Stanford QB KJ Costello vs USC
Stanford QB KJ Costello vs USC
16/27 | 183 YARDS | 1 TD
0 INT | 0 SACKS
FINAL: Stanford 17 / USC 3
Sundays With Soltau
Cardinal getting defensive
By Mark Soltau
STANFORD, Calif. – A question mark starting the season, the Stanford defense has been aggressive, gritty and resilient.
After limiting San Diego State to 10 points in the opener, the newly-ranked No. 9 Cardinal (2-0, 1-0 Pac-12) put the clamps on USC (1-1, 0-1) on Saturday in the conference lid-lifter for both teams. Stanford scored early, dug in when it had to, and emerged with a 17-3 victory to snap a two-game losing streak against the Trojans.
It was the fewest points allowed by Stanford against USC in 77 years and the Trojans’ lowest offensive output since 1997.
“The guys are playing really well together and giving you a glimpse of what they can become if we just keep working and improving,” said Lance Anderson, the Willie Shaw Director of Football. “I love how they’re playing together. Guys are playing hard and doing their job. If we do that, we have a chance to be good.”
USC ran more plays (73-57) and racked up more first downs (20-13), but Stanford was stout in the red zone and went more than 50 minutes (combined with last week) without surrendering a point.
“The years that we have been best on defense, there has been great chemistry,” Anderson said. “Guys are unselfish, do their jobs and do extra, like coming in and watching film. It’s early, but you feel that way with this group.”
The Cardinal is tied for 21st nationally in scoring defense allowing 10.0 points per game.
Little things: Senior outside linebacker Casey Toohill cited added focus and attention to detail as keys for the strong start.
“Our defensive strategy this year has just been doing the extra work, the extra film and visualization — whatever it is — so we can go out there on game day and dominate,” said Toohill. “We did a good job today.”
JT Daniels is just the second true freshman to start at quarterback for USC. While the talented 18-year-old is mature beyond his years, he only completed only 16-of-34 passes, threw two interceptions and was sacked four times.
“Relentless energy to the quarterback is really what we’re striving for,” Toohill said.
Group effort: Many newcomers have assumed starting roles and are making significant contributions.
“It’s just fun to see,” said Toohill. “Jordan Fox came in and had an incredible game and Gabe Reid is an incredible pass rusher. I see how much talent they have and it makes me excited for the future.”
Fox, a junior outside linebacker, earned the first sack of his career and had another tackle for loss.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “All the work and preparation we put in just paying off. Getting an opportunity and seizing the moment.”
Sacks are sweet.
“We pride ourselves as a defense in partying in the backfield,” said Fox. “So just being tenacious every single snap and getting after the quarterback.”
Getting loose: Typically, wins against USC are cause for celebration. However, players were surprisingly mellow in the locker room until after head coach David Shaw addressed them.
Suddenly, they ran to the middle of the room and began jumping and singing. Within seconds, the noise was deafening.
“Three points against USC … everybody was kind of vibing,” said fifth-year senior Joey Alfieri.
Added senior strong safety Ben Edwards, “You gotta have fun playing this sport because we work so hard. We should be happy. It’s something new we’re going to start doing. It was spontaneous tonight, but you’ll see us do it a lot.”
Leading tacklers: Fifth-year inside linebacker Bobby Okereke and senior inside linebacker Sean Barton shared game tackling honors with 10. Barton produced one of Stanford’s four sacks.
Alfieri also had a big night with 1.5 sacks and forced a key fumble on fourth-and-two late in the first half that led to a Cardinal touchdown.
“I just think we’ve got guys all over the board that are playing aggressively, decisively, trusting their keys and playing fast,” said Alfieri, after competing against USC for the seventh time.
Better pursuit: Edwards registered a career-high nine stops.
“We wanted to come out aggressive and pursue the ball,” he said. “Last week, we gave up too many long runs because we weren’t pursuing and tackling. Stopping the run was a big emphasis during the week.”
The Trojans had success, gaining 114 yards on the ground and reeled off several big gains, but never found the end zone.
“We’re having a lot of fun,” said Edwards. “This could be a special year. We’ve got some young, talented guys. We’re all hungry. We feel like we left a lot on the table last year. Every week we just want to go 1-0.”
Twin picks: Playing for the first time this season, junior free safety Malik Antoine kept USC from scoring a touchdown by pilfering two fourth-quarter passes, the first with 2:22 remaining in the Trojan end zone. His second came with 26 seconds left.
Antoine converted from cornerback to safety in the spring.
“He’s just one of those guys that wherever you put him, he ends up being productive,” Shaw said. “This guy is always around the ball.”
Back on track: Senior running back Bryce Love ran for 136 yards on 22 carries and tallied his first touchdown of the season on a 6-yard run. It marked the 16th time in his career he has surpassed 100 yards rushing, tying him for fourth on the school’s all-time list with Darrin Nelson. Love has now eclipsed the 100-yard mark in 15 of his last 17 games.
He broke off scampers of 59 and 28 yards. Love has tallied a run of 50 or more yards in 14 of his last 17 outings.
Shaw praised his patience, toughness and ability to break tackles.
“Getting two yards when sometimes two yards weren’t there, and then the big runs happen,” he said. “A lot of credit to USC. They made it really, really difficult.”
Pounding the pigskin: Senior punter/placekicker Jake Bailey boomed a career-long 66-yard punt and added efforts of 61, 50, 49. Both kickoffs resulted in touchbacks.
“This is how I’ve kind of wanted to start playing,” he said. “I’m trying to take the next step. I’m trying to see the ball really well and focus on each individual rep. I’m getting a lot of great help from Richard McNitzky (junior long snapper), my gunners are doing really well, and Coach (Pete) Alamar has a great scheme. I’m really happy what happened.”
Entering fall camp, Alamar, special teams coordinator, challenged Bailey to refine his punting, especially direction, to limit returns and change field position.
“I don’t know if the normal fan recognized a lot of the situations that happened on punt, but after the second punt, they started bringing the house against us,” said Bailey. “We tried to speed things up and everyone went into blocking mode. The last punt they didn’t even have a returner back there. I would have liked that one back; Coach Alamar let me know I could have taken my time. But I’m happy with happened. We won the game.”
Room for improvement: Junior tight end Kaden Smith caught four passes for a team-leading 77 yards, but said the offense needs to be more productive to help the defense.
“They’re playing great,” he said. “Offensively, we need to get into a rhythm. We came out hot with our first two drives and luckily we got points this time, but we need to keep the momentum going.”
While Love had a terrific night running and pass blocking, Smith wants to see the offense take more advantage of defensive looks.
“They’re giving us pass and loading up the box,” said Smith. “We’ll take it and Bryce is very unselfish. If they’re packed in the box, we’re going to air it out.”
Junior quarterback K.J. Costello concurred.
“We were making it hard on ourselves and continually shot ourselves in the foot,” he said. “But when we did have to make a play, Kaden came up big for me a couple times.”
Around the Pac: Elsewhere in the conference, Arizona State upset No. 15 Michigan State, 16-13, in the debut of new head coach Herm Edwards, and visiting Colorado surprised Nebraska, 33-28, spoiling Scott Frost’s first game at the helm for the Cornhuskers.
In other action, No. 9 Washington blitzed North Dakota, 45-3; Washington State blanked San Jose State, 31-0; No. 6 Oklahoma beat UCLA, 49-21; Cal defeated BYU, 21-18; No. 23 Oregon downed Portland State, 62-14; Utah edged Northern Illinois, 17-6; Houston beat Arizona, 45-18; and Oregon State got past Southern Utah, 48-25.
Aggies next: Stanford will play host to UC Davis on Saturday at 11 a.m. PT, marking the earliest home start in school history. It is also Cardinal Kids Day. With the purchase of an adult ticket, kids in 8th grade and below can receive a free ticket as part of the Bill Walsh Legacy game. There will be several pregame activities, including the kids zone as part of fan fest, which is free to the public.
The Aggies improved to 2-0 by taking down San Diego, 45-21. Quarterback Jake Maier threw for 302 yards for UC Davis, who boasts excellent speed and skill players.
Extra points: Shaw also singled out the play of sophomore cornerback Paulson Adebo, senior inside linebacker Mustafa Branch and senior safety Frank Buncom … After missing the first game, senior cornerback Alijah Holder returned to the starting lineup and had four tackles … Shaw has never lost to an opponent three consecutive times … Stanford did not commit a turnover … Sophomore offensive tackle Foster Sarell left the game with an injury early in the second quarter … Kailee Wong, an All-American defensive end for the Cardinal in 1997, served as honorary captain. On Friday night, he was inducted into the Stanford Athletics Hall of Fame … All nine members of the new class were recognized on the field in the first quarter … In a special ceremony in the third quarter, Dr. Condoleezza Rice displayed the Ryder Cup trophy, which will be played in three weeks near Paris, France. Rice will compete in a Ryder Cup celebrity match and arranged for the trophy to come to Stanford as part of an 11-city tour … Jed Lowrie, a first-team All-American at Stanford in 2004 and 2005, was on hand to show support. Now an infielder for the Oakland A’s, he was named to the All-Star team this year for the first time … Also rooting on the Cardinal were members of the San Jose Sharks, including center Logan Coutre, an alternate captain.
Quotable: “We’re feeding off each other.” – Jordan Fox