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Sundays With Soltau | Cardinal offense clicks in thriller

Posted October 29, 2018 by in

Sundays With Soltau
Cardinal offense clicks in thriller

By Mark Soltau

STANFORD, Calif. – For most of the game, the Stanford offense was a thing of beauty. Unfortunately, so was Washington State’s.

Back and forth they went, combining for 940 yards, 11 touchdowns, 74 completions and 51 first downs in an exciting and tense shootout Saturday night during Reunion Homecoming at Stanford Stadium.

Both teams left it on the field.

“We really did what we’ve been working on for a long time,” said junior quarterback K.J. Costello. “Not getting the win is a really tough feeling, but it’s part of life.”

The 14th-ranked Cougars escaped with a 41-38 victory when Blake Mazza’s 40-yard field goal snuck inside the right upright with 19 seconds remaining.

Costello capped a brilliant evening by marching the No. 24 Cardinal 73 yards in 10 plays for the game-tying touchdown with 1:25 left, drilling a 25-yard strike to senior wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside.

Surprising Washington State by going without a huddle, Costello completed 34-of-43 throws for 323 yards and four scores.

“That was an incredible feeling as an offense,” he said of the final drive. “We had guys fighting. Kaden (Smith) went down and got back up, so the safety had to respect the middle and JJ’s open. Bryce (Love) could barely walk. It was just an incredible feeling to be out there with a bunch of guys that are going until the very end.”

Chess match: The Cougars entered with the best passing offense in the country. Knowing it had to keep pace, Stanford altered its preferred smash-mouth style by opening with four consecutive passes and threw on 12 of its first 13 plays.

The strategy and play calling, hatched after last year’s tough 24-21 loss at Washington State, worked beautifully, as the Cardinal found the end zone on its initial possession for only the second time this season, driving 75 yards in 10 plays. After going without a first quarter touchdown against Utah and Arizona State, Stanford accomplished it the first two times it had the ball.

“I really liked that plan and I hope we can continue to execute it going forward,” said fifth-year senior center Jesse Burkett. “Especially with how much pre-snap movement they do. I think it helped us sort those things out and pick them up better. It’s just easier to get into the right calls and see what the defense is trying to do.”

The Cougars came into the game with the most sacks in the Pac-12, but were limited to one by the Cardinal offensive, despite the absence of starting right guard Nate Herbig.

“We were winning the chess match pre-snap, post-snap and were getting them to show their hand,” said Costello. “They (coaching staff) called on me early to get us in a rhythm and I think we all answered it. It’s a great feeling going forward with that but there’s so much room for growth.”

Big lift: Love didn’t practice during the week, but the senior running back wound up starting. Though not 100 percent, he ran six times for 71 yards and ripped off a 43-yard run – his second-longest of the season — and caught four passes.

“I’d love for somebody to find a tougher player in America,” said David Shaw, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football.

Triple threats: Arcega-Whiteside, Smith and senior wide receiver Trenton Irwin had sensational games. Arcega-Whiteside caught 10 passes for 111 yards and two touchdowns; Smith, a junior tight end, grabbed nine for 112 and one score; and Irwin hauled in a career-high eight for 80 and returned a punt 39 yards.

Arcega-Whiteside also drew three pass interference penalties. He now has 11 touchdown receptions and 25 for his career, the third-most in program history.

Irwin has caught at least one pass in 36 consecutive contests.

Surprise play: Sophomore fullback Houston Heimuli produced the first catch of his Stanford career and it went for a one-yard touchdown on fourth and goal with 1:04 left in the first half to give the Cardinal a 28-14 advantage. Expecting run, Washington State was caught off guard after a nice play fake by Costello, who pitched to the wide open Heimuli in the right flat.

“We installed that play Monday or Tuesday and practiced it all week,” Heimuli said. “It just went perfect.”

He said players had a great week of practice.

“I think our team was really invested in this game,” said Heimuli. “We wanted to prove to everyone that we’re going to play fast and hit them in the mouth and we did. In the end, we just didn’t make enough plays.”

Tough to stop: As advertised, graduate transfer quarterback Gardner Minshew II was impressive. He connected on 40-of-50 passes for 438 yards and three touchdowns without being intercepted. He began the second half by hitting 19 straight throws.

The Cardinal threw blitzes at Minshew II, but only managed one sack. After creating three turnovers the previous contest against Arizona State, Stanford came up empty against the Cougars.

“They out-executed us on a couple of third downs and they added up,” said fifth-year senior cornerback Alijah Holder. “We just have to execute a little bit more and dig a little deeper. This is a game of inches and they got us.”

Holder and senior inside linebacker Sean Barton had a game-high 10 tackles.

“I think we all know what we can do,” Holder said. “We just have to put it together. We stepped closer to doing that and were right there.

“I think we will only get better. We’ve been inching and grinding every week. This game was the best we’ve played as far as maximum effort. This seems like a speed bump to us and I really expect the rest of the season to go our way.”

Gaining experience: Junior Jordan Fox and sophomore Gabe Reid started at outside linebacker in place of fifth-year senior Joey Alfieri and senior Casey Toohill. Alfieri is sidelined indefinitely while Toohill received spot duty while playing his way back from an injury.

“Coach (Lance) Anderson challenged us all week,” Fox said of the Willie Shaw Director of Defense. “We knew they were going to throw the ball and he said you guys have to get to the quarterback.”

Stanford sacked Minshew II once.

“We missed a couple tackles,” said Fox. “That’s something we have to clean up. Overall, top to bottom, we just have to make more plays.”

Familiar position: Cal’s upset win against No. 15 Washington left Washington State (7-1, 4-1) alone in first place in the Pac-12 North. The Huskies (6-3, 4-2) are second and the Cardinal is third (5-3, 3-2). The teams collide in Seattle at 6 p.m. on Saturday.

Stanford no longer controls its own destiny but was in a similar position last year. The Cardinal closed with conference wins against Washington and Cal, then received help from Washington State, who beat Washington to enable Stanford to share the title and advance to the Pac-12 Championship.

“We were in kind of a similar spot last year,” said Burkett. “All we can do is get better and focus on the next game.”

Next up: The Stanford-Washington series dates to 1893 and is deadlocked at 42-42-4. The Cardinal captured last year’s November contest at Stanford Stadium, 30-22. Love ran for 166 yards and three touchdowns against the No. 9 Huskies, who had allowed only three rushing scores entering the game.

Washington senior inside linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven, a former Sacred Heart Prep of Atherton, California star, leads the nation in tackles with 108 and averages 13.5 per contest.

Home finale: The first 10,000 fans who enter the gates with a valid paid ticket for the home finale against Oregon State on November 10 will receive a Christian McCaffrey bobblehead – one per person. It is also Fan Appreciation Day and Veterans Day. The game will feature gift giveaways, and members of the military will be recognized.

The Cardinal concludes the regular season with road contests against Cal on November 17 and UCLA on November 24.

Extra points … Costello has thrown at least one scoring pass in 12 straight games … Love passed Toby Gerhart and is fourth on Stanford’s all-time rushing list … Irwin’s punt return was the longest since Christian McCaffrey 63-yard touchdown scamper against Iowa in the 2016 Rose Bowl Game … Joseph Tsai and Clara Wu Tsai ’88, MA 88′ served as Stanford’s honorary captains. Joseph is co-founder and executive vice president of the Alibaba Group.

“That was a great college football game. We just ended up on the wrong side of it.” – David Shaw

— #GoStanford —

About the Author

Alforde Joaquin

ALF’s passion for shooting and editing has earned him several awards including an Edward R. Murrow Award in 2006 for Videography. He was also a nominee for the National Edward R. Murrow Award for Videography. A 6-time Emmy recipient for five different categories: Director/Producer, Videography, Editing, Feature Segment and Sound Mixing, Alf has produced over 1,000 video segments and is committed to developing GetSportsFocus as one of the best sports video magazine on the web.