By Jose Saldana
Stanford football (2-2, 1-1 Pac-12) was the final Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) team to play at home when it hosted UCLA (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12) on Saturday in Stanford Stadium.
It came just in time as the Cardinal came out of a rut offensively to defeat the Bruins 58-34 for their 10th straight win over UCLA on a beautiful day in Northern California.
There was a lot of doom and gloom surrounding Stanford before Saturday’s game. Concerns over the offense — play calling, the offensive line and quarterback play — mounted among fans as Stanford lost to USC and San Diego State in back-to-back weeks.
These concerns weren’t allayed in the first 24 minutes of the game against the Bruins when UCLA took a 13-6 lead. Stanford had already used junior punter Jake Bailey three times, and even though Bailey is the best at what he does, if he shows up often, and not on kickoffs, then the Stanford offense is having a tough time.
Then, sophomore quarterback K.J. Costello came into the ballgame.
Incumbent starter, senior quarterback Keller Chryst, suffered a head injury in the first quarter on a designed quarterback run play. Fifth-year quarterback Ryan Burns came in for Chryst but head coach David Shaw went with Costello the rest of the way.
It didn’t start as a revelation at first as Costello and Burns only were able to drive the offense to one field goal in three possessions.
After a momentum-snatching field-goal block by defensive tackle senior Harrison Phillips, Costello and junior Bryce Love got the ball rolling on offense.
The Cardinal scored a touchdown in seven of the next eight possessions and completely overwhelmed the Bruins defense.
Costello ended the game 13-of-19 for 123 passing yards and two touchdowns.
“I thought [Costello] came in and played extremely well for what we asked him to do,” coach Shaw said. “We stayed in the things he was comfortable in. He started a little rough early but played with energy and passion, gave guys chances to make plays on the ball, which was great. Kept drives alive. Scored with his legs. As we talked about, with quarterbacks, if nobody’s there, let’s get positive yards with our legs.”
Although Costello was a welcomed surprise, the real story of the game was the performance of Bryce Love.
He torched the Bruins defense to the tune of 263 yards on 30 carries, both career-highs. His rushing output was the second-most in the history of Stanford football and it’s only behind former Stanford star running back Christian McCaffrey’s record of 284 rushing yards against California last year.
“Question on everyone’s mind I’m sure is about Bryce Love,” coach Shaw said of his lead tailback. “[Love] played extremely well. The guys up front gave him a lane and I don’t know that there’s another back in college football like this guy. So explosive, so physical. Also, as a runner, he gets yardage after contact”
He put the exclamation point for Stanford by using a sharp cutback for a quick 69-yard rushing score in the fourth quarter to put Stanford up 51-34. Love now has a 50+ yard carry for a touchdown in every game this season and in five consecutive games dating back to last year.
“I tried to take pride in seeing things kind of before it happens,” Love said of his running style. “Being able to read blocks and taking it to that second level of seeing blocks that haven’t even really happened yet, trying to set things up and stuff like that is big with me and yeah, yeah, I’m just taking what’s there.”
The defense gave up a lot of yards and points to UCLA and Bruins quarterback Josh Rosen (480 passing yards). However, it implemented a bend-don’t-break mentality and took advantage of UCLA’s pass heavy offense to pick off Rosen twice and cause four turnovers overall.
A real turning point was Phillips immense play when he blocked a Bruins field goal in the second quarter, which started the Stanford offense’s run of touchdowns.
“Here’s Harrison Phillips, who is playing at an All-American level right now, he’s playing so well,” coach Shaw praised of his defensive tackle. “He’s defeating double teams, he’s running, he’s so strong, so physical, plays with great leverage and a PAT field goal block is one of those downs that a lot of guys just say, ‘You know what, I’m going to take my two steps and put my hands up, but I just played seven plays, eight plays, 10 plays on this drive, I’m not going to do it.’ And Harrison’s not like that.”
Phillips and the defense weren’t able to get Rosen on the ground very often (one sack from Phillips), but they created seven quarterback hurries and made Rosen work for his yards. Coach Shaw recognized the effort the defense put in order to get stops when it needed to.
“Well the biggest thing is getting stops and keeping them out of the end zone,” coach Shaw said of the defense. “Those are huge in a game where we got down there and got touchdowns.”
Special teams was also a big factor as junior running back and kick returner Cameron Scarlett had 169 return yards on seven attempts. Scarlett was also a menace on offense as he scored three rushing touchdowns.
Sophomore kicker Jet Toner is still perfect in college. He made his debut against Rice in the season opener and has made every kick he has attempted. He converted 3-of-3 field goals with the longest being 39 yards and helped Stanford stay in the game in the first two quarters.
The Cardinal remain at home for the next bout as they take on Arizona State (2-2, 1-0) this Saturday at 1:00 p.m. in Stanford Stadium. The game will be televised by the Pac-12 Networks.
Contact Jose Saldana at jsaldana ‘at’ stanford.edu.