By Jose Saldana
With Stanford football heading to another Pac-12 Championship against USC this Friday, head coach David Shaw spoke to the media on Monday in a teleconference about the Pac-12 Championship game and the state of the team.
The first topic in Shaw’s teleconference dove right in on sophomore quarterback KJ Costello. Costello has been the starter since taking over for senior Keller Chryst in the game against Washington State.
Shaw talked about Costello’s improvement from the beginning of the year to now.
“Every day, every rep he takes is another experience. He’s learned a lot and he has a lot left to learn,” Shaw said of Costello. “Bottom line for him is he’s got fire, he’s got passion, he’s got a strong arm and he’s an accurate passer.”
The sophomore passer played his best game against Notre Dame last week as he passed for four touchdowns, which hadn’t been done since Kevin Hogan ‘16 did it in 2015.
The conference quickly shifted to the defensive side of the ball and the adjustments made from the first game against USC.
Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold completed 21-of-26 passes for 316 yards and four touchdowns. The defense, to Shaw, had trouble containing USC’s big play ability.
“We have to limit the explosive plays,” Shaw said. “Make those four-yard gains four-yard gains, don’t let them become 20 … We missed a lot of tackles in that first USC game.”
A couple of defensive players went out in the game against Notre Dame, and Shaw commented on the statuses of those players.
“[Fifth-year defensive] Eric Cotton will be out,” Shaw said. “[Senior linebacker] Joey Alfieri is questionable.”
Cotton has 30 total tackles, 4.0 TFLs and two quarterback hits. Alfieri, who was moved from the outside to inside linebacker role this season, racked up 34 tackles, 3.5 TFLs and 2.0 sacks on the year.
Shaw then commented on the advantages of having to play close to home versus the Trojans getting a bye-week before the game.
“The fact that we don’t have to travel is huge,” Shaw said of the Santa Clara location for the game. “Because travel on a short week is very difficult. The percentages for winning a short week road game are miniscule. Your guys are worn out.”
“The bye has been great for USC,” Shaw continued. “If anybody in the country deserved it, it’s them. Going 12 straight weeks without a bye is brutal.”
Shaw mentioned that throughout the year, the team has managed to get extra days of rest here and there which has help alleviate some of the impact of the short week.
The topic shifted to the offensive line play and how it has adjusted from the troubles early in the season.
“We’ve moved some guys around and it didn’t take them long to really settle in” Shaw said. “[Freshman offensive tackle] Walker Little did not play like a freshman. [Sophomore] Devery Hamilton has come in and has done a good job.”
Hamilton has replaced Little at the left tackle position after Little has been hurt since the Oregon game.
Shaw was then asked about UCLA hiring Chip Kelly as head coach.
“First of all, I am excited to have him back,” Shaw said. “I’ve missed him. I love competing against him. He shook this conference up.”
Kelly was the head coach of Oregon before departing to the NFL in 2013. Under Kelly, the Ducks compiled a 46-7 record and won the conference three times, including a national championship appearance in 2010.
Stanford heads to Levi’s Stadium on Friday to play USC in the Pac-12 Championship game at 5 p.m. PT. The game will be broadcasted by ESPN.
Contact Jose Saldana at jsaldana ‘at’ stanford.edu.