Sophomore quarterback KJ Costello’s late game interception sealed No. 15 Stanford football’s (9-5) 39-37 loss to No. 13 TCU (11-3) in the 2017 Valero Alamo Bowl on Thursday night.
Stanford led 21-3 at one point in the second quarter before TCU mounted a fierce comeback to take the win.
With two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and on third-and-fifthteen, Costello forced a pass to sophomore tight end Kaden Smith, but he was intercepted by TCU safety Innis Gaines. The Horned Frogs ate the remainder of the clock to give them the bowl victory,
Junior running back and Heisman runner-up Bryce Love was as healthy as he had been since the Oregon game where he suffered his ankle sprain. He rushed for 145 yards on 26 carries and two touchdowns, including a 69-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Costello was up-and-down as he completed 15-of-27 passes for 212 yards and three touchdowns — all to junior wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside. However, he threw two interceptions on misplaced throws.
The mantra at the start of the game was defense as the Cardinal couldn’t score on its first two drives. The first drive ended in a three-and-out and the second drive ended on a missed 52-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Jet Toner after TCU’s fake punt misfired.
However, after TCU quarterback Kenny Hill’s errant pass on the run was intercepted by junior safety Frank Buncom, Love trudged ahead, behind his blockers and powerful running, for a 15-yard touchdown run to give Stanford the first lead of the 2017 Alamo Bowl.
The Cardinal defense broke a little on the Horned Frogs’ third drive. Hill completed a 42-yard bomb to wide receiver Jalen Reagor. Five plays later, TCU kicked a 38-yard field goal to cut Stanford’s lead to 7-3.
On Stanford’s next drive, freshman wide receiver Connor Wedington made his presence felt with catches of 12 and 18 yards to keep the drive moving for the Cardinal. Love’s 20-yard run helped set up Costello’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Arcega-Whiteside.
After TCU went three-and-out, Love’s 10-yard run broke Stanford’s single season rushing record, which was previously held by Christian McCaffrey (McCaffrey did it in 2015). The elation was short lived as Costello overthrew sophomore wide receiver Donald Stewart and was picked off by the Horned Frogs defense. The Cardinal defense held strong and forced another TCU punt.
More smashmouth running by the Stanford running backs led to another Costello to Arcega-Whiteside touchdown. The score gave Stanford a 21- 3 lead with seven minutes remaining in the second quarter.
TCU countered the score with its own long touchdown drive of nine plays and 76 yards. Hill scrambled to the right side of the end zone for a 6-yard scoring run.
The Horned Frogs employed some trickery to start the second half. Hill threw a backwards lateral to wide receiver Desmon White, who then passed it back to Hill, and he scampered down for a 21-yard touchdown. The touchdown made the score 21-16 in favor of Stanford.
The game seemed to be slipping but then Love did what he had done all season. Love took the ball 69 yards for a touchdown to give Stanford a 27-16 lead.
The Horned Frogs struck back when Hill’s 11-yard touchdown pass to White capped off a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to cut Stanford’s lead back to five.
On Stanford’s next drive, Costello completed a 50-yard pass to junior running back Cameron Scarlett to set up a 27-yard field goal for Toner to push the Cardinal’s lead to eight.
On TCU’s ensuing drive, sophomore cornerback Malik Antoine forced a fumble which was recovered by Buncom. The Cardinal couldn’t capitalized on the good field position and punted the ball.
TCU had its longest play of the game when Hill threw a 93-yard touchdown pass to Reagor to cut Stanford’s lead to one. The Horned Frogs failed on the two-point conversion, which meant the Cardinal still led after TCU’s explosive play.
But the Horned Frogs weren’t done yet. White took Stanford’s punt 76 yards for a touchdown to give TCU its first lead of the game at 31-36.
The Stanford offense then shook off the TCU haymaker by driving down the field for a 10-play, 76-yard touchdown drive. Costello hit Arcega-Whiteside for their third touchdown of the game together. However, the Cardinal couldn’t convert the two-point conversion, which would prove costly as TCU took a two-point lead on a field goal on the following drive.
Stanford’s last drive of the game started horribly with a delay-of-game penalty. Then, after a false start penalty, Costello under threw a smothered Smith and was picked off to end the game.
With no more games until next year, the Cardinal await which draft-eligible players will declare for the draft and the Cardinal and White Spring game in April.
Contact Jose Saldana at jsaldana ‘at’ stanford.edu.