By Shan Reddy
In what very well may have been quarterback KJ Costello’s best game for the Cardinal, ending with 323 yards, four touchdowns and a strong completion percentage of 79 percent, Stanford came up just short Saturday night in a tough 41-38 loss to the Washington State Cougars. Stanford highlighted its pass-first mentality, throwing 43 times compared to only 23 plays on the ground.
The loss puts Washington State atop the Pac-12 North, as quarterback Gardner Minshew solidifies his spot at the very top of the FBS passing yards rankings with 3,183. Minshew is currently the only quarterback in college football, with 3,000 yards passing this season.
Cardinal came out emphasizing the short passing game on their first offensive drive, rotating in Bryce Love for inside runs and Speights on passing downs. Costello capped off the drive with an 18-yard highpoint pass to double-covered JJ Arcega-Whiteside.
The touchdown was the 10th of the season for Arcega-Whiteside, who became the sixth player in Cardinal history to rack up double-digit receiving touchdowns in a single season.
The Cougar offense shot right back, driving down the field on their first drive with little resistance, covering 75 yards in just six plays. After a few short passes, Minshew aired it out to redshirt junior running back James Williams on a wheel route for 33 yards, bringing the offense inside the Cardinal five. Williams capped off the drive with an easy 5-yard run for the touchdown to tie the game up early in the first quarter.
The next Cardinal drive saw the first signs of the struggles plaguing the offensive line all season. Washington State linebacker Dillon Sherman turned the corner on Stanford fifth-year senior right tackle A. T. Hall for the strip sack. The Cougars recovered, and were in the end zone five plays later, tying the game up 14-14.
The Cardinal went back to the run game on their third drive, showcasing vintage Bryce Love, who edged around the Washington State defensive line for a season-long 43-yard run to bring the offense into the red zone, making Cougar defenders look silly with three broken tackles. Costello then tossed another jump ball to Arcega-Whiteside in the end zone, leading to a second defensive pass interference penalty on Washington State, bringing the Cardinal offense deep into the red zone. Senior running back Cameron Scarlett punched it into the end zone a few plays later, running behind a stacked three-back set led with a huge block by sophomore fullback Houston Heimuli.
Each of the teams’ next two drives were stopped short, leading to quick punts. The Cougars nearly picked up the first down, but sophomore receiver Davontavean Martin was stopped short by a tough open-field tackle by Stanford sophomore cornerback Paulson Adebo.
Stanford tight end Kaden Smith dominated the next drive, reeling in back to back completions for 20 yards, 36 yards and then a 10-yard touchdown on a broken play, bringing the score to 21-14. Costello avoided the pressure on the play-action and rolled out to his right before dishing the ball off to Smith on a curl route for the score. The drive also saw Bryce Love reach 3500 career rushing yards. Love is now ranked fifth in all-time Stanford rushing, passing Toby Gerhart, the former All-American who happened to be in attendance today.
On the next Stanford drive, Costello continued to air it out, with short completions to Arcega-Whiteside, senior receiver Trenton Irwin and Smith, before back-to-back 15-yard penalties brought them up to the Cougar red zone. The Washington State defense forced a fourth down for the Cardinal on the goal line, before Coach Shaw made the call that Stanford would go for it. The next play saw another three-back set, but instead of a power run, Costello dished it off to fullback Heimuli in the flat for a key 1-yard touchdown.
After juking out a few Cardinal defenders, Washington state receiver Calvin Jamiere ran the ball down to red zone for a massive 53-yard gain on the next drive. With five seconds left before halftime, the Cougars decided to go for one more play. The result was an incomplete pass with one second left, leaving enough time for a chip-shot field goal by freshman kicker Blake Mazza, bringing the score to 28-17 at halftime.
It was a career day for Costello, who set a new personal record for completions in a single half with 19. It was also the Cardinal’s highest scoring half of the season.
After halftime, the Cougars maintained their offensive momentum, driving all the way down the field for 75 yards in nine plays, before capping it off with a 3-yard touchdown run by Williams.
Costello and the Cardinal passing game responded, showing no signs of slowing down. Erwin reeled in four catches for 32 yards, helping bring Stanford into field goal range. Junior placekicker Jet Toner put the ball straight through the uprights, bringing the score to 31-24.
The next two drives saw punts by both teams.
The Cougar passing game remained nearly unstoppable on the next drive as Washington State maintained offensive momentum. Minshew drove the offense down the field with a whopping eight straight completions for 74 yards and a touchdown passing, tying the game up 31-31.
Bryce Love was stopped behind the line on fourth down on the next Cardinal drive, leading to a turnover on downs. Washington State capitalized and brought the running game back out with freshman Max Borghi, before Minshew completed his third touchdown pass to cap the drive off, giving the Cougars back the lead, 38-31.
In a nail-biter of a drive, the Cardinal struck right back, as Costello and Arcega-Whiteside connected for a 25-yard bomb to tie the game back up with just over three minutes on the clock.
The next drive was nearly stopped by the Cardinal defense, before Minshew aired it out for a clutch 35-yard completion to Jamiere with just under a minute to play. The next two plays were incomplete, as the Stanford defense did its best to keep Washington State out of field goal range. With the home crowd in its loudest uproar of the game, Mazza nailed a 42-yard field goal, taking the lead for Washington State with 19 seconds on the clock.
Mazza stepped up again on the next play, forcing a kickoff return by Scarlett that took nine precious seconds off the clock, leaving the Cardinal offense 50 yards out of field goal range with only 10 seconds left. Arcega-Whiteside pulled in a 7-yarder before Shaw called a timeout, and then caught another for 19 yards as time expired.
Smith and Arcega-Whiteside had huge games for Stanford in the tough loss, keeping numerous drives alive. Smith hauled in nine catches for 112 yards and a touchdown, and Arcega-Whiteside added to his stunning season totals with 10 catches for 111 yards and two touchdowns. Arcega-Whiteside now ranks third behind Cardinal legends Troy Walters and Ken Margerum on Stanford’s all-time receiving touchdowns list with 25; his 11 touchdowns on the season are also tied for second most in a single season ever for a Cardinal receiver.
The Cardinal will head to Seattle for a conference game against No. 15 Washington next weekend.
Contact Shan Reddy at rsreddy ‘at’ stanford.edu