an illegal-substitution penalty by the Bruins that made life easier for the hosts.)

Love had a 30-yard run — ho hum, so routine! — to set up goal to go at the 4. When Costello made a poor third-down throw to a diving Schultz in the end zone, the Cardinal appeared to be set to settle for a field goal. However, Schultz had made a fabulous play, cradling the ball beneath one of his hands before it hit the ground. After a review, he was credited with a three-yard touchdown reception, giving the host team a daunting 44-27 lead.

The visitors needed less than two minutes for an answering touchdown, again trimming the margin to 10 points. But Stanford restored the difference to 17 with just two plays. The latter of these was a Love 69-yard touchdown special to put the Cardinal up, 51-34.

The game was essentially decided about a minute and a half later, when junior free safety Ben Edwards picked Rosen at the Cardinal 18-yard line. Shawgren (as I call head coach David Shaw and offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren) then fed Scarlett, running him four times. He gained 72 yards in all, including a 62-yard carry to the 7-yard line, and subsequently scored from the 4. The junior’s third rushing touchdown of the night gave Stanford a 58-34 lead with 2:25 remaining. That would prove to be the final score, as Rosen led the Bruins into Cardinal territory but couldn’t cut into the hosts’ 24-point lead.

The game featured a sharp and in some ways shocking turnabout by the Cardinal offense, which had proven unable to score three touchdowns the previous week. If the unit’s success can be maintained, it holds out the promise of a campaign that could be quite memorable.


Helpful links

UCLA-Stanford box score — ESPN
UCLA-Stanford team statistics
UCLA-Stanford play-by-play
UCLA-Stanford interactive box score —
UCLA-Stanford static box score
Stanford 2017–18 football roster
UCLA 2017–18 football roster

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