For the first time in his collegiate career, quarterback Kevin Hogan failed to deliver with the game on the line.
On Saturday, Utah (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12) shocked No. 5 Stanford (5-1, 3-1) 27-21 at Rice-Eccles Stadium and handed Hogan his first loss in 11 games as a starting college quarterback. After playing sloppily on both sides of the ball for most of the afternoon, the Cardinal began a furious fourth-quarter rally that fell just short when Hogan’s pass fell incomplete on fourth-and-2 at the Utah 6-yard line with 47 seconds left in the game. The game’s controversial play call, however, came on the previous snap, when Stanford elected to pass the ball on third-and-2 rather than run out of the jumbo package.
Though Stanford did itself no favors by committing two turnovers, the Utes gashed the Cardinal defense for 410 yards with quick passes to the perimeter and effective zone blocking. Running back Robert Poole rushed for 111 yards on 20 carries against a Stanford front seven that uncharacteristically missed open-field tackles, and at times seemed confused by the variety of looks Utah was showing. And while Utah’s offensive line dominated for most of the game, its defensive line applied enough pressure to disrupt the Cardinal’s running game — Stanford had a season-low 143 rushing yards — and throw Hogan off-rhythm.
“We knew we were coming into a hornet’s nest,” said head coach David Shaw. “They outplayed us, they out-coached us, they beat us.”
The game had the makings of a shootout when Stanford and Utah traded touchdown drives on the first two possessions of the afternoon. After junior wide receiver Ty Montgomery turned a hook route into a 45-yard pickup on the first snap of the game, sophomore wideout Kodi Whitfield followed suit with a 28-yard reception. Three plays later, senior halfback Tyler Gaffney punched it in from one yard out to put the Cardinal up early.
Utes quarterback Travis Wilson led his team on an eight-play, 75-yard drive to tie things up, but Montgomery picked up right from where he left off against Washington by returning the subsequent kickoff for a touchdown. Barely midway through the first quarter, Stanford led Utah 14-7.
But that’s when things started to collapse for Stanford.
Facing a third-and-17 near midfield, Wilson launched the ball deep toward wideout Dres Anderson, who muscled his way past senior defensive back Devon Carrington to come down with the ball for a 51-yard touchdown.
Stanford’s offense, meanwhile, became stagnant. Senior Jordan Williamson’s 38-yard field goal attempt on the Cardinal’s second drive of the game went wide right, and after that, senior Ben Rhyne punted three straight times to end the first half.
One of Rhyne’s punts pinned Utah at its own 1-yard line, but despite being better known for their big-play capability, the Utes used an impressive 11-play, 99-yard touchdown drive capped by Anderson’s short run to go up 21-14 heading into halftime.
“[Utah] played UCLA to the end, Oregon State to the end,” Gaffney said. “This was definitely not an overlooked team.”
Things didn’t get much better for the Cardinal in the third quarter. Senior inside linebacker Joe Hemschoot came up big when he intercepted a tipped pass to halt Utah’s march deep in Stanford territory at the start of the quarter, but Montgomery gave the ball right back by fumbling near midfield on the following possession. Despite coughing up the ball, Montgomery was still by far Stanford’s most impactful player on the afternoon and would finish the game with eight receptions for 131 yards on top of his touchdown return.
The Cardinal offense, which moved the ball just 28 yards in the third quarter, committed its second turnover of the quarter when Hogan lost the ball after getting hit from behind. The turnovers only dug Stanford into a deeper hole, as two field goals — sandwiching Hogan’s turnover — from Utah kicker Andrew Phillips gave the Utes a 24-14 lead early in the fourth quarter.
“We knew it would be a battle and we didn’t play well enough,” Shaw said. “Our front seven didn’t play well tonight. Some of the pressure was our quarterback’s fault and some wasn’t.”
Not ready to lie down just yet, the Cardinal shrugged off its mistakes on offense to go on a 52-yard touchdown drive in just five plays. Once again, Montgomery proved to be the catalyst with a big 45-yard gain on a screen pass that bailed Stanford out of a tough third-and-10 situation. Hogan overthrew junior wide receiver Devon Cajuste on a back-shoulder fade on first-and-goal, but immediately went back to him on the next snap that would pay off in the form of a 7-yard touchdown.
After forcing a three-and-out from the Utah offense, the Cardinal got the ball back down by six points with 7:53 left in the game. Despite never having found a rhythm for most of the afternoon, Hogan settled down as the Stanford offense reverted to its methodical, efficient style of play. The junior signal-caller completed his first five passes of the drive, three of which went to Montgomery for 10 or more yards, to march the Cardinal down to the Utah 14-yard line.
Rushes by Gaffney and Hogan brought up a third-and-2 at the Utah 6-yard line with about a minute left in the game. But Stanford could not convert when it mattered the most. On third down, Hogan’s pass intended for junior tight end Charlie Hopkins fell incomplete on a play that was designed to get the ball to fifth-year senior fullback Ryan Hewitt, and on the final attempt, Utah brought pressure to force an overthrown ball from Hogan.
“It’s about how we respond from here on out,” said fifth-year senior outside linebacker Trent Murphy, who recorded two tackles for loss on Saturday. “It’s a long season. There are still a lot of games to win.”
Stanford will have to regroup quickly as it hosts No. 9 UCLA next Saturday during Homecoming weekend.
Contact George Chen at gchen15 ‘at’ stanford.edu.