The task was too much for Stanford (3-4, 2-3 Pac-12) to handle with a third-string quarterback under center. Riding an eleven-game losing streak against the Cardinal, UCLA (2-5, 2-2 Pac-12) came into Stanford Stadium and captured its second win of the season in convincing fashion, 34-16.
“I just care about being 1-0 on the weekend,” said UCLA head coach Chip Kelly. “Where were you 11 years ago? I was an assistant coach, and most of these kids were six and seven years old.”
The Bruins had not held a lead larger than seven points all season before Thursday night.
Stanford’s first two options at quarterback were both held out of the game with injuries. Senior captain K.J. Costello has not played since the Oregon game on Sep. 21. Junior quarterback Davis Mills started the next two games, but was replaced by West in the fourth quarter of the upset victory over Washington.
With sophomore quarterback Jack West receiving the start, Stanford started three quarterbacks in the same season for the first time since 1974. Behind West were senior Jack Richardson and sophomore Dylan Plautz.
“For me personally, I’m always preparing to be the guy,” West said. “Every time I get a rep in practice, I’m doing it as if I’m the guy. This week happened to be that week.”
West finished 15-32 for 143 yards, and was sacked seven times. Coming into the game, the Bruins had recorded just nine sacks, as part of a defense that allowed 503.3 yards per game. Nevertheless, head coach David Shaw never considered making a change at quarterback.
“I think it just comes down to me playing better and putting us in more manageable down and distances,” West said. “There’s a lot to learn from, which I will do.”
The game’s opening drive began with a West 4-yard keeper and ended with a senior kicker Jet Toner 42-yard field goal. West completed 2-4 passes on the sequence, including a swing pass for 30 yards to junior wide receiver Connor Wedington, but the drive stalled when fifth-year running back Cameron Scarlett was stuffed on a third-down run.
“Tonight just came down to execution, which is what we didn’t do well enough,” West said.
A swift Bruins nine-play, 69-yard drive ensued, and a little over three minutes later quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson found receiver Kyle Philips for a 19-yard touchdown. The Bruins would not surrender the lead for the remainder of the game.
A week after holding Washington to 13 points on 5.1 yards per play, widely regarded as the best defensive performance of the season, Stanford allowed 455 yards of total offense to UCLA. Senior inside linebacker Curtis Robinson and sophomore defensive end Thomas Booker tied for the team-high with nine tackles.
“Thomas Booker has grown up in front of our eyes,” Shaw said. “He’s becoming that play-making defensive lineman that we know he can be.”
“It’s tough sometimes, the swings of the season and doing one thing one week and not the next,” Booker said. “It’s our job to weather the storms and face adversity.”
Soon after, the Bruins were back on the ball at midfield, and a Thompson-Robinson 39-yard scramble set the Bruins up with a first and goal to go. Three plays later, the Bruins signal-caller reunited with Philips from three yards for a two-score lead.
A pair of walk-ons, one current and one former, combined for a blocked punt that was recovered in the end zone for Stanford’s third special teams touchdown of the season. Freshman safety Spencer Jorgensen blocked Wade Lees’s punt, and sophomore wide receiver Brycen Tremayne pounced on the loose ball. With Toner injured on a previous kickoff, freshman punter Ryan Sanborn assumed place-kicking duties as well, and nailed the point after attempt.
With extra time before the game due to the bye last Saturday, special teams coordinator Pete Alamar was able to identify the vulnerability.
“We worked that multiple times this week and it was great to see it happen for us,” Shaw said.
After 15 minutes, the Bruins outgained the Cardinal 119-46. West was sacked twice in the first quarter, and was dropped on a third down to cut short the first drive of the second quarter. Protecting West was an offensive line of three freshmen, including Jake Hornibrook making his first career start at right guard. The Cardinal have lost five linemen for the season.
A quiet second quarter featured seven more UCLA points. The Stanford defense gifted UCLA a first down with an offsides penalty, the third of the game, on third down and one. The next play, running back Joshua Kelley ran 53 yards to the Cardinal’s one-yard line. Two plays later, Thompson-Robinson walked into the end zone untouched.
The Bruins appeared poised to score again before halftime, but junior cornerback Paulson Adebo dashed UCLA’s hopes with his second interception of the season. Despite the pick, the first half was excellent for Thompson-Robinson, who threw for two scores and added another on the ground. The Bruins’ quarterback threw for 100 yards on 10-17 and picked up 67 yards on the ground, second on the team but more than Stanford altogether.
Largely untouched and unfazed, Thompson-Robinson was sacked just three times, all in the second half. Fifth-year outside linebacker Casey Toohill recorded three of Stanford’s four quarterback hits in the game to accompany his eight tackles.
“There’s nothing I hate more than missing a quarterback,” Toohill said. “He’s a talented kid, and a couple times we let him kind of shimmy on through the A and B gaps.”
Although the teams averaged almost a near-identical 10 yards per completion, UCLA averaged 5.5 more yards per rush play en route to a 21-10 halftime lead. Philips caught each of his first eight targets for a total of 72 yards, with the first incompletion coming on the first drive of the third quarter. That drive ended in a 43-yard field goal for J.J. Molson.
Stanford’s first sack of the game came midway through the third quarter from senior defensive tackle Michael Williams. A run stuff on second down and an open field tackle allowed the defense to get off of the field. Still, the Cardinal offense could not put a drive together, and the Bruins marched back down for another Molson field goal, this one from 49 yards out.
Despite picking up a first down for the first time in the quarter and having one fumble overturned, Scarlett coughed up the ball after a 10-yard run, his longest run of the night. After a breakthrough tape-setting game, Scarlett was held to 34 yards on 13 carries, and the rushing attack altogether accumulated just 55 yards.
Defensive coordinator Lance Anderson brought pressure, which outside linebackers junior Gabe Reid and freshman Stephen Herron capitalized on for a sack.
“We execute the way we can on a regular basis, then there’s no reason for them to be scoring on us, or even having prolonged drives,” Booker said. “As the game progressed, it was three and outs, fourth down stops.”
The teams traded four consecutive failed fourth-down attempts until finally Sanborn was sent out to punt. Kelley was handed the ball three straight times, capped by a 54-yard touchdown on third and one to seal the blowout.
“I thought we responded decently, but it doesn’t really matter, honestly, because we still gave up too many big plays,” Toohill said. “We still gave up that touchdown at the end.”
“Defensively, we played well enough to keep us in the game,” Shaw said. “We’ve got to make more plays on the offensive side.”
With under three minutes remaining, Scarlett flipped into the end zone for a consolation touchdown, his third of the season and the only Stanford offensive touchdown of the game. The score was set up by a West connection with sophomore wide receiver Simi Fehoko for 34 yards, the longest pass of the night. Shaw opted for the two-point conversion, but West could not connect with junior tight end Colby Parkinson on the fade.
“I’m proud of the kid,” Parkinson. “I think he stepped up into a big role and did the best job he could.”
UCLA held the ball for the remainder of the game and for the first time this season Stanford lost the time of possession battle.
“We do understand that, as a defense, when we execute the way we should, there isn’t any team that should be able to put points on us,” Booker said. “We have our work cut out for us. You go back to the drawing board, you put your head down, and you get to work. There’s no substitute for that.”
Stanford will host Homecoming Saturday next weekend against Arizona.
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.