Late in the fourth quarter, with his team up by seven, senior tailback Tyler Gaffney looked at head coach David Shaw and said, “Coach, I ain’t tired.”
“We’re not taking you out anymore,” Shaw responded.
Shaw wasn’t going to pass the ball after what had happened in Salt Lake City the week before, and Gaffney certainly wasn’t going to let his team’s Pac-12 title hopes slip away.
Gaffney rushed for a career-high 171 yards and two touchdowns on 36 carries to propel No. 13 Stanford (6-1, 4-1 Pac-12) past No. 9 UCLA (5-1, 2-1) 24-10 in Saturday’s Homecoming game. The Cardinal bounced back in emphatic fashion from its heartbreaking loss to Utah last weekend, and its goal of repeating as Pac-12 champions — along with its slim chances of playing for the national championship — remains intact.
After giving up 410 yards of total offense to the Utes, the Cardinal defense played lights out even by its own high standards, harassing Bruin star quarterback Brett Hundley for most of the afternoon.
With fewer than three minutes left in the game and his team clinging to a seven-point lead, junior safety Jordan Richards picked off Hundley for the second time in the game at the UCLA 40-yard line. Working with a short field, Stanford gave Gaffney the ball five times in a row behind its big offensive line to extend its lead to 14 and put the game away.
“If we can stay on the clock and run the ball with efficiency, we have a chance to do what we want to do, which is run the ball between the tackles,” Shaw said. “Guys wanted to bounce back. They wanted to turn the page and move on, and the advice that I gave them earlier was, ‘Bring last week with you. Bring the lessons learned about how hard you have to play, about how smart you have to play and about how you have to finish.’”
The first half proved to be a defensive slugfest. The Cardinal opened the game with a promising drive that came up empty when junior wide receiver Ty Montgomery dropped a well-thrown deep ball from junior quarterback Kevin Hogan inside the 10-yard line. Bruins running back Malcom Jones got things started for his team with a few runs to the outside, but the UCLA offense ultimately stalled before it could cross midfield.
Stanford and UCLA then traded three-and-outs before the Cardinal offense started to open up on its third drive towards the end of the first quarter. Hogan dropped back to pass nine times during the possession — he hit junior wide receivers Devon Cajuste and Jordan Pratt for first downs and also picked up 24 yards on three carries — and looked comfortable in the pocket for the first time in two weeks.
But an inopportune fumble by senior halfback Anthony Wilkerson at the UCLA 12-yard line forced the Cardinal into a first-and-20 hole after Hogan somehow fought off two Bruin defenders to recover the ball at the 20-yard line. Stanford had to settle for a field goal attempt, and sophomore kicker Conrad Ukropina, who filled in for an injured Jordan Williamson, made a 31-yard boot for the first field goal of his college career.
The defensive battle continued in the second quarter, as the Bruins suffered two three-and-outs in a row while Hogan was intercepted right before halftime when his pass bounced off a sliding Cajuste right into the hands of cornerback Ishmael Adams deep in Bruin territory. Still, the Cardinal defense held its end of the bargain by limiting Hundley to just five-of-10 passing for 37 yards and 8 yards on three carries in the first half.
“I have to give a lot of credit to [defensive coordinator] Derek Mason,” Shaw said. “Just knowing that we had to contain these guys. Partially based on what happened in Utah, the swing passes — giving up seven, eight yards a chunk. We shored up that. We knew [Hundley] is hard to bring down. He’s a big, physical guy, but he’s also an athlete, so we had to keep contain of him.”
The Cardinal’s three-point advantage at the half was far from a comfortable lead, especially considering that the Bruins came into the game outscoring their opponents 71-0 in the third quarter this season. Hundley showed a glimpse of that third-quarter explosiveness when he broke contain to scramble for 30 yards on the opening drive. However, Stanford’s defense buckled down and forced UCLA to settle for a field goal.
“We wanted to keep [Hundley] in the box,” said fifth-year senior outside linebacker Trent Murphy, who sacked the slippery Hundley twice. “Unfortunately he got out on us a couple times, but that’s going to happen. He’s a phenomenal player, a great kid. He holds the key to their offense…But the key is us all hunting together, keeping it in the box and putting pressure.”
Unlike last weekend, the Cardinal offense answered when it needed to. After connecting with Montgomery for 29 yards, Hogan launched a deep ball — a late throw, even though the Bruin safety was out of position — into the end zone, where sophomore wide receiver Kodi Whitfield made an unbelievable one-handed touchdown catch despite tight coverage by the corner. The score put the Cardinal back up by seven midway through the third quarter.
“It was a phenomenal catch,” Murphy said. “Once I saw it up in the air, I started jogging out for the PAT because I knew [Whitfield] was coming down with it.”
“Unbelievable,” Hogan added. “He just went up and made a play. I can’t wait to see it on SportsCenter.”
Three plays later, it was the defense’s turn to come up big. On third-and-7, Hundley unwisely launched the ball down the sideline and was picked off by Richards, who would finish the game with a team-high 10 tackles. Although Richards ran the interception back into the end zone, the touchdown was called back because of a holding penalty on junior linebacker James Vaughters. But no harm was done, as Hogan found Cajuste in the middle of the field for 34 yards and Gaffney punched it in three plays later on third-and-goal for a 1-yard touchdown run to give the Cardinal a 17-3 lead.
“Dominant, dominant,” said Shaw, describing Richards’ play on Saturday. “The year that Ed Reynolds has had or had last year, the ball is staying away from Ed. What Ed put on film last year — leading the nation in interception return yardage — has led him to not have a lot of opportunities. The ball is going Jordan’s way. Jordan’s doing a great job of disguising coverage…He’s athletic, he’s smart. He’s our other quarterback back there.”
Hundley would find wideout Shaquelle Evans for a 3-yard touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter, but the Cardinal defense held steady and kept Stanford’s seven-point lead safe despite Ukropina missing a 46-yard field goal attempt way wide right.
Stanford’s offense went three-and-out on three straight running plays with the fourth quarter winding down, but Richards’ second interception of the day and Gaffney’s workhorse performance sealed the game minutes later.
Stanford will travel to Corvallis, Ore., to take on Oregon State next weekend before its highly anticipated date with No. 2 Oregon on Nov. 7.
Contact George Chen at gchen15 ‘at’ stanford.edu.