Cameron Scarlett was handed the ball 33 times and obliterated his career-high with 151 rushing yards on the way to an upset victory over No. 15 Washington at home. With the third-string quarterback under center behind three freshman offensive linemen, the fifth-year running back ran out the clock with 51 fourth-quarter yards to preserve the Cardinal lead.
“He’s playing the best football of his career right now,” Scarlett’s head coach David Shaw said of him. “Just hand the ball to him repeatedly against loaded boxes when they knew we were running the ball.”
Stanford (3-3, 2-2 Pac-12) shocked Washington (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12) with a 23-13 upset victory. The Huskies have not won in Stanford Stadium since 2007.
Despite eclipsing 100 rushing yards for the first time in his career and adding a pair of receptions for 32 yards, Scarlett’s most significant contribution may have come in pass protection. Scarlett’s block allowed junior quarterback Davis Mills to connect with sophomore receiver Simi Fehoko for a 42-yard touchdown to take a 13-10 lead that Stanford would never surrender.
“If you’re going to be the lead back, you have to be able to run and we have to be able to do playaction,” Shaw said. “The touchdown to Simi Fehoko, we’re faking on the left and the safety blitz came on the right, and Cam came all the way down and made a great block and allowed us to get the ball off.”
“Being a running back is much more than just running the ball and we know that here,” Scarlett said. “That’s what separates the good backs from the great backs.”
That play was also indicative of the strides made by Mills since taking over for the injured senior K.J. Costello as the starting quarterback. Mills, however, left the game in the fourth quarter and was replaced by sophomore Jack West. Although there is no official update on Mills, the quarterback was cleared to return to action after coming out of the game a first time, but exited a second time with further concerns.
“To say it blatantly, the touchdown pass he made to Simi Fehoko, as well as the first play he made to Simi Fehoko, those are the ones that we’ve missed, that he’s missed and they haven’t connected on,” Shaw said.
“I think a lot of it has to do with the chemistry between me and Davis,” Fehoko said. The pair have worked after practice to fix their mistakes, between Mills’ missed throws and Fehoko’s drops.
Offensive coordinator Tavita Pritchard came to Shaw this week and suggested the play for Fehoko, who ran a deep curl and go. When Fehoko saw the play was added to the first 20 call sheet, he knew he was going to have an opportunity.
“I knew it was up in the first 20 play calls,” Fehoko said. “[Mills] gave a pump to Osiris I believe, which had me wide open. And you know, I, again, I was kind of scared. I was focusing so hard on the ball, like I can’t drop this one.”
Despite having just 37 yards on the season coming into the game, Fehoko set a career-high with 91 yards on three receptions, all by halftime, and his first career touchdown.
“Great to see Simi Fehoko,” Shaw said. “He’s been so close. We know he’s got so much ability and when he has a game like that, it takes so much pressure off of [junior tight end] Colby Parkinson, so much pressure off of [starting wide receivers sophomore] Mike [Wilson] and [junior] Connor [Wedington], to know that we have other guys out there that can make some big plays.”
Stanford received the opening kickoff, but managed just three points despite a golden opportunity. Coming off a timeout, Mills hit Fehoko for 26 yards on a crucial third down conversion. A roughing the passer call took Stanford to the three yard line, but the drive stalled there, and senior kicker Jet Toner trotted out for a 20 yard field goal.
Washington’s answer was swift and impressive, and ended with quarterback Jacob Eason finding tight end Cade Otton in the end zone from three yards out. Eason led a ten play, 75 yard drive on a perfect 5-5 passing and 56 yards, with three of those completions and 50 of those yards going to wide receiver Aaron Fuller.
After that brilliant start, Eason finished 16-36 with 206 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Eason’s first game under a 50% completion rate since transferring to Washington featured two streaks of four consecutive incompletions.
“Thankfully we made him move and throw the ball away a couple times and made him tuck it a couple times,” Shaw said.
Once again, Stanford drove deep into the red zone and settled for a field goal in a drive that bled into the second quarter. Scarlett converted a fourth down attempt with a three yard rush, and junior tight end Tucker Fisk caught just his third career pass and bounced off a defender for 16 yard gain to the one yard line. Stanford inexplicably called a timeout to unnecessarily avoid a delay of game penalty that would have pushed a field goal five yards back. Nevertheless, five yards closer, Toner hit the 45th field goal of his career, which moved him into sixth all-time for the Cardinal.
In six plays with goal to go in the first half, Stanford managed to lose one yard. Stanford was just 1-5 on third down in the opening 30 minutes, and Mills was 1-4 on those plays. Nevertheless, after two Scarlett runs and an 18 yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Michael Wilson, Mills was able to find Fehoko for the longest pass and reception of the battery’s young Stanford career.
Washington running back Richard Newton gashed the Cardinal for 33 rushing yards, operating at times out of the wildcat formation. The Huskies reached the Stanford eight yard line, but the Cardinal defense did not break, and two Eason incompletions brought kicker Peyton Henry onto the field to cut the Stanford lead to three points, 13-10.
The two sides then traded possessions, until with little over a minute to play in the half, Stanford took over on the ball. A false start penalty forced Shaw to burn a timeout, the last of the half due to the earlier decision to avoid a delay of game penalty. Stanford went into the locker room after Mills’ hail mary attempt was knocked down.
At the break, the Stanford quarterback sat at 213 yards on 13-19 passing, with Stanford gaining an average of 8.4 yards per play. Washington, meanwhile, was limited to just 146 yards.
On the first play of the second half, Eason went 35 yards on a toss to Fuller, which was followed by Newton breaking off a 19 yard run. Once again, Stanford held firm, and this time they took over on downs after superb plays by both starting cornerbacks. Freshman Kyu Kelly recorded a pass breakup on second down, and not to be outdone, junior Jim Thorpe Award candidate Paulson Adebo knocked down the fourth down conversion.
“We have to score touchdowns in the red zone,” said Washington head coach Chris Petersen. “Kicking field goals, that’s not going to beat this team.”
Stanford quickly gave the ball back to the Huskies, but the defense forced a three-and-out with an 18-yard junior outside linebacker Gabe Reid sack. The Cardinal took over with excellent field position at the Washington 47 yard line.
“With these quarterbacks that have great arms, it’s really big to get pressure on them,” Reid said. “We worked hard to get in the pass rush. Big shout out to the [defensive backs], as well, playing tight coverage and then giving us time to get back there and get in decent space.”
On second and 20, Parkinson made an incredible one-handed grab, while being held, to keep the Stanford drive alive. Two plays later, from four yards out, Scarlett punched in his second touchdown of the season to cap the seven-play drive. Senior right guard Henry Hattis went down with an injury the play before, but his replacement freshman Jake Hornibrook opened up the hole for Scarlett. Hornibrook was the third Cardinal freshman on the line, and the 14th true freshman to play this season.
“We were able to throw in a freshman in the red zone, go down there and score the one time we got inside the five-yard line,” Shaw said. “Jake Hornibrook came in there and did a great job.”
Jet Toner brought the advantage to 20-10 with his 100th career, and consecutive, point after attempt. The offensive line depth, however, is worrying heading into the bye week, a problem for offensive line coach Kevin Carberry.
“This has been an interesting two-year stint, or year-and-a-half stint for Coach Carberry,” Shaw said.
Washington zipped down the field with the help of a 37 yard grab by Aaron Fuller, but the drive stalled just outside of the red zone. Henry came on to kick the field goal and cut the Huskies deficit to one score. Fuller’s nine catches and 171 yards accounted for over half of Washington’s yards for the game.
Even though Washington found itself back on the ball soon after, two Eason incompletions allowed senior inside linebacker Curtis Robinson to hurry the Huskies quarterback on third down. The throw went in the direction of Fuller but Kelly was the one to come away with a phenomenal catch for his first career interception.
“I knew he was gonna pick it,” Robinson, who led the team with eight tackles, said. “He’s been practicing that since camp, so when he had the opportunity, I knew he was going to take it.”
Although the Washington defense has been stingy coming off of turnovers, surrendering just seven points thus far in the season, Stanford converted the interception into three points with another boot from Toner, this time from 36 yards. The drive was marred, however, by Mills exiting with an injury that forced sophomore Jack West into action.
The Huskies converted a fourth and three on their next possession, but shied away from a second attempt staring into a fourth and 19. From there, Scarlett took over with nine consecutive rushing attempts to siphon off 5:06 from the clock.
“I like to think of myself as a hard-nose runner, workhorse type guy,” Scarlett said. “You give me the ball I’m going to make something happen, even if it’s not there, we ended up running the same play probably like ten times in a row at the end of the game.”
“The fact we didn’t throw the ball had nothing to do with Jack West,” Shaw said. “We just weren’t going to put the ball in the air.”
The fifth-year running back has played behind Heisman contenders for his entire time on the Farm, but showed why he leads the conference in rushing yards in his first season as the primary option.
“I knew today was going to be the day,” Scarlett said. “I’ve been sick and tired of rushing for 90 yards, 92, 97; I see that.”
Although he threw just two fourth quarter passes, Mills finished with 293 yards and a touchdown. A week after showing off his athleticism with the touchdown grab on the Stanford Special, Mills set a career high 26 rushing yards.
Two years ago, when the Huskies visited the Farm as the ninth-ranked team in the country, another unranked Cardinal team upset their guests behind a dominant rushing performance. Bryce Love ’19 rushed for 166 yards and three touchdowns as Stanford won 30-22.
“They just executed their plan a heck of a lot better than we did,” Petersen said. “Kind of felt like déjà vu, about two years ago.”
In that game, Stanford held the ball for a little over 36 minutes. This time, the Cardinal almost doubled Washington’s time of possession, keeping the Huskies offense on the sidelines for 39:01.
“To always quote the great Chip Kelly: Time of possession means nothing, unless you score touchdowns,” Shaw said. “At the end of the game, time of possession usually means one thing to me: Means we have the lead and we’re running the ball well.”
Stanford will take on UCLA (1-5, 1-2 Pac-12), and its coach who Shaw quoted, in a Thursday night game Oct. 17.
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.