PASADENA, Calif. — The fade route in the end zone sometimes isn’t a popular play call, but No. 7 Stanford made it work in its 22-13 comeback win at UCLA.
The Cardinal will need their passing offense to work more consistently to defend its Pac-12 title, coach David Shaw said.
“We’ve got to play a much cleaner game next week or we don’t have a chance at Washington,” Shaw said.
Stanford has a short week of practice ahead of Friday’s game at No. 10 Washington, the first top-10 matchup in the Pac-12 this season.
A perfectly placed ball from quarterback Ryan Burns to wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside with 24 seconds left gave the Cardinals the win. Arcega-Whiteside didn’t play in the opener against Kansas State, and the sophomore didn’t catch a pass against Southern California last week.
His playing time came Saturday after Francis Owusu was knocked out of the game on a helmet-to-helmet hit in the second quarter.
The 8-yard touchdown reception was Arcega-Whiteside’s third career catch and gave Stanford its first lead of the game. He and others try that play during slow moments in practice, when the Stanford quarterbacks and wide receivers work on timing and placement of the fade during special team periods.
The 6-foot-3 Arcega-Whiteside was a three-sport athlete at Dorman High School in Inman, South Carolina. He also ran track and was a touted basketball player.
“We just kept our composure from the time we started to the time we finished,” said Arcega-Whiteside, who got one foot inbounds on an acrobatic play. “We made mistakes, but you could sense in those last two minutes that we were all going to execute. When we do it, it all pays off.”
Stanford spent most of the game struggling with its passing. Burns was 1 of 5 for 8 yards in the second half before the go-ahead 70-yard drive. Five straight runs gained 50 yards on a possession in the third quarter, but consecutive incompletions resulted in a 37-yard field goal by Conrad Ukropina instead of a touchdown that would have tied the game.
The Bruins gave up rushing yards — 207 yards on 37 carries. But UCLA contained Heisman Trophy contender Christian McCaffrey, who finished with 138 yards rushing. He topped the 100-yard mark for the 14th time in his last 15 games, but didn’t have a run longer than 13 yards.
With UCLA kicking away from him, McCaffrey was held to 165 all-purpose yards and broke his streak of eight straight games with more than 200.
Opponents, including the Huskies, will focus on containing McCaffrey. A viable passing offense is necessary to take pressure off the junior.
Burns went 5 of 8 for 66 yards on the last possession on Saturday, totaling nearly half of his output for the game. Improved passing will give defenses more to account for and Shaw more options.
“When he starts calling more passing plays, it means he has confidence in us wide receivers and the quarterback to make the play,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “Which, in the end, is better for us because we get to do what we were brought here to do.”
Shaw said there wasn’t enough time to go over all that went wrong on offense. However, when it mattered, Stanford did everything right.
“Bottom line, we got to play better during the game,” Burns said. “We did pretty well at the end.”
AP college football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org