Stanford football teams have never been built to come from behind. They’ve always been designed to grab an early lead and hold it by controlling the clock and relying on defense.
Ahead of the 2015 season, Stanford had high hopes but flopped against Northwestern in their first game. The team trailed at half and fell behind by 10 points with just under four minutes to go. The Cardinal showed no energy throughout the game and the loss to the Wildcats ultimately cost them a spot in the playoff.
The next year, Stanford trailed Washington 23-0 at half. Cardinal fans never even sniffed a comeback in the second half. Similarly in the next game, Stanford fell behind 14-3 heading into the locker room, and any chance of a comeback was crushed by the Cougars’ 28 second-half points.
Last Saturday versus Oregon, Stanford trailed 24-7 at half, and frankly, I gave up on the Cardinal, turning off the TV and heading out for the night. The Cardinal don’t come from behind, so why should I spend my Saturday night watching a blowout? Fortunately, I was wrong; this team is different than past ones. (I did end up watching a replay of the game.)
The biggest factor for the comeback victory: K.J. Costello. Costello is a confident leader who plays with a fiery attitude, and is unlike any other recent Stanford quarterback.
He told me after the Notre Dame game last season, “I got so much to work on. I still don’t feel like I’ve played an ‘A’ game yet as far as the grade sheet goes.”
This year, it seems like the redshirt sophomore has brought his ‘A’ game. When the run was shut down by San Diego State, Costello casually threw for 332 yards and four touchdowns. He didn’t carry as big of a load versus USC, but still played efficient football by avoiding turnovers and completing the majority of his passes. He undoubtedly had his best game of the season versus Oregon, completing almost 75 percent of his passes, finding the end zone three times, and throwing for 327 yards.
Recent Stanford quarterbacks have struggled to amp up their team and start a rally when behind. Kevin Hogan authored clutch victories, but his game was more of a grinder, while Ryan Burns and Keller Chryst were inconsistent at best.
Costello has Hogan’s knack for playmaking—and more. He extends plays and gets physical, but he also possesses much more arm talent. Hogan threw for over 300 yards twice in his four year career; Costello has already done it twice this year.
Furthermore, David Shaw seems to trust Costello to throw the ball a lot more than Hogan. In his senior year, Hogan averaged a little more than 20 throws a game; Costello throws for about 30 throws a game. (Yes, Christian McCaffrey was right behind him, and the run game was pretty much unstoppable in 2015, but Bryce Love is still pretty good too.) Surely, Shaw isn’t giving up on the running game but merely trusting Costello more than previous quarterbacks. And for good reason—look at these two beautifully placed throws:
COUNT IT. @CJ51 hauls in @kj_costello's pass to extend the Stanford lead.— Stanford Football (@StanfordFball) September 9, 2018
: @CFBONFOX #GoStanford | #BeatSC pic.twitter.com/bt60sqNQJq
Historic night for @jjarcega_22.— Stanford Football (@StanfordFball) September 1, 2018
3 touchdowns#GoStanford pic.twitter.com/toLQ4rikZr
Above all though, Costello plays like he’d die for this team, and the rest of the team seems to follow his lead. Just look at this passion:
YES SIR.#GoStanford pic.twitter.com/TPABz3RU0P— Stanford Football (@StanfordFball) September 23, 2018
As long as we have Costello, I wouldn’t count the Cardinal out of any game.