Davis Mills and passing game don’t skip a beat

Dec. 13, 2020, 7:44 a.m.

Trailing 14-9 coming out of halftime, Stanford needed a successful drive. 

Head coach David Shaw ’95, for just the second time in his tenure at his alma mater, deferred the kickoff to the second half. Three straight runs to sophomore Austin Jones put Stanford at the 41. From there, senior quarterback Davis Mills had eyes for junior wide receiver Simi Fehoko, and Fehoko alone. 

On third and nine, Shaw and offensive coordinator drew up a flea flicker. Jones took the handoff, pitched the ball to his captain Mills, while Fehoko outran two Beavers defenders. 

Mills aired it out for 57 yards to put Stanford at the one yard line. 

Stanford had been working on the play all week, but left the call at the line of the scrimmage up to Mills. If he saw the free safety deep, Mills would check out of the play. There was no need.

“Simi Fehoko is 6’4″ but he runs a 4.3,” Shaw said. “So we knew at the very least, that if the safety is going to stand flat footed, Simi’s going to get behind him.”

On the field, the call was a touchdown but after the review the ball was spotted at the one yard line. That meant Mills had to punch in the six points on the ground himself, one of his two rushing touchdowns for the game.

“I was talking a little bit of trash hoping he would get in the end zone on that one,” Mills said. 

The Mills to Fehoko connection was attempted nine times and resulted in six catches on Saturday. Fehoko had 110 yards, becoming the first Stanford receiver to surpass the 100 yard mark on the season.

“Those two guys are dangerous combination when everything’s right,” Shaw said.

Part of the reason that Fehoko was such a heavy target was that junior wide receiver Michael Wilson and senior wide receiver Connor Wedington will miss the rest of the season with injuries, leaving Fehoko as the only healthy starter.

From then on, Stanford outscored Oregon State 18-10 and the rest of the Cardinal receivers got in on the action.

“That flea flicker to Fehoko helped a ton to get some momentum back and on our side,” Shaw said.

Near the start of the fourth quarter, Stanford faced a third and two. Oregon State showed a pressure that Stanford had not seen. Mills was trying to figure out the protection and get to a call. The Beavers, however, brought more pressure than Stanford had blockers. Luckily, sophomore wide receiver Elijah Higgins was able to get himself free.

“I had a free runner coming at me off the edge and had to buy some time, make him miss and then get the ball up for Elijah to go make a play,” Mills said.

The pass was complete for 18 yards and set up Mills’ second rushing touchdown two plays later. Wanting to go up by a field goal, Stanford went for the two point conversion. While not there the first time, a pass interference allowed Stanford a second chance.

Listed at 6’3″ and 235 pounds, Higgins has been a key blocker in the run game. For this play, however, he was tasked with setting a pick for senior fullback Houston Heimuli on a screen, and Mills was able to complete the pass.

Freshman wide receiver John Humphreys also made sure he was included in the revelry. With a tie game in the fourth quarter, Stanford needed points but faced a daunting second and ten. 30 yards and a circus catch later, Stanford was knocking on the door at the Oregon State 25 yard line. It just took a while for Shaw to answer.

“Honestly, I didn’t know it was a catch until somebody told me it was,” Shaw said. “When I saw the ball bounce up in the air, I looked at the scoreboard and tried to calculate the time.”

As Shaw was attempting the mental math, someone told him “he caught it.” Shaw responded “you got to be kidding me.” Without seeing the catch, Shaw called the next play. Afterwards, he was able to look up at the scoreboard and watch it for the first time.

“We’ll see that replay many times over the next couple days on SportsCenter,” Shaw said.

For Humphreys, it was just his second career catch, but for 30 huge yards in a huge spot. Unsurprisingly, the coaching staff remains high on his potential.

“We think he’s a star in the making,” Shaw said.

Mills targeted nine total receivers and seven made a catch, but the senior did not feel as if anything was missing.

“We never really skipped a beat at all throwing those other guys in there,” Mills said.

In the first quarter, the crew of pass-catching savants was extended to include senior tight end Tucker Fisk. Targeted on a screen, Fisk rumbled 18 yards for the score to answer Oregon State’s opening drive touchdown.

“Tucker Fisk is by no means an out wide, split him out receiving tight end; he’s not Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz,” Shaw said. “But what he is is 270 pounds and does not like to get tackled.”

“I’m so excited for him, because he does so much dirty work,” Shaw added. “And you got to take care of the guys that do the dirty work.”

Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Daniel Martinez-Krams '22 is a staff writer in the sports section. He is a Biology major from Berkeley, California. Please contact him with tips or feedback at dmartinezkrams ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

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