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Stanford Gets Past Utah, but Loses Two Key Starters Next Week to Targeting Penalties

NCAA Football: Stanford at Utah Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The Stanford-Utah game wasn’t pretty—and it saw the Stanford Cardinal lose two critical defensive starters for the homecoming game against Oregon—but the game against Utah did end in a win. Here’s how we got there:

To begin a trend, the first half started off rough, as both teams combined for 70 yards in penalties.

1st Quarter

Stanford’s opening drive started off promising on the third play of the game as Keller Chryst connected with Kaden Smith for a 54-yard gain to put Stanford in the red zone. The very next play, Bryce Love appeared to take it in for a touchdown, but had it pulled back on an illegal motion penalty called against FB Daniel Marx. This is the second time this season that a Bryce Love touchdown was pulled back due to an unforced Stanford error.

Four plays later, Stanford faced a 4th and 2 from the Utah 4. David Shaw left the offense out, and moments before the ball was snapped, Shaw sprinted out onto the field to call a timeout. Not realizing that the timeout was called, the players played through the snap, and Cameron Scarlett ran into the end zone. But because of the timeout, once again the touchdown didn’t count.

After returning from the timeout, Shaw called for the field goal unit and Stanford went up 3-0 as Jet Toner hit his 10th consecutive field goal this season.

The unforced errors didn’t come to an end with that drive, though. With about six minutes remaining in the first quarter, Alijah Holder pass interfered to give Utah a fresh set of downs. Zack Moss capitalized on the mistake, and took it in for a touchdown to give the Utes the lead 7-3.

Fortunately, the penalties were not one-sided. By the end of the first half, the two teams will have combined for 70 yards on 8 penalties. With Utah leading 7-3, they brought out one of the best placekickers in the country, Matt Gay, to attempt a 50-yard field goal. Gay was previously 14-for-14 on field goal attempts, but missed the field goal. As the play unfolded, Gay drew contact from a Stanford defender; Gay fell to the ground clutching his knee (although he would return later to the game). On a controversial call, the officials ruled the contact incidental.

The Utah fans responded with boos that lasted long past the play; they also made a number of lewd gestures. Utah was called for unsportsmanlike conduct that allowed Stanford to start on the 47!

2nd Quarter

Stanford appeared that it might capitalize on the favorable field position, as it quickly marched into the red zone of the Utah 11. Unfortunately, the Stanford offense sputtered in the red zone and faced 4th down. Jet Toner, who was a perfect 10-for-10, attempted a chip shot from 27 yards away, and... missed. Both Stanford and Utah’s kickers saw their perfect seasons ruined, and Utah retained the lead 7-3.

Following that, the defense did its part and forced a three-and-out from Utah.

Stanford’s next drive was the best of the first half. After two lackluster plays, Costello connected with Trent Irwin for a 25-yard pass. Then, Bryce Love made a monster 39-yard run to the Utah 7. Keller Chryst took over and, from the read-option, ran the ball into the end zone to take the lead 10-7.

Utah very quickly responded, though, with a red zone drive of its own. After Troy Williams connected with Rae Singleton for 36 yards, Utah was inside the Stanford 8. A pair of short rushes later, Utah was 3rd and goal from the Stanford 3. On a critical play, Bobby Okereke charged into the backfield and sacked Williams. This was Stanford’s 19th sack in only 8 games, and also Stanford’s 8th game in a row with a sack.

Because of Okereke’s sack, Utah settled for a field goal and a tie game 10-10.

On the final drive of the half, Stanford marched down to the Utah 29, but after sputtering once again in the red zone, Jet Toner hit a career-long 46-yard field goal. Stanford went into the half with a 13-10 lead.

3rd Quarter

Stanford’s red zone woes continued in the second half. Utah gifted Stanford on its opening drive on 4th down by dropping a snap to the punter, allowing the Stanford offense to start on the Utah 15. Three plays later, Stanford could only move the ball three yards, and once again sent out Jet Toner. Toner hit the field goal, and Stanford extended its lead, 16-10.

On the next drive, Stanford and Holder’s struggles with penalties continued. Facing a 3rd-and-12, Holder once again pass interfered to give Utah a fresh set of downs in the red zone from the Stanford 2. Thankfully, the defense came up big in the red zone, capping it off with a sack by Peter Kalambayi for a loss of 11 yards. Once again, Utah settled for only a field goal as Matt Gay hit the 30 yarder, and cut Stanford’s lead in half: 16-13 Stanford.

4th Quarter

With 12:57 remaining in the 4th quarter, Stanford once again regained possession. It only took 52 seconds before Bryce Love delivered what appeared to be the knockout punch against Utah. Facing a 2nd-and-4, Bryce Love got hit about five yards into his run, but then went for 60 more after contact and the touchdown. The 68-yard touchdown made for Love’s eighth consecutive game with a touchdown run of at least 50 yards (no team in FBS has as many as Bryce Love alone).

With the touchdown run, Bryce Love also eclipsed 100 rushing yards for the eighth consecutive game. The active streak is better than Toby Gerhart’s (7) and is one game short of tying Christian McCaffrey’s Stanford record (9). To make it even more impressive, Love’s eight consecutive 100+ yard rushing games came in his only eight starts ever.

If Love’s touchdown wasn’t enough to end Utah’s hopes, what happened on the very next drive brought Utah’s hopes closer to an end. Utah marched the ball down the field all the way to the Stanford 30. It was looking very possible that they were going to pull within one score of Stanford, but then Quenton Meeks sucked the air out of the room with an interception.

Utah’s hopes were very briefly revived when Stanford went three and out, but then Justin Reid once again proved himself to be one of the most valuable safeties in college football. For the fifth time in only seven games, Reid found himself with another interception to give Stanford possession once again.

Although the game was basically sealed away for Stanford, 23-13, the unforced errors continued and will haunt Stanford against Oregon next week. Both Peter Kalambayi and Harrison Phillips were called for targeting in a game that they had all but put away. Now two critical starters will be absent from the first half of the homecoming game against Oregon.

After the ejections of Kalambayi and Phillips, Utah showed that it still had a little fight left in it. Williams found Carrington in the end zone to pull Utah within 3 points of Stanford, 23-20, with 44 seconds remaining. Utah could not recover the onside kick, though, and Stanford kneeled out the game for the win.

Even though Stanford won the game 23-20, targeting penalties brought some very big losses for next week’s homecoming game against Oregon. Harrison Phillips led the team in tackles, and Peter Kalambayi is Stanford’s leading edge rusher.