Three quarters was as much as I could bear last night. Heading into the fourth quarter, Stanford trailed 27-10 and had a 97.5% chance of losing, according to ESPN. UCLA snapped an 11-game losing streak to the Cardinal, and the LA Times detailed the following morning that Bruins players celebrated as if they had won a bowl game.
The LA Times wrote, “It took the Cardinal starting a third-string quarterback and three freshmen on the offensive line, but UCLA’s 34-16 victory at Stanford Stadium won’t come with any asterisks.”
I have a message for both the LA Times and the UCLA players: this game will have an asterisk in the minds of Cardinal fans.
No team could ever fathom the number of injuries Stanford has faced this season. The Cardinal played with their third-string quarterback and six total offensive linemen. On defense, they were missing two key linebackers. To make matters worse, they lost their dependable kicker, Jet Toner.
Stanford essentially fielded a high school team on offense. They had three true freshmen on the offensive line, a true freshman at kicker, and their third-string quarterback, Jack West, made his first collegiate start.
To all the UCLA fans reading this article, I’ll debrief you on the players you missed seeing Thursday night.
Stanford’s first-string quarterback, KJ Costello, has been injured all year, but I should not have to remind the Bruins faithful of his talent.
Last year, he led the PAC-12 in passing efficiency, and against the Bruins, Costello torched the defense for 344 yards and five scores. And the year before last, Costello played his first meaningful minutes as the Stanford quarterback and sparked a Stanford victory...over UCLA.
Davis Mills replaced the injured Costello and made the senior quarterback a distant memory. He played well in the team’s win versus Oregon State, and versus Washington, Mills looked like an efficient and talented game manager—-qualities that made him the nation’s top quarterback recruit out of high school.
More importantly, with a shortage of linemen, Mills’ ability to throw on the run and roll out of the pocket made protection schemes easier. West did not show that ability last night, which led to seven sacks.
On any given night, Stanford’s offensive line would not allow seven sacks. Yes, West held the ball too long, but it’s hard to make decisive, quick passes without having a full grasp of the playbook. It’s also hard to avoid pressure when the team starts three true freshmen on the line, who also don’t have a full grasp of the blocking schemes. There were growing pains for players who probably never expected to see playing time this year.
Imagine if Stanford had Walker Little healthy. The junior offensive tackle was a preseason All-American and a potential top 10 pick. Or imagine if they had their two other starters healthy, too. Half of Stanford’s starting linemen are out for the year. They would never have allowed seven sacks. And they certainly would have cleared more room for Cameron Scarlett to run.
These are just a few examples of Stanford’s injury problems. For the most part, injuries are random, so yes, this game should come with an asterisk.
UCLA came closer to seeing the Stanford scout team than the actual one, so yes in my eyes, Stanford’s streak versus UCLA is still alive.