By Matthew Harrington
STANFORD, CALIFORNIA – They are forward thinkers down on The Farm. Mere minutes after the no. 13 ranked Stanford Cardinal (6-1, 4-1 PAC-12) upended visiting PAC-12 rival no. 9 UCLA’s bid at an undefeated season with a 24-10 victory Saturday afternoon at Stanford Stadium, coach David Shaw and company already were thinking about next week’s match-up at Oregon State. More importantly, they had put last week’s defeat against underdog Utah, one that may have put Stanford’s BCS title game hopes on hold until next season, in their rear-view.
“It was the last thing on my mind,” said Shaw of the 27-21 loss at Utah. “Guys wanted to bounce back. They wanted to turn the page and move on. My advice that I gave them was to bring last week with you. Last week we got outplayed. We just got beat, flat out beaten by a good football team. This week we had to come back. We knew it was not going to be any easier and our guys played extremely hard all game long.”
In the rematch of last season’s PAC-12 championship( A 27-24 Cardinal victory), Stanford did something every other UCLA opponent found especially hard to do in the third quarter this season, scoring on the baby blue and gold, not once, but twice. UCLA (5-1, 2-1 PAC-12)entered Saturday’s contest with a 71-0 scoring differential in the third frame, but a pair of Cardinal touchdowns put a blemish on the Bruins streak and proved to be the difference maker after a low-scoring first half.
“We talked a lot about the third quarter,” said Shaw. “We talked about the adjustments we’d have to make on defense. We talked about saving some calls for the second half we didn’t show in the first half. Offensively, we made it a point to get on the board, be smart, be efficient and get down there and get points.”
With only a field goal apiece halfway into the third, it appeared Shaw and staff may have been burned on their gamble to shrink the playbook in the first half. Then Kodi Whitfield submitted his bid for catch of the year to turn the tide in Stanford’s favor 10-3. Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan lobbed a pass on 2nd down and 18 from the UCLA 30 yard line that the sophomore wide receiver had to fully commit to in order to make the catch. He did so, elevating himself over safety Anthony Jefferson and corner Ishmael Adams while corralling the ball with his extended right hand before pulling it in to his body in the end zone.
“Unbelievable,” said Hogan, who was 18-25 with 227 passing yards and two touchdowns. “He just went up and made a play. I can’t wait to see it on Sportscenter.”
The Cardinal wasn’t finished yet. Three plays in to the ensuing Bruins drive, Stanford safety Jordan Richards would intercept an errant Brett Hundley pass from the UCLA 27-yard line and take it to the end zone for an apparent touchdown. The officials would ultimately rule holding on the play, bringing the ball back to the spot of the interception at the UCLA 40 yard line. Stanford would however maintain possession on Richards’ first of two interceptions on the day
It was one of many examples of Stanford’s ability to neutralize UCLA’s star quarterback, as the Cardinal limited Hundley to just 192 yards passing on 24 of 39 completions and 27 yards on the ground one week after he torched Cal for 428 yards of total offense.
“The biggest thing was just working together,” said linebacker Trent Murphy. “We wanted to keep him in the box. Unfortunately he got out on us a couple times, but that’s going to happen. He holds the key to their offense. The key is us all hunting together, keeping it in the box and putting pressure on them. It was definitely a team win for us.”
Stanford would make the most of the offensive possession gained, marching down the field for 39 yards on six plays before Tyler Gaffney would punch home a one-yard touchdown, ultimately the game winner, on third down to give Stanford a 17-3 lead with 3:33 left in the quarter. Gaffney, a workhorse for the Cardinal on Saturday, would finish the game with 171 rushing yards on 36 carries and tack on the backbreaker on a four-yard touchdown run, his second on the day, with 1:42 left to play. Hundley and Shaquelle Evans would connect on the Bruins lone touchdown, a 3-yard touchdown strike four seconds in to the fourth quarter to make the score 17-10 in favor of the home team.
Connor Ukropina, hailing from Bruins territory in Pasadena, CA, provided all of the scoring in the first half. The sophomore, starting in place of the injured Cardinal kicker Jordan Williamson, kicked a 31-yard field goal, splitting the uprights for his first collegiate field goal with 1:08 remaining in the first quarter. He would miss a 46 yard attempt later in the contest, but would be a perfect three for three in extra point attempts. His counterpart Ka’imi Fairbarn connected on a 38-yarder for UCLA nearly five minutes in to the third quarter, knotting the score at 3-3.
“Jordan kicked yesterday,” said Shaw. “He kicked Friday and actually kicked pretty well and got a little sore so we thought the smartest thing to do would be to rest him, get his treatment through the weekend. There is a chance for next week. The way it looks right now, definitely for Oregon (in two weeks).
The Cardinal was on its way to expanding their first-half lead, but Ishmael Adams wrestled a Hogan pass from the hands of a prone Cardinal receiver. After a conference of the officials, the play was upheld. Adams was assessed an unsportsman-like conduct penalty for his celebration, but the Bruins still took over at their own 3-yard line. Hundley would take a knee to run out the clock on an otherwise uneventful first half. The Cardinal defense held UCLA to only 84 yards of total offense in the first half, including limiting Hundley to only 37 yards on five completions in a scant 10 attempts.
Stanford received a scare when wide receiver Devon Cajuste, led the Cardinal receiving corps with 109 yards on seven catches, couldn’t get back to his feet after he was downed early in the fourth quarter. He eventually would be helped off the field while favoring his right leg and would not return to game action.
“It wasn’t as bad as originally thought,” said Shaw on the injury. “There will be MRIs and X-rays and all. It’s tough to see if he’s going to be out for any length of time or if he’s going to be back up and ready to play. It was good to see him at the end. He took the ice off, didn’t have the knee brace on and walked back into the locker room with a smile on his face. I’m not if part of that is because we won but he told me it doesn’t hurt so we’ll check him out and make sure we do the right thing.”
For now, the right thing for the Cardinal is to keep thinking about the upcoming week and the upcoming match-up in Corvallis against Oregon State, as they continue their quest to capture their second-straight PAC-12 title.
“We’re just looking to go 1-0 every week,” said Murphy. “Our focus will be on the Beavers this week. If we can go 1-0 this week, we’ll be in good position and end up where we want to be when it’s all said and done.”