Frogs nip Cardinal, 39-37, in entertaining Alamo Bowl clash

December 31, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 31, 2017

Stanford’s 2017 football season came to a disappointing conclusion Thursday night with a 39-37 loss to Texas Christian University in the Valero Alamo Bowl.

The Cardinal finished 9-5, only the second time in head coach David Shaw’s seven seasons that the team failed to reach double-digit wins. The Horned Frogs moved to 11-3, a record that includes two losses to playoff contender Oklahoma.

Scoring opened after TCU quarterback Kenny Hill made an ill-advised throw while on the move. Junior free safety Frank Buncom read his intentions and raced in from the right side to intercept the ball, which he returned 37 yards to the Frogs 23-yard line.

After a 1-yard rush by junior tailback Bryce Love, sophomore quarterback K.J. Costello tossed a seven-yarder to junior wideout Trenton Irwin. Love then ran through a gaping hole created by his line, evaded a would-be tackle by diving linebacker Travin Howard, and fought his way through a scrum that developed at the 5-yard line when he encountered an official who got tangled up with a defender engaged with a Cardinal lineman. As a mass of humanity converged at the goal line, Love kept moving and wound up in the end zone with a 15-yard touchdown, his 19th on the year.

Hill rallied his team for an eight-play, 58-yard series that yielded a 38-yard Cole Bunce field goal. But the Cardinal answered with a seven-play, 70-yard drive that saw Love notch a 21-yard rush and Costello connect with freshman flanker Connor Wedington for catches of 18 and 12 yards. The drive ended with junior receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside reeling in an end-zone fade in the left corner for an 18-yard score.

The next three possessions were blanks: The Horned Frogs recorded a pair of three-and-outs, while Costello tossed an interception on a reckless deep throw.

After the Cardinal regained the ball at their 47, the team mounted an 11-play touchdown drive that ate up more than six minutes and saw junior running back Cameron Scarlett convert fourth and 1 at the TCU 44. The series featured only two gains greater than 7 yards. One was a 15-yard rush by sophomore runner Trevor Speights; the other was a 14-yard ball that Arcega-Whiteside caught around the 2-yard line and maneuvered to put across the goal line as he was being wrestled awkwardly to the ground by a smaller defender. The score gave Stanford a 21-3 lead.

But the Horned Frogs came right back with a nine-play, 76-yard drive that ended with a six-yard rushing touchdown by Hill. Stanford quickly returned the ball on a three-and-out; the half then ended on a Hail Mary throw to the end zone by Hill that wound up in Buncom’s arms after the end of the quarter. Even so, TCU clearly had some momentum going into the locker room.

Each team scored on its first two possessions of the third quarter. Following the kickoff, the Frogs put together a nine-play, 75-yard series. It ended with a pretty 27-yard pass when wideout Desmon White began running a lateral around right end, pulled up and then threw to the left sideline. The trick play enabled Hill to make an easy catch and run the ball for a score with minimal harassment, cutting the Cardinal lead to 21-16.

The Cardinal came back with Love. Nearly two minutes after Hill’s receiving score, the tailback out of Wake Forest, N.C., blew through a tremendous hole and outraced cornerback Jeff Gladney for an impressive 69-yard touchdown. The play made the score 28-16 in favor of the white-uniformed team. It also extended two of Love’s Football Bowl Subdivision records: He now has run for 50 or more yards 13 times and has gone 12 straight games with at least one such long gain.

Hill and friends were locked in, however, and responded with another 75-yard touchdown drive. Hill threw on all nine plays, connecting seven times, including an 11-yard scoring pass to White after the pocket collapsed. The touchdown once again put the Horns within five points, 28-23.

Three plays later, Scarlett caught a pass out of the backfield that he wound up taking for a 50-yard gain to the TCU 14. When the Cardinal stalled at the 10, Jet Toner came on for a 27-yard field goal that pushed their lead to 31-23.

Three snaps into the Frogs’ answering series, sophomore cornerback Malik Antoine forced White to fumble. Buncom recovered the ball at the TCU 42 for his third takeaway of the game. After the Cardinal failed to gain any yards, Jake Bailey’s punt set up the Frogs at their own 7-yard line just 15 seconds into the final period.

But the Cardinal couldn’t keep the Frogs pinned down. On the very first play from scrimmage, Hill threw a deep ball to Jalen Reagor, who had zipped by senior cornerback Alameen Murphy. The TCU flanker caught the ball just past midfield and ran untouched the rest of the way for a 93-yard touchdown, part of a stellar five-catch, 169-yard night.

This disaster was slightly mitigated by TCU’s failed two-point conversion attempt. But the Cardinal seemed to be rattled. On second and 6 at the Cardinal 35, Love lost a fumble that senior offensive tackle A.T. Hall recovered at the 23. Then, on third and 18, Costello was sacked for a seven-yard loss.

It would get even worse: Bailey booted a 60-yard punt that White returned 76 yards for a touchdown that gave the Frogs their first lead, 36-31. Interestingly, TCU coach Gary Patterson opted to kick the point-after-touchdown rather than try for a six-point lead.

The Cardinal bounced back with a 10-play, 76-yard series that saw Costello throw to Arcega-Whiteside for 21 yards and to Scarlett for 35. An 11-yard slant to Wedington on third down set up goal to go, and on third down, Costello threw to Arcega-Whiteside for a touchdown even as the junior drew a defensive pass-interference penalty. The Cardinal’s two-point try fell incomplete, but Stanford was back on top, 37-36, following a drive that consumed five minutes and seven seconds.

The respite wasn’t enough for a Stanford defense that had been ravaged by injuries over the course of both the season and the game. The Frogs drove to the Cardinal 15 but lost a yard on a third-down pass, prompting Patterson to summon his kicker. Bunce’s 33-yard field goal put the Frogs ahead, 39-37, with 3:07 left in the game.

Stanford’s offense, which had responded so valiantly to the situation one series earlier, reverted to the Mr. Hyde form it had shown after Hill’s 93-yard touchdown pass. The Cardinal offense drew a delay-of-game penalty immediately following the kickoff, a dubious feat.

After a false start set up third and 15, Costello made a dangerous pass that Innis Gaines intercepted with 2:01 remaining. TCU then forced Stanford to burn its remaining timeouts, converted a first down and knelt out the clock to claim victory.

Costello finished the game with an undistinguished line: 15 completions on 27 throws for 212 yards with three scores and two picks. Hill was 27 for 40 with 314 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions; he also led the team with 60 yards and a touchdown on nine carries.

Arcega-Whiteside had 61 yards on five catches and a career-high three touchdowns, although Scarlett’s pair of receptions for 85 yards made him the Cardinal’s top receiver for the game. (The junior had had only four receptions for 89 yards during the regular season.)

On the ground, the undisputed champion was Love, who recorded 145 yards and two scores on 26 carries. By breaking the century mark for a 12th time in 2017, Love finished the year with 2,118 rushing yards, breaking Christian McCaffrey’s 2015 record by 99 yards. (Entering the bowl, Love’s 11 games of 100 or more yards had been tied with McCaffrey’s mark in 2015 and Toby Gerhart’s in 2009.)

Alas, Love’s triumph was incomplete, as his teammates couldn’t maintain the consistency he showed despite a nagging ankle injury that plagued him over the final five games of the regular-season. In the end, the 2017 Cardinal proved to be an entertaining team, but one that often fell short in clutch moments.


Helpful links

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

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