It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win.
Senior punter Jake Bailey punted nine times as the offense repeatedly failed to capitalize on opportunities. Redshirt sophomore kicker Jet Toner made two extra points, but they were ugly kicks that veered heavily toward one side. Freshman Michael Wilson was bottled up in the punt return as he attempted three punt returns for a total four yards. On kick returns, Cameron Scarlett did well as he returned a kickoff for 17 yards (even though the offense stalled afterward).
The lethal pass attack failed to materialize as redshirt sophomore K.J. Costello threw for a paltry 6 for 17 for 105 yards with 90 yards going to redshirt junior JJ Arcega-Whiteside. Costello’s streak of 16 games with a passing touchdown ended.
A good ground game, however, emerged as Cameron Scarlett ran for 94 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries; Scarlett was also named the Sun Bowl MVP.
Overall, though, Stanford’s offense was outgained by 136 yards, had 20 fewer plays, and only went 1 for 10 on third downs.
The offense struggled and punted on four straight possessions to open the game, gaining no more than five yards on each of those possessions. On the fifth possession, the Cardinal seemed to have come to life and finally unleashed a balanced attack highlighted by a 29 yard JJ Arcega-Whiteside reception and punctuated by a 1-yard Cameron Scarlett touchdown.
BOOM @cam_scarlett11 punches it in from a yard out ‼— Stanford Football (@StanfordFball) December 31, 2018
: @CBSSports #GoStanford | #BeatPitt pic.twitter.com/4iS8KtqbKy
After that, though, the Cardinal offense stalled again, punting on each of the next four drives. But then the Cardinal scored another touchdown by the hand of two JJ Arcega-Whiteside receptions for 12 and 49 yards as well as some Cameron Scarlett runs.
The score came on a comedic fumble by Costello into the hands of redshirt junior Cameron Scarlett.
Only in the Sun Bowl. pic.twitter.com/Y8pYHNvWmt— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) December 31, 2018
Costello’s prolific 3,435-yard season lands him third-most for single-season passing yards among Cardinal quarterbacks. He fell short of Steve Stenstrom’s 3,627 yard season in 1993.
The defense forced the Panthers to punt twice before allowing a 47-yard run by RB Darrin Hall into the red zone in the waning minutes of the first quarter. The defense fortunately held on as junior LB Jordan Fox sacked the Pittsburgh QB for seven yards.
What does @J_Fox10 say?— Stanford Football (@StanfordFball) December 31, 2018
#PartyInTheBackfield#GoStanford | #BeatPitt pic.twitter.com/mZgByvtgf2
The defense managed to force another change of possession before giving up a touchdown on a methodical Pittsburgh drive of 75 yards before the half ended.
The Cardinal later allowed a field goal after Taysir Mack caught a pass for 41 yards down to the Stanford 9. They later escaped after a missed 55-yard Pittsburgh field goal.
Redshirt junior LB Casey Toohill hurried Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett three times and was a constant presence in the Panthers’ backfield.
#PartyInTheBackfield with @CaseyToohill #GoStanford | #BeatPitt pic.twitter.com/KlY5tESl3r— Stanford Football (@StanfordFball) December 31, 2018
In the end, Stanford defeated Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl, 14-13. This was the Cardinal’s 4th Sun Bowl appearance, and their 3rd Sun Bowl victory.