Stanford football (5-2, 3-1) recovered from two straight painful losses to get a huge 20-13 road victory over Arizona State (3-4, 1-3) on Thursday night. Senior wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside had seven catches for 91 yards and the go-ahead touchdown, his ninth of the year. The Cardinal defense forced three turnovers to keep the Sun Devils offense in check and move Stanford one step closer to a Pac-12 North title.
Coming into the game, the availability of senior running back Bryce Love was the story. Love was able to play after Stanford head coach David Shaw called him “questionable” earlier this week, but he appeared to re-aggravate his ankle injury in the third quarter and never returned to the game. Fellow senior running back Cameron Scarlett filled in admirably for Love with nine carries for 54 yards and Stanford’s final touchdown of the game, though the Cardinal rushing attack was once again largely unproductive with just 127 yards on 43 total carries.
Despite the running game struggles, Stanford’s offense was able to hold the ball for 38 minutes and 17 seconds thanks to an efficient outing from junior quarterback KJ Costello, who went 22/29 passing for 231 yards and a touchdown. That dominance in time of possession helped the Cardinal build a 20-6 lead and hold on as time ran out on Arizona State’s final drive when running back Eno Benjamin was tackled inbounds at the Stanford 18.
The game got off to a slow start, as Stanford and Arizona State each went three-and-out on their first two possessions, gaining a combined 14 yards. The Sun Devils became the sixth Stanford opponent to score first this season with a 34 yard field goal from kicker Brandon Ruiz. That initial 66 yard scoring drive was set up by quarterback Manny Wilkins’s 51 yard completion to Brandon Aiyuk. The Cardinal were held scoreless in the first quarter for the fifth time in seven games, gaining just 29 yards.
The Stanford offense finally got going after the first Cardinal takeaway early in the second quarter. Stanford got the ball back on its own 34 when freshman defensive end Thomas Booker recovered a Wilkins fumble forced by fifth year linebacker Bobby Okereke. The Cardinal then marched down to the Arizona State three yard line thanks to two pass interference penalties before junior kicker Jet Toner knocked in a 21 yard field goal.
On the ensuing possession, Arizona State committed their second straight turnover on an interception caught by senior linebacker Sean Barton. Wide receiver N’Keal Harry threw the pick on a double reverse. Harry threw for a touchdown last year against the Cardinal, but Lance Anderson’s defense was ready for the trick play this year and gave the offense the ball back on their own 31-yard line.
Once again, Stanford turned the turnover into points, this time on a 31-yard field goal from Jet Toner as time expired in the half. But once again, it could have been more. The Cardinal appeared to score a 41-yard touchdown on a screen pass to senior running back Cameron Scarlett, but a holding penalty on junior offensive lineman Devery Hamilton negated the score. Still, the field goal put Stanford up 6-3, its first halftime lead since Week 3 against UC Davis. The Cardinal offense was their best defense in the first half, as they held possession for 19:58.
A poor kickoff from Jake Bailey sailed out of bounds to set up Arizona State with great field position after halftime. The Sun Devils took advantage with 24 yard field goal from Ruiz. The key play of the drive came on a 36 yard third down completion from Wilkins to wide receiver Frank Darby. But once again, the Cardinal stood tall in the red zone to force a field goal attempt.
Costello hit Arcega-Whiteside for a 28-yard touchdown on the next possession to give Stanford a 13-6 lead. Love was injured on the second play, but the Cardinal used the third Arizona State pass interference penalty of the game to move the ball into Sun Devil territory and convert their first touchdown of the game on an eight play, 75-yard drive. Arcega-Whiteside’s ninth receiving touchdown of the season puts him at second in the country and first in the Pac-12.
Stanford scored again on their very next possession to go up 20-6 with 2:45 remaining in the third quarter. Scarlett capped off the impressive seven play, 80 yard march with a touchdown from one yard out. It was one of the most balanced scoring drives all season for the Cardinal. Scarlett churned out 30 yards on the ground, and Costello put up 50 yards through the air to lead the decisive drive.
After both teams punted, Stanford sophomore cornerback Paulson Adebo put an end to the next Arizona State drive with his first career interception. Adebo had a fantastic day in coverage against Sun Devils star N’Keal Harry, who came into the game as one of the most heralded wide receivers in college football. Harry had 91 yards, but Adebo largely won that battle thanks to two big passes defended. In his first season of play, Adebo is leading the nation with 14 pass break-ups.
But Arizona State managed to stay alive thanks to conservative play-calling from the Cardinal. Stanford went three-and-out on its first two fourth quarter possessions, running the ball on every play to try and burn the clock. With 7:50 remaining, the Sun Devils cut the Stanford lead to 20-13 with a six play, 64 yard touchdown drive, their first of the night. Wilkins capped the drive with a ten yard scrambling touchdown.
After two more Stanford punts, Arizona State had one last opportunity to tie the game. The Sun Devils got the ball back on their own 15 with 2:20 remaining and no timeouts. Wilkins led the offense down to the Stanford 18, but when Benjamin couldn’t get out of bounds on a short pass, the clock ran out on Arizona State’s chances.
Overall, it was a solid bounce-back win for Stanford off a bye week. Wilkins threw for 353 yards, but the Cardinal forced him into an inefficient night on 26 of 43 passing and an interception. Stanford picked up three sacks on Wilkins, including one and a half by junior defensive end Jovan Swann. The much-maligned Stanford offensive line only allowed one sack and generated more push in the running game. Senior wide receiver Trenton Irwin continued his consistent season with 79 yard on seven catches, and fifth year linebacker Bobby Okereke once again led the defense with seven tackles.
Stanford will return home next Saturday for a massive Pac-12 North showdown with No. 25 Washington State. Thanks to the victory over Arizona State, the Cardinal control their destiny in the Pac-12 North and still have every chance to win the Pac-12 Championship and head to the Rose Bowl. For now, Stanford can enjoy the long week and their first victory since Sept. 22.
Contact King Jemison at kingj ‘at’ stanford.edu.