In a game marked by penalties, field goals and good defense, the Stanford Cardinal (4-2, 3-1 Pac-12) managed to hold on to upset the Utah Utes (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) 23-20 in front of a sold-out crowd at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.
The game started off slowly, with junior running back Bryce Love scoring a touchdown that got called back after a penalty, leading Stanford to settle for a field goal. After that, the Utes made their way downfield and scored on a 2-yard run to bring the score to 3-7 in the first quarter.
That was the last time the Cardinal would trail in the game, however, after a breakaway 39-yard run to the Utah 7-yard line by Love set up senior quarterback Keller Chryst running the ball in for the score. The Bryce Love effect on the Utah defense was on full display on the touchdown run as Chryst was able to keep the ball on the read option while much of the defense was focused on Love.
Head coach David Shaw mentioned this, saying “there’s not a lot of clean places to run the ball,” speaking on the success of read option plays. “So on our first touchdown the quarterback had to pull it. We pulled a couple of them today and got positive yards on the quarterback’s legs.”
After that score, Stanford held Utah to a field goal before scoring one of their own with six seconds left in the half, bringing the score to 13-10. That 46-yard score was a career long for sophomore Jet Toner, bringing his total field goals made this season to 13.
Utah’s next drive, combined with a Stanford penalty, brought the Utes to 1st-and-goal on the Stanford 2, but a push by the defense that ended with a sack by fifth-year outside linebacker Peter Kalambayi stopped them from scoring a touchdown. The Utes ended their drive with a field goal from senior Matt Gay that brought the score to 16-13.
At this point, fans were missing Bryce Love, and he responded with 12-minutes left in the fourth quarter. After getting hit five yards in, Love remained upright and ran the ball in for a 68-yard touchdown that knocked a lot of the wind out of Utah’s sails, bringing the score to 23-13.
This is where Stanford defense really proved that they’ve learned a degree of balance; they know where they can pressure the pocket while also covering receivers. Utah made their way back to the Stanford 30, but a tipped ball thrown by a pressured Troy Williams was intercepted by Quenton Meeks, deflating the Utes.
After Stanford went three and out, Utah had another chance, which was squashed when safety Justin Reid intercepted the ball for the fifth time this season. In the end, Utah got another chance and scored with 44 seconds remaining, but a Stanford-recovered onside kick sealed a Cardinal victory.
Looking ahead, there are a couple things to note. On a positive note, Bryce Love had his eighth consecutive game with a touchdown run of 50 or more yards, as well as with more than 100 rushing yards. Utah came in as the Pac-12’s best rush defense, so this bodes well for the future.
Shaw made a somewhat controversial decision in starting Keller Chryst and alternating him with K.J. Costello, but they combined for 13 completions out of 24 for 188 yards, as well as 42 rushing yards, so they weren’t wholly ineffective. Whether or not Shaw will lean on one quarterback more in the future is yet to be determined.
Though Stanford’s defense looked great against Utah, there is a dark cloud on the horizon. A targeting penalty each for Harrison Phillips and Peter Kalambayi means Stanford’s leading tackler and leading edge rusher, respectively, will be out for the first half of next week’s game against Oregon.
This will certainly be a setback for the Stanford defense, but Saturday proved that they’re a force to be reckoned with.
The Utes now look ahead to a trip to Los Angeles, where they’ll face the No. 13 USC Trojans next Saturday. As for the Cardinal, they will look to extend their three-game winning streak against the Oregon Ducks at Stanford Stadium Saturday. That game is set to kick off at 8 p.m. and will be aired on Fox Sports One.
Contact Ariana Rollins at arianar ‘at’ stanford.edu.