Stanford’s offense was stuck in quicksand out in the desert early against Arizona State.
Eventually though, the Cardinal found their way out of a tricky situation on the road to embark on a string of scoring drives that helped them capture a 20-13 win over the Sun Devils in Tempe on Thursday night and keep their Pac-12 title hopes alive in the process.
With an ailing Bryce Love (21 yards on 11 carries) re-injuring his ankle early in the second half and the team unable to mount much consistency running the ball either way, Stanford put the game in the hands of their budding quarterback K.J. Costello by utilizing a ball-control version of the Air Raid. The young signal-caller went 22-of-29 for 231 yards and a touchdown while helping spark a run of four straight scoring drives surrounding halftime that essentially won them the game on a lackluster night when it came to offense.
Lengthy wideout JJ Arcega-Whiteside managed to find the end zone for a ninth time this season (on a non-jump ball, no less) and record 91 yards while Trent Irwin was not far behind with seven catches for 79 yards. Cameron Scarlett was the primary guy after Love in the backfield with 54 yards and a touchdown with Stanford winning the time of possession battle by nearly nine minutes.
Though the final score wound up close for the home team, the Sun Devils were doomed throughout the night by something extremely uncharacteristic: turnovers. ASU game into the game with just two giveaways all season but wound up with three total and could have had one more if not for a kind replay review operator for the Pac-12. QB Manny Wilkins was responsible for two of those turnovers, fumbling in the first half on a designed run and then throwing an awful arm punt-esque interception that Sean Barton easily picked off. The signal-caller finished with 353 yards passing all told but it was quite the up-and-down performance for the offense overall with only 13 points to show for it.
Sophomore tailback Eno Benjamin had one of his least productive games of the season at the wrong time with just 81 total yards just a few weeks removed from rushing for over 300 in another conference game. While his numbers (63 yards on seven catches) managed to look okay, star receiver N'Keal Harry had a fairly quiet game and didn’t do much as a punt returner either.
The loss, while far from the worst one suffered by a team in the valley of the sun on Thursday, was the fourth this season for Herm Edwards by one score or less and dropped the team to 1-3 in conference play. With trips to USC and Oregon upcoming and a home date with Utah still on the docket, rallying to make a bowl game will be no easy task going forward as the momentum from that big win over Michigan State has all but evaporated in Tempe.
As for David Shaw’s side, Stanford remains in the hunt in the Pac-12 North with just one loss and that key tie-breaker over the Ducks. If they truly want to contend in the conference though, the offense will need to step up in terms of rushing the football with Washington State and Washington posing serious challenges in the weeks ahead.
Those are concerns for another time however as the team will certainly celebrate a win that, while ugly at times, still counts all the same in the standings.