Stanford beats Aggies, 30-10, despite an uneven performance

September 20, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Sept. 20, 2018

Stanford moved to 3-0 on the young football season with a 30-10 victory over UC Davis on Saturday afternoon. But the victory, which closed out a three-game home stand, was not without its blemishes.

The teams began the game by exchanging punts. Things began to get interesting on the second snap of Stanford’s second possession. Following a fake handoff, junior quarterback K.J. Costello underthrew junior tight end Kaden Smith, who had lined up wide and was surrounded by gray-clad defenders. Junior linebacker Nas Anesi was perfectly positioned to grab the ball and returned it nine yards, to the Cardinal 12-yard line. The Aggies couldn’t earn a first down but were able to get on the scoreboard thanks to Max O’Rourke’s 26-yard field goal.

After the kickoff, Stanford — which was resting all-world runner Bryce Love — handed off twice to junior tailback Trevor Speights. His second run seemed to gain 13 yards but was called back because Smith was flagged for holding.

That would be the first entry in a trilogy of nightmarish plays for the Cardinal. On the ensuing snap, Costello threw to senior wideout Trenton Irwin. Officials on the field initially ruled that Stanford fumbled, resulting in a Davis recovery around the Cardinal 22-yard line. Upon review, however, officials deemed the play to be an incomplete pass.

On the very next snap, Costello stepped up in the pocket and threw over the middle. His target, Smith, made a leaping attempt to catch the ball around the Cardinal 38-yard line, but Costello’s pass came in too high and too fast for him to handle. Instead, sophomore defensive back Isaiah Thomas made an easy interception at the Stanford 47, which he returned for six yards.

Cardinal faithful had to be flashing back to 2005, Walt Harris’s first year as head coach, which saw Stanford sustain a shocking loss at home to these very same Davis Aggies. They played then at the Division I-AA level, a football category one slot below the I-A segment where Stanford competes. (I-A and I-AA have since been renamed the Football Bowl Subdivision and Football Championship Subdivision, based upon their modes of postseason play; Davis remains in the FCS.)

However, just as in the previous week, Stanford’s defense stood tall when the offense faltered. The Cardinal held Davis to four yards, including an incomplete pass on fourth and 6.

What followed was one of Stanford’s best drives of the day: A 14-play, 63-yard series bridging the first and second quarters that took more than seven minutes off the clock. Although the possession featured only one long run, an 11-yarder from Speights on the first play, Costello spread the ball around. He completed seven of eight passes, connecting three times with Smith and once each with Michael Wilson (remember that name), Speights and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. The final throw was a nine-yard toss to Arcega-Whiteside, who used his size advantage against a Davis defensive back for the go-ahead touchdown.

The score seemed to put Stanford’s offense at ease, as they scored on three of the next four possessions. A 31-yard Toner field goal was followed by a seven-play, 62-yard series capped by an eight-yard Arcega-Whiteside touchdown reception. After the Aggies failed to convert fourth and 3 from the Cardinal 24-yard line with 17 seconds left, Stanford gained 27 yards on a drive that ended with the half.

Davis also went for it on fourth and 10 on the opening series of the third quarter but fumbled the ball out of bounds. Stanford settled for a 33-yard Toner kick to take a 20-3 lead.

The Aggies responded by driving 49 yards on 10 plays, but O’Rourke’s field-goal try was short from 43 yards out.

Later in the third quarter, Stanford flexed its big-play muscle with a 53-yard gain. It came almost entirely through the air, on an underthrown pass. Sophomore wideout Osiris St. Brown, who had blown past the secondary, had to slow down to catch the ball at the Davis 10-yard line and was taken down at the 5. On the very next play, Cameron Scarlett took the ball in for a touchdown that gave Stanford a 27-3 lead.

Davis responded by moving to the Stanford 16-yard line, but the drive was snuffed when senior outside linebacker Casey Toohill raced in from the left and deflected a Jake Maier pass that freshman defensive end Thomas Booker managed to intercept. Despite beginning at the opposing 15-yard line, the Cardinal came away without points when junior running back Dorian Maddox came up a yard shy on fourth and 3 at 8-yard line.

In fact, the Cardinal — which put Costello on the bench and rotated in not one or two but three other quarterbacks, in addition to other second- and third-stringers — struggled to advance the ball in the fourth quarter.

Davis’s ensuing drive ended when fifth-year senior cornerback Alameen Murphy picked off Hunter Rodrigues and returned the ball 30 yards to end Davis’s ensuing drive. After a series that saw Stanford start at the Davis 25-yard line and net minus-four yards, the hosts got their only points of the period on a 46-yard Toner field goal.

The Cardinal offense later got the ball with a minute and 59 seconds remaining in the quarter but couldn’t close the game out thanks in part to back-to-back holding penalties. The Aggies took advantage following a Stanford punt when Rodrigues’s throw to the end zone from the hosts’ 26-yard line was deflected into the arms of C.J. Spencer as time expired. The touchdown — only the second the Cardinal defense has allowed over the first three games of the season — capped the scoring at 30-10.

Stanford, which plays in a Saturday-night prime-time game at Oregon, now heads into the teeth of one of the nation’s toughest schedules. The team’s prospects are good, but only if it plays better and more consistently than it did against UC Davis.

~~~

Helpful links

UC Davis-Stanford team statistics — ESPN
UC Davis-Stanford box score
UC Davis-Stanford play-by-play
UC Davis-Stanford interactive box score — GoStanford.com
Stanford 2018–19 football roster
UC Davis 2018–19 football roster
Game (and some other) tweets — @memomoment
Highlight video — Pac-12 Networks

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