Luke Falk and WSU handle struggling Stanford offense, 24-21, on a snowy Saturday

November 9, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 9, 2017

An offensively challenged Stanford lost at Washington State on Saturday, falling 24-21 to the Cougars in the Cardinal’s first snow game since 1936.

The defeat left the Cardinal with a 6-3 overall record and a 5-2 mark in the Pac-12 Conference. All of Stanford’s losses have come in true road games, in which the team has averaged 20 points. The squad, which scores 47 points per game in the friendly confines of Stanford Stadium, will finish the regular season with a trio of home contests.

In Pullman last weekend, the Cardinal mustered just 198 yards from scrimmage, converted only three of 12 third downs, and held the ball for less than 27 minutes. Stanford obviously won’t get anywhere close to its nominal home scoring quantity if it continues to perform like that.

The Cardinal, which started sophomore K.J. Costello at quarterback in lieu of faltering senior Keller Chryst, twice scored on 52-yard plays. The first of those came at the start of a Cardinal possession, 45 seconds into the second quarter of a scoreless game. Superstar junior running back Bryce Love took a handoff, sprinted through a gaping hole on the left side of the line and broke out of a tackle attempt by safety Jalen Thompson to sprint for a 52-yard touchdown.

But the Cardinal defense immediately gave back the points, as senior Cougars passer Luke Falk orchestrated a nine-play, 75-yard scoring drive that included just two runs. The touchdown came on a 12-yard reception by wideout Tavares Martin Jr.

Following a three-and-out by the white-clad visitors, Falk led a six-play, 71-yard series that featured a single rushing play and consecutive holding calls on the Cougars offensive line. The possession ended when, on third and goal from the Cardinal 27, Falk hit wide receiver Renard Bell for a touchdown.

Washington State added a 41-yard Erik Powell field goal in the third quarter after the Cardinal defensive front managed to apply consistent pressure on Falk and his O-line to quash a 12-play, 51-yard drive.

The Stanford offensive series that followed surely inspired hope in the breasts of Cardinal football fanatics around the world. The eight-play possession started at the Cardinal 40-yard line and included a one-yard loss, an incomplete pass, two short runs and 10-, 24- and 7-yards catches by three different players. Costello capped the sequence with an unusual and wholly unintentional basketball dribble — a fumble that bounced back into his arms — that he ran 14 yards into the end zone to cut WSU’s lead to 17-14.

Thus ended the Cardinal’s most complete drive to that point in the game. Outside of that series and Love’s long run, however, the offense had been dismal, compiling just 71 yards on 26 plays — an average of around 2.73 yards per snap, or roughly 40 percent of the yards the Cardinal’s season-long mean gain per offensive snap entering the WSU contest.

Four minutes later, the Cardinal jumped out ahead of their hosts when Bobby Okereke snagged a pass that Falk probably should not have thrown and began running the other way. After eluding the quarterback, the senior inside linebacker took advantage of a clear path to the end zone to score a 52-yard touchdown return. Just like that, Stanford had a 21-17 lead with 2:37 to play in the third quarter.

Falk threw three straight incomplete passes on WSU’s ensuing possession, and suddenly things were looking up for Cardinal nation. Stanford’s path to a W was clear: Just grind out a few first downs, eat up some clock and score a field goal or two.

Instead, the squads exchanged two short possessions — Stanford gained three yards, WSU 13 — before the Cardinal found itself facing third and 13 at its own 35-yard line. Costello connected with freshman tight end Colby Parkinson for a 12-yard gain, which set up fourth and 1 at the 47 with about 12 minutes remaining in regulation.

Head coach David Shaw and coordinator Mike Bloomgren either had no confidence that the offense could gain a yard or no appetite for the scenario that would unfold should they try and fail to do so. Jake Bailey was sent out to unleash a 47-yard punt.

The Cougars responded with an 11-play drive that took them from their 5-yard line to the Cardinal end zone over the course of nearly five minutes. Falk’s 11-yard touchdown throw to Jamire Calvin gave WSU a 24-21 lead with a little less than seven minutes to play.

The game and potentially the season were on the line when Costello and his teammates stepped back onto the gridiron. But the unit gained just three yards over three plays and had to punt with 4:21 to go.

Falk couldn’t move his team past the Cardinal 46-yard line. However, the Cougars’ nine-play, 34-yard drive consumed nearly four minutes and forced the visitors to use all three of their timeouts.

Now Shaw’s club was really up against it. While they only needed a field goal to tie, they were starting at their own 14-yard line, and Washington State had left them a mere 35 seconds with which to work.

The game essentially ended 20 seconds later. Costello tossed three incompletions, the last of which was picked by Cougar linebacker Frankie Luvu. WSU kneeled once to seal the victory, advancing their record to 8-2 overall (5-2 in league) and recording a perfect 7-0 home record for the first time in school history.

It was another bitterly disappointing loss for the Cardinal, which put itself in position to win despite suffering from offensive sluggishness for much of the contest. The team must now attempt to right itself in a short week against the potent Washington Huskies.


Helpful links

Stanford-Washington State box score — ESPN
Stanford-Washington State team statistics
Stanford-Washington State play-by-play
Stanford-Washington State interactive box score —
Stanford-Washington State static box score
Stanford 2017–18 football roster
Washington State 2017–18 football roster
Game (and some other) tweets — @memomoment

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