STANFORD — Good things come to an end, but they don’t normally end this badly.
Stanford was humbled by UCLA Thursday night as third string quarterback Jack West had a debut start to forget. With starter K.J. Costello and backup Davis Mills both unavailable due to injuries, West made his initial college start behind an inexperienced, shuffled offensive line and was forced into comeback mode throughout. West was sacked five times in the first half alone as Stanford fell behind 21-10 at halftime.
“It’s me making my first start but at the end of the day, it’s about execution, which is what we didn’t have,” West said.
Stanford hadn’t started three quartebacks in the same season since 1974. They hadn’t lost to UCLA since 2008, ending an 11-game win streak against the Bruins. And no 2019 UCLA opponents had so little success against Chip Kelly’s rebuilding team overwhelmingly comprised of freshmen and sophomores.
But on Thursday, given the injuries, Stanford was the more inexperienced group.
Now, Stanford faces the very real possibility that they might miss a bowl invitation for the first time under Coach David Shaw.
The Cardinal appeared to come up with the big play they needed in the first half when Spencer Jorgensen blocked a punt and Brycen Tremayne recovered it in the end zone to cut UCLA’s lead to 14-10, but the Bruins kept the Cardinal off the scoreboard after that, only surrendering a Cameron Scarlett rushing touchdown in the game’s final minutes.
Stanford’s only lead came after the game’s opening drive on a 42-yard field goal. But Toner was injured on the ensuing kickoff and did not return.
UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson enjoyed his best overall effort, passing for 192 yards and running for 66 more. Joshua Kelley contributed a pair of 50-yard runs, one for a touchdown, and the Bruins enjoyed a rare rout.
“Dorian kept drives alive with his legs. He takes what the defense gives him,” Kelly said of his starting quarterback.
In a 1-5 start to the season, UCLA hadn’t led a game by more than a touchdown until Thompson-Robinson connected with Kyle Phillips late in the first to put the Bruins up 14-3. Phillips, often deployed against a safety in a slot formation, finished with 10 catches for 100 yards.
Stanford (3-4, 2-3) now has nine days to prepare for their October 26 home against Arizona.
Cameron Scarlett had a career-high rushing performance for Stanford on Saturday, but David Shaw’s best call against No. 15 Washington was inviting former Stanford two-sport star Tyler Gaffney to be the team’s honorary captain.
A slashing running back who got stronger as the game progressed and left everything on the field, Gaffney played with a swagger and enjoyed contact, dishing out as much as he received. As a senior in 2013, Gaffney rushed for 1,709 yards and 21 touchdowns.
“I wanted him up here,” said Shaw, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football, following the Cardinal’s inspiring 23-13 victory against the Huskies on Saturday. “This was going to be an attitude game and I couldn’t think of a better person to come talk to the team, and he was awesome.”
So was Stanford.
Seeking to play its first complete game of the season, the Cardinal (3-3, 2-2 Pac-12) put it together against heavily-favored Washington (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12), which had outscored its previous three opponents by a combined 72 points. Stanford was relentless and wouldn’t be denied on a crisp evening in front of a loud and appreciative home crowd.
Scarlett, a fifth-year senior running back, made Gaffney proud by rushing a career-high 33 times for a personal-best 151 yards. Scarlett carried on nine consecutive runs and picked up two first downs on the Cardinal’s final possession, eating up five of the last six minutes on the clock.
“I had a quick word with him,” said Scarlett, who met Gaffney during his recruiting process. “His message was there’s going to be adversity and nobody in the country thinks we’re going to win this game. The only thing that matters is that we know we have what it takes to win.”
Scarlett’s key block on a blitzing safety enabled junior quarterback Davis Mills to hit sophomore wide receiver Simi Fehoko in stride with a 42-yard scoring pass early in the second quarter to give Stanford a lead it never relinquished.
“Can’t say enough about where Cam Scarlett is right now,” said Shaw. “Just playing such great football.”
After eclipsing 90 yards in three of the first five games — twice finishing with 97 — Scarlett was elated to surpass the century mark.
“I was sick and tired of running for 90 yards,” Scarlett said.
Going after it
Defensively, Stanford limited Washington to 88 yards rushing and hounded Huskies quarterback Jacob Eason (16-of-36), sacking him twice and hurrying him six times. Washington was 2-of-12 on third down.
“These quarterbacks have big arms and it’s really important to get pressure on them,” said junior outside linebacker Gabe Reid, who collected six tackles and an 18-yard sack in his first career start of the season. “We worked hard to get into the pass rush and a big shout out to the DB’s as well for playing tight coverage and giving us a chance to get back there.”
Freshman cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly made his first collegiate interception early in the fourth quarter and added two pass breakups. Junior cornerback Paulson Adebo equaled his career high with four pass breakups and had five tackles.
The unit’s hard work and physical play hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“All the respect in the world to our defense,” junior center Drew Dalman said. “They’re playing their butts off right now and making plays when it counts.”
Shaw knew it was only a matter of time before the speedy 6-foot-4, 226-pound Fehoko made a big contribution. He had two receptions entering the game but caught three for 91 yards and scored his first collegiate touchdown against the Huskies. Fehoko also recovered a Scarlett fumble in the third quarter.
“A lot of it had to do with the chemistry between Davis and me,” said Fehoko. “It’s been there for a while and it finally clicked.”
Tavita Pritchard, the Andrew Luck Director of Offense and Kevin M. Hogan Quarterbacks Coach, added the comeback and go route that Fehoko scored on earlier in the week.
“I knew it was up in the first 20 play calls and I was excited,” Fehoko said. “I got good reps against our scout team. On that play, I was kind of scared — I was focusing so hard on the ball. It was awesome.”
Mills received his second straight start and third of the season in place of injured senior K.J. Costello and threw for a career-high 293 yards, connecting on 21-of-30 attempts. He also showed good mobility, running three times for 26 yards.
“Guys made plays for him and he continues to grow,” said Shaw. “I thought it was a great performance by him tonight.”
Mills left the game in the fourth quarter with an undisclosed injury and was replaced by sophomore Jack West, who received his first playing time of the season. With a two-score lead, Shaw kept the ball on the ground and burned the clock.
“Jack knows the game plan inside and out,” Shaw said. “We just weren’t going to put the ball in the air.”
Stanford’s first-year players continue to impress. Walter Rouse and Barrett Miller started at left tackle and left guard, respectively, and were joined by Jake Hornibrook when senior right guard Henry Hattis went down midway through the third quarter.
“It was awesome being out on the field and playing football again with my guys and having fun,” said Hornibrook of his college debut. “It was a great experience.”
One of five highly touted first-year linemen, Hornibrook said the group has formed a special bond.
“We’re all in it together, just trying to get better,” he said.
Dalman has been impressed by the contributions of the entire class, many thrust into early action due to injuries. In all, 14 true freshmen have played this season.
“It’s just a testament to a lot of our young guys that were out there to step up,” Dalman said.
Ball hogs: The Cardinal finished with a nearly 18-minute time of possession advantage and ran 16 more plays. Shaw, citing UCLA head coach Chip Kelley, said time of possession is a meaningless stat unless you score touchdowns.
“Still hate getting inside the five-yard line and kicking two field goals,” said Shaw. “That one is going to stick in my craw for a while because we fought so hard to get down there.”
Stanford has a bye next week and has 12 days to rest up and prepare for UCLA on October 17. It’ll be a Thursday night contest at Stanford Stadium and kickoff is at 6 p.m.
The Cardinal entertains Arizona on October 26 and doesn’t travel again until November 9 when it treks to Colorado. Start times haven’t been announced.
Saturday was Breast Cancer Awareness Game. Stanford football student-athletes and coaches wore pink to draw awareness to breast cancer as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer survivors were honored throughout the game.
Washington was the highest-ranked foe Stanford has defeated since 2017, when it downed No. 9 Notre Dame … Scarlett’s 33 rushing attempts were the most by a Cardinal since Christian McCaffrey in 2015, when he carried 33 times against Oregon … Senior inside linebacker Curtis Robinson led Stanford with eight tackles … Sophomore wide receiver Michael Wilson (6) and junior wide receiver Connor Wedington (4) combined for 10 catches for the Cardinal … Washington had forced three turnovers in each of its last three games, converting six into touchdowns. However, Stanford committed zero turnovers … Senior Jet Toner converted all three field goal attempts to move past Rod Garcia into sixth place on Stanford’s career list for makes with 46 … Ken Margerum, a consensus All-America wide receiver for Stanford in 1979 and 1980, was recognized as part of the program’s 125-year celebration of Stanford football.
“We definitely left meat on the bone and know we can get better. Good to see us make progress and take another step in the right direction.” — Junior center Drew Dalman
sfgate.com photo: Southern California running back Stephen Carr (7) scores a rushing touchdown against Stanford during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Los Angeles
By Pearl Allison Lo
LOS ANGELES — In the 99th matchup between these California rivals, No. 23 Stanford was shut out in the second half as the teams kicked off the Pac-12 season at United Airlines Field Saturday.
Quarterbacks Kedon Slovis (USC) and Davis Mills (Cardinal) also had their first starts of their college careers 99th meeting first Saturday
USC tweeted, “Slovis is the first true freshman in USC history to throw for 2 touchdowns in his first career start.” He went 28 of 33 for 377 yards and three scores.
Mills went 22 of 36 with 237 yards for one score and one interception.
Neither quarterback had a fumble but each were sacked at least once.
Stanford’s leaders were for rushing Cameron Scarlett, 82 yards, 1 TD and receiving Colby Parkinson for 89 yards.
For the Trojans, their leaders for rushing was Vavae Malepeai, 42 yards, 2 TDs and receiving Amon-Ra St. Brown 97 yards, 2 TDs.
The Cardinal started with the momentum even though the Trojans scored first. Stanford scored on every drive, including on a fumble recovery, until 2:21 left to go in the first half. USC’s first touchdown came with 11:29 left in the second and they halted the Cardinal defensively in the end zone after 14:56 left in the second.
In the second half, we saw the first sacks and interception.
Both teams scored on their opening drive.
The Trojans’ first drive was highlighted by a 45-yard pass to Drake London, but Stanford was able to cut them off from a touchdown. The closest USC got was the two yard line, ending the drive with two incomplete passes before Chase McGrath made it 3-0 with a 23-yard field goal.
Connor Wedington was the highlight of the Cardinal’s first drive. He gave them good field advantage with a 60-yard return and two plays after the Trojans were stalled by a holding penalty, he took a 15-yard pass into the end zone, the second pass of the drive.
Both teams combined for 34 points in the second quarter.
Stanford was helped down the field with an illegal use of hands call. A 21-yard pass to Parkinson at the four was then ruled out of bounds before it was called good after review. Scarlett then had two runs in the first and second quarter to make it a 14-3 lead.
With 14:43 left in the half, the Cardinal then forced a fumble off Velus Jones Jr.’s 21-yard return, which was recovered by Stanf Tobe Umerah. Stanford went down the field four straight plays to fourth down and Jet Toner converted a 32-yard field goal to extend the Cardinal’s lead to 17-3.
The Trojans found themselves on third down with 12:54 left, but that was followed by three double-digit plays, the last a 39-yard pass to one of the St. Brown brothers, Amon-Ra, in the end zone for both USC and Slovis’s first touchdown.
One of Stanford’s drives was filled with penalties, two from USC (personal foul and pass interference) and one from the Cardinal (holding). The Cardinal continued scoring with a 37-yard field goal by Toner to double their lead to 20-10.
The Trojans got to within three (20-17) with their second touchdown in a row. The longest plays were a 25-yard return by Jones Jr., a 29-yard pass to Tyler Vaughns and a 25-yard touchdown run to the left by Stephen Carr.
Then Stanford was forced to punt for the first time with 2:21 left.
USC kept rolling with their third straight touchdown that gave them their first lead (24-20) since their opening drive. They had a holding penalty but Vaughns caught a 31-yard pass and the Cardinal had two straight defensive offside penalties. It was their fastest drive, 1 minute and 50 seconds, as the Tronjans went 70 yards.
USC nearly duplicated their first half total in the second half.
The first quarterback sack came with 12:09 left in the third on Mills by Connor Murphy. It was Murphy’s first career sack. Mills was also sacked by Jay Tufele on the same drive. Toner missed his first and longest field goal of the night, 39 yards, in the second half’s opening drive. It was the longest drive of the night in terms of plays (14) and time (7:09).
Slovis was sacked the following drive by Casey Toohill with 7:08 left. It was the shortest drive in terms of plays (three) and yards (one).
Toner then attempted a 47-yard field goal, but he was blocked by Austin Jackson with 3:21 left.
The Trojans made it 31-20 with 44 seconds left in the third. Michael Pittman Jr. accounted for the bulk of the yardage with a total of 61 yards through three plays. Malepeai ran four yards into the end zone to complete the drive.
Mills took the game’s first interception too as he was caught by Greg Johnson with 13:21 left in the game. USC was able to turn it into a touchdown when Malepeai ran six yards for his second score three minutes later. It was the game’s biggest lead at 38-20.
Things continued to look grim as they turned over the ball on downs with 8:21 left. This also went the opposite way as Vaughns had 30 yards, 16 on the scoring reception to make it 45-20. He ended up with the most total yardage in the game with 106.
Up Next: Next Saturday, the Trojans will face BYU at 1:30 pm and Stanford will take on UCF at 12:30 pm