Utah humbles Stanford, 40-21

October 13, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 13, 2018

Stanford played its worst game of 2018 last Saturday in a 40-19 home loss to the Utah Utes.

Although the Cardinal’s 38-17 road loss at Notre Dame the previous weekend was by a larger margin, the team’s second defeat may have been more demoralizing. For one thing, it happened at home; for another, it was probably the squad’s all-around worst performance. It was as if coach David Shaw’s gridders took the worst elements from their uninspired first half at Oregon and their fourth-quarter collapse against the Fighting Irish and amplified them.

The contest’s first play from scrimmage was promising: junior quarterback K.J. Costello threw to senior wideout J.J. Arcega-Whiteside for 15 yards. But the drive stalled there, and Stanford punted. Utah soon did the same.

The Stanford offense had only barely crossed midfield on its second possession when, on third and seven, Costello was sacked for a seven-yard loss. Senior Jake Bailey came on for his second punt.

The Utes moved 40 yards in six plays before the defense held junior quarterback Tyler Huntley to no gain on a keeper. But the stop would not hold, as junior defensive end Jovan Swann was flagged for roughing the kicker on a punt. Six plays later, junior running back Zack Moss took an option pitch around right end for a seven-yard touchdown.

The Cardinal responded with an 11-play, 66-yard drive, but it would end in disaster. On third and seven from the Utah 9, Costello targeted Arcega-Whiteside in the end zone. Sophomore cornerback Jaylon Johnson anticipated Costello’s throw the entire way, likely aided by film study and the fact that Stanford’s signal caller looked toward No. 19 from the moment the took the snap.

Costello sometimes throws end-zone fades that only one of his big tall receivers is positioned to catch. But on this play, he never seemed conscious of Johnson, and Johnson wasn’t trying to fight with Arcega-Whiteside for the ball. Instead, Johnson stepped in front of the Cardinal receiver, reached up and plucked the pigskin around the goal line, and began heading the other way. He took it to the house for a 100-yard interception return that suddenly put the hosts in a 14-0 hole.

The Cardinal was down but not out. Costello rallied his unit, which needed only three plays to jump from their own 32 to the Utes’ 14. But on third and nine at the 13, the visiting defense sent seven pass rushers, and the offensive line was quickly overwhelmed. As sophomore defensive end Maxs Tupai took Costello down, the junior tried to unload the ball rather than eat a sack. It was an unwise decision. Another sophomore defensive end, Hauati Pututau, snagged the spheroid despite having one arm engaged with Cardinal senior center Jesse Burkett. This time, the return went for just 10 yards, to Utah’s 28, but the damage was done: Costello had turned the ball over twice in as many possessions.

On the ensuing series, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham made a gutsy call that paid off big time for his club. On fourth and two at the Cardinal 35, Moss took a handoff and his line made a huge hole. He zipped through it and angled away from pursuit for an embarrassingly easy 35-yard touchdown. Now Stanford was facing a 21-0 deficit, its biggest of the season.

Costello and his coach would show some guts of their own on the answering series. Costello came out throwing and gained two quick first downs. After an incompletion on third and two at the Utah 45, the team took a timeout with 1:14 remaining in the half.

To punt would have been to admit defeat with more than a half remaining, so it was somewhat reassuring to see the offense stay on the field on fourth and two. Arcega-Whiteside got some separation near the right sideline and Costello connected with him for 11 yards and a crucial first down.

On the next play, Trenton Irwin got open near the other sideline. He had to slow down to make the reception, but make it he did for a 30-yard gain that set up goal to go from the 4. Junior running back Trevor Speights carried twice for two yards apiece, with the latter rush earning him his first collegiate touchdown. That reduced Utah’s lead to 21-7 with 24 seconds remaining before intermission.

The Utes wouldn’t settle for taking that score into the locker rooms. They advanced from their 25 to the Cardinal 30 in four plays, aided by a pass interference penalty and powered in part by a 17-yard Huntley pass completion. Matt Gay’s 48-yard kick was good as time expired, giving the visitors a 24-7 lead.

Utah got the ball back following the break and drove 44 yards on 12 plays in more than five minutes. After fifth-year senior inside linebacker Bobby Okereke tackled Moss for no gain on third down, Gay came out to hit a 49-yarder to put the Utes ahead, 27-7.

On Stanford’s nine-play answering drive, Costello completed passes of 22 and 21 yards to junior tight end Kaden Smith to set up goal to go. Senior back Cameron Scarlett went over the top for his second touchdown of 2018 and 11th overall. That put Stanford within two touchdowns.

A few plays later, on second down for Utah, sophomore outside linebacker Gabe Reid tackled Huntley for a nine-yard loss, which would be Stanford’s only sack of the evening. Huntley threw incomplete on third down, and Utah punted on its only three-and-out of the contest.

Costello completed two passes in the course of Stanford’s response: A 20-yarder to Arcega-Whiteside and a beautiful 26-yarder that freshman wideout Michael Wilson caught on a sideline go route for his second collegiate catch and first touchdown. That reduced Utah’s lead to just 27-21.

The visitors traveled 59 yards in nine plays on a drive that culminated in another Gay field goal, this time from 34 yards out, after Alijah Holder made tackled a Ute tight end short of the first down marker on third and three. That upped the margin to two scores again with 12:33 in the game — not ideal, obviously, but still manageable.

The situation was about to take a sharp turn for the worse. On third and three, Costello was sacked by Tupai for a seven-yard loss, and the Cardinal punted. A few plays after that, Reid had Huntley in his grasp but failed to pull down the Utah quarterback. Half a second later, Huntley unleashed a deep throw that Samson Nacua caught in stride on the left sideline near the Cardinal 25. Senior free safety Frank Buncom, who was in coverage, stumbled, enabling the sophomore wideout to continue unencumbered for a spirit-crushing 57-yard touchdown with 7:12 left to play. That put the black-clad hosts in a 16-point hole.

Things continued to devolve. Two plays after Costello threw to Smith for 26 yards, junior defensive end Bradlee Anae raced in from the right side and jarred Costello’s arm as he was about to target a receiver. The ball came out, giving Anae credit for a nine-yard sack, and senior defensive back Corrion Ballard recovered the pigskin.

The Cardinal’s third turnover of the evening was immediately followed by a 34-yard Moss run. The Utes eventually moved ahead, 40-21, on Gay’s fourth and final field goal, a 37-yarder, with 3:34 showing on the clock.

Stanford sent its offense out one last time, but any hope of changing the tenor of the evening soured when Irwin, after making a catch for a first down, unwisely attempted to extend the play. Sophomore defensive back Javelin Guidry forced a fumble that sophomore end Nick Heninger scooped up for the Utes’ fourth takeaway of the contest.

Utah kneeled twice to bump its record to 3-2 (2-1 in the Pac-12) as it humbled Stanford (4-2, 2-1). This was the Cardinal’s second straight loss; it also was the second game in a row where the team surrendered multiple turnovers without gaining one, and it represented their second straight fourth-quarter collapse.

Stanford is resting this weekend in preparation for a Thursday-night road date at Arizona State. If the team plays anything like it did in the first half and fourth quarter against Utah, that will make for a long evening.


Helpful links

Utah-Stanford team statistics — ESPN
Utah-Stanford box score
Utah-Stanford play-by-play
Utah-Stanford interactive box score — GoStanford.com
Utah-Stanford static box score — GoStanford.com
Stanford 2018–19 football roster
Utah 2018–19 football roster
Game (and some other) tweets — @memomoment
Highlight video — Pro Sports Central

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: