Just a few years ago, UCLA and Stanford played each other for the conference title. But Saturday’s contest had no implications on the PAC-12. Just California pride was at stake.
Stanford already clinched their bowl eligibility, and UCLA was out of the running with only three wins. Still, we got an exciting game as the Cardinal edged out the Bruins 49-42 to extend their win streak over the Bruins to 11 games.
After the game, David Shaw said, “I truly believe that this is a future PAC-12 championship game right here” and credited Chip Kelly for his reasoning.
In Kelly’s first season, his team has been underwhelming, but after last Saturday’s game, Shaw seems right. UCLA will threaten Stanford’s spot on the block sooner rather than later.
UCLA led this game at one point, and they easily could have won, getting the ball twice in the closing minutes. For Stanford, the extra week of rest definitely paid off. Bryce Love was visibly healthier. JJ Arcega-Whiteside returned and scored three touchdowns. KJ Costello was flawless after an early interception, throwing five touchdowns and a game-winning bomb to Osiris St. Brown.
Arcega-Whiteside was not surprised by his quarterback’s turnaround, stating, “If you get a chance to see and talk to him on the sideline, you know that no matter what happened in the past his motor is still going. Nothing phases him. Nothing affects him.”
“[KJ Costello] is coming into his own,” Shaw commented, “and over the next year, he’s going to be one of the best quarterbacks in America.”
The trust between coach and player has clearly been established. In the last four games, Costello threw over 40 passes twice and over 30 passes the other two times. In all of those games, he threw for over 300 yards.
Costello was at his best, and the Bruins still almost broke Stanford’s streak. Why? Because Stanford was defenseless against the pass.
Stanford allowed Wilton Speight to throw for 466 yards, an eye-popping number against a team that averaged less than 240 yards per game this season. Overall, Stanford’s defensive performances have been troubling throughout the year, allowing an average of 36.5 points per game in their four losses.
Traditionally, the Cardinal identity has been founded on a spectacular defense and a spectacular rushing attack. Traditionally, Stanford does not win shootouts. That has not been the case this year. The defense lacks star power, and the rushing attack has disappeared, despite having Heisman runner-up Bryce Love in the backfield. Meanwhile, the passing game has improved.
Stanford football has regressed to two four-loss seasons over the past two years, but at the same time though, there’s been some positives. David Shaw, in my opinion, has adjusted to his personnel. Specifically, he has become more reliant on his quarterback rather than running back.
Next year, I’m confident Costello will return as the focal point on offense. As for Costello’s weapons, most can return next year. Trent Irwin is out of eligibility, and it seems like Arcega-Whiteside will depart for the NFL. But young, impressive pass-catchers like Colby Parkinson and St. Brown should return though, and the Cardinal passing game will continue to flourish.
One game remains on the schedule, and if Stanford hopes to defeat Cal, they’ll need that passing game to thrive. Cal prides itself in stopping the run, allowing fewer than 100 yards in four of their last five games. The defense collectively has allowed no more than 21 points in their last six games. In other words, the defense is legit.
Stanford has been taunting UCLA for 11 years now. The Rose Bowl must feel like home for David Shaw and company. Heck, they’ve only lost one game there this decade. But David Shaw needs K.J. Costello to win this upcoming game and to thrive next season, or else Stanford may lose its reign over the state of California.