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Spelfogel: KJ must play!

Darkness. With 3:58 remaining in the most pivotal moments of the game, darkness. Stanford’s collapse last week against San Diego State, not much unlike the failure of the stadium’s light and electric system was due to human error. Error in play call, error in execution and a bit of bad luck. But through last week’s loss and very clearly juxtaposed against this week’s win, a key differentiator stood out from the rest. That is the man in the quarterback position.

After starting quarterback Keller Chryst went down midway through the first quarter, head coach David Shaw elected to implement Ryan Burns as QB, not K.J Costello, much to fans’ chagrin. However, one stalled Stanford drive later, and coach Shaw rolled the dice, putting in the sophomore QB for the remainder of the game. The call, while not questionable by any standards, was certainly uncharacteristic of the Shaw-ian mentality. Other decisions seemed out of line with normal Shaw calls also. On a fourth and one situation in UCLA’s half, Shaw brought out the field goal unit. But after an offside penalty, Stanford then went for it on fourth and six. K.J. Costello nicely rewarded the call by completing the pass for a first down. Maybe Shaw had a moment of reckoning in San Diego after Stanford’s second consecutive loss. Or maybe it was just a random number generator. But either way, Stanford’s play call against UCLA was aggressive, decisive, and K.J. Costello complemented that style beautifully.

It was five years ago, in the midst of offensive turmoil that Kevin Hogan took hold of the QB position once and for all. It was two years ago against UCLA when the Cardinal launched their Rose Bowl drive with Christian McCaffrey running wild. Once the offense got rolling against the Bruins, the Costello/Love combination scarily resembled that of Hogan/McCaffrey. Defenses be warned! Costello was comfortable in the pocket, mobile outside of the pocket and threw 13-19 with two touchdowns. The greatest threat from K.J. Costello though, was his ability to utilize options at the line of scrimmage. His nine-yard touchdown-run with time expiring just before half set the tone for the remainder of the game and posed a threat that UCLA had no response to. If there is any semblance of hope left in Stanford’s season, it rests squarely in the hands of Bryce Love and K.J. Costello. Regardless of the injury situation at QB going forward, K.J. Must Play!

Stanford next faces an Arizona State team that knocked off previously undefeated Oregon. Despite two losses, the Sun Devils showed why they belong in the Pac-12. Stanford will have home field advantage but should not underestimate the ability of the visitors. Saturday’s game should provide the Cardinal a footing with which to get comfortable with a new QB before a more daunting challenge at  No. 20 Utah the week after. Stanford’s college football playoff prospects are on life support: No two-loss team has ever made the CFP since its inception three years ago. But Stanford’s path to a Pac-12 championship is still very much clear, with all five games against Pac-12 North opponents yet to be played. The Cardinal must first get several consecutive wins under their belt before any serious talk of BCS Bowl games, however.

Stanford was knocked flatly on its back in the darkness that enveloped the former Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego last week. This week, the offense was able to turn the lights back on in a memorable performance. The season thus far has been up and down to say the least. A trip to Australia and two journeys to Southern California later, the Cardinal now look to get into the long grueling stretch of Pac-12 conference games. Only time will tell if this season is still salvageable, but one thing is certain: K.J. Must Play!

 

Contact Michael Spelfogel at mspel ‘at’ stanford.edu

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