By Shan Reddy
This past Saturday, the Stanford football team (7-4, 5-3 Pac-12) headed down to Los Angeles to face off against a top in-state rival — the UCLA Bruins (3-9, 3-6) — and took the game with a final score of 49-42. After crushing Oregon State at home earlier in the month, the team was riding a wave of high-octane offensive production led by junior quarterback KJ Costello. Costello has been the driving force of the team since the first game of the season, filling in as the team’s centerpiece for Bryce Love, who has been unable to recapture his former dominance during this season.
After handily defeating the USC Trojans back in September, this year’s squad looked poised to take home another “California championship” this season. Stanford has done it in three out of the past four years by defeating Cal, USC and UCLA all in the same season. With this win over UCLA, only one matchup remains: next Saturday’s Big Game in Berkeley.
Both offenses were on full display Saturday as Stanford secured its 11th consecutive victory against the Bruins. The teams combined for 91 points and 998 yards in an offensive explosion at the Rose Bowl.
After throwing an interception on the fourth play of the game, Costello didn’t flinch again all game, throwing for 344 yards and a career-high five touchdowns.
“It’s got to be part of my job description as a leader of the offense, as a leader of the team. I can’t waiver whether things are going good or bad,” Costello said after the game. “That’s always been something I’ve prided myself on — making sure the situation in the game doesn’t dictate my attitude whether it’s the game-winning drive or the first drive of the game.”
After punting on the second drive, Costello and the Stanford offense scored on each of the subsequent three offensive drives, putting up points through the air and on the ground. In the second quarter, Bryce Love punched in a two-yard touchdown to bring the score to 17-6. The Bruins responded with a rushing touchdown of their own by senior running back, Joshua Kelley. UCLA leaned heavily on Kelley all game, handing the ball off to him 18 times for 55 yards and two scores.
However, the engine that drove the UCLA offense was senior quarterback Wilton Speight, who threw for a whopping 466 yards in the game. Speight transferred from Michigan this past offseason after sitting out for the majority of last season with a persistent spine injury.
Stanford kicked the ball of to Speight and the UCLA offense after halftime up 27-20 on the scoreboard. Speight drove the ball down the field with intermediate passes splitting the Cardinal defense before handing it off to freshman back Martell Irby for a 12-yard score, tying the game up 27-27.
Stanford responded with a 75-yard touchdown drive and a 21-yard touchdown drive on the next two offensive possessions, each capped off by a pass from Costello to JJ Arcega-Whiteside. The senior wide receiver thrice posted up in the end zone and used his imposing frame to simply box out defending corners, a nearly unstoppable play that Stanford fans have witnessed just about every week this season. Arcega-Whiteside ended the game with seven catches for 106 yards and three touchdowns, tying James Lofton for Stanford’s single-season receiving touchdown record with 14 on the year.
With a comfortable 41-27 lead, Love was tackled in the end zone on the penultimate play of the third quarter by sophomore nose tackle Martin Andrus Jr. for a safety, commencing a stunning resurgence by the Bruins. Following the safety, sophomore defensive back Darnay Holmes returned the kickoff for a 93-yard touchdown. Stanford punted on its next offensive drive, preceding a remarkable 90-yard drive capped off by a one-yard touchdown run by Wilton Speight that put the Bruins back on top on the scoreboard, 42-41.
Down a point with minutes left in the fourth quarter, Costello had the ball back in his hands. After back-to-back first down runs by Cameron Scarlett, Costello hurled a bomb downfield to a wide-open Osiris St. Brown for a clutch 52-yard score, giving the Cardinal the lead with what would ultimately be the final score: 49-42. It was the first receiving touchdown of the sophomore receiver’s career, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
“I’ve learned a lot this year,” said Shaw after the game. “Apparently my comfort level doesn’t matter. We’ve been an enigma, but one thing that has been consistent are the big plays in our passing game. Hopefully they continue to happen, and we’ll grow in the running game.”
Stanford heads to Berkeley next Saturday to take on the Cal Golden Bears.