The Pac-12 scored a much-needed non-conference victory on Saturday afternoon over the defending Big Ten West title-holders but it proved to be a costly one in terms of injuries for both sides. At least Stanford head coach David Shaw can revel in a 17-7 win over Northwestern in a game that was far uglier as the final scoreline indicated.
Shaw’s quarterback K.J. Costello was the first major injury in the contest, suffering what appeared to be a head injury after a defender’s forearm slammed into his helmet while he was sliding at midfield just before time expired in the first half. He didn’t return to the game after a pretty solid start to the season with 152 yards and a touchdown. Backup David Mills, a former top recruit, entered in the third quarter and did just enough to keep the chains moving while throwing for 81 yards.
Brandon Scarlett rushed for 97 yards in his first action as the lead back for the Cardinal while Connor Wedington (69 yards) and Michael Wilson (47 yards, one touchdown) emerged as the top options in a passing game that has a lot of new faces in the lineup compared to 2018.
While Stanford clearly slowed down after their starting quarterback went down, the same was the case for Northwestern even though it was the backup exiting that seemed to throw off the Wildcats. Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson got the start but was uneven throughout, tossing an interception on his first drive (he tossed another later on) and completing just five passes for 46 yards. Backup T.J. Green entered on the final series of the first half and seemed to have the offense moving a little more but he exited after taking a hit and fumbling, not returning the rest of the way.
To make matters worse, the heart of the NU attack also left the game as tailback Isaiah Bowser suffered a leg injury after rushing for 54 yards on 10 carries. Factor in four turnovers, losing the lopsided time of possession battle, fumbling for a touchdown on the final drive plus managing just 201 yards of offense and it was a forgettable debut for Johnson and the rest of Pat Fitzgerald’s crew who didn’t play on defense.
The defending division winners in the Big Ten still can regroup when they head across country as they proved last season when they lost all their non-conference games yet still made it to Indianapolis. The quarterback play had to be a bit of a red flag for those in purple however — to say nothing of the injuries.
As for Stanford, they won their 12th straight home opener and notched a badly needed non-conference victory for their beleaguered conference lacking much of note early in 2019. The defense forced four turnovers and the offense somehow found a way to win despite the loss of Costello early on. The Cardinal will certainly take a 1-0 start as they pass the first of a number of tough tests this month with USC and a trip to UCF upcoming over the next few weeks.