It wasn’t pretty but Stanford got to nine wins for the fifth straight season, with a 14-13 win over Pitt in the Hyundai Sun Bowl.
The Cardinal offense struggled most of the day. Stanford did not hit the 100-yard mark in total offense until there were only three minutes left in the third quarter. They went three quarters before getting a third down conversion.
Still, quarterback K.J. Costello hit receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside with a couple of big passes that led to scoring plays. That opened up enough running game for Jordan Scarlett. Stanford got by with not much offense, but enough to make it work.
Pitt set the early tone with its physical running game. It was missing part of the two headed rushing tandem, as Qadree Ollison went out in the first quarter with a leg injury and would not return, (five carries for 23 yards to that point). That left it to Darrin Hall to carry the running game work load. He would finish with 123 yards on 16 carries and he had a touchdown.
Neither team was a juggernaut early on. Nursing a 3-0 lead, Pitt was relying on its ground game, and Stanford had 12 total yards of offense with 11 minutes to go in the second quarter. But then Costello hit Arcega-Whiteside on a 30-yard crossing pattern over the middle. Arcega-Whiteside took it down to the Pitt five. Two plays later Jordan Scarlett had the first of his two touchdowns on the day with a one-yard run, and Stanford was up 7-3. On the seven-play drive Stanford quintupled its yardage up to the point.
Pitt stuck with its strength, the run game. On the next possession, a nine play, 75-yard drive ended with Hall running it in up the middle from six yards out. Pitt was back up in front with a 10-7 lead at the half.
They would expand the lead to 13-7 halfway through the third quarter with a 29-yard field goal by Alex Kessman. He was two of three on the day.
Stanford put together the only other drive they would need at the end of the third and into the fourth quarter. They finally converted their first third down of the game. And then it was Costello to Arcega-Whiteside again. The receiver was wide open over the middle on a hook and go and turned it into a 49-yard reception before going down at the Panthers three-yard line. Costello turned in the mistake of the game from there. He faked a handoff to Scarlett on a zone read. Instead, he took off to the left, with really nowhere to go. Costello was hit behind the line of scrimmage and fumbled forward in the air right to a wide-open Scarlett, who was waiting with open arms at the goal line for the score.
That gave the Cardinal their 14-13 lead and both teams spent the fourth quarter struggling to find any offensive rhythm again.
It wasn’t Costello’s finest hour by any stretch. He finished six of 17 passing for 105 yards and no touchdowns. But he got 79 yards of that 105 on two passes to Arcega-Whiteside. Each led to the Stanford scoring drives. Arcega-Whiteside had only one more catch the entire game for 11 yards. With no Bryce Love, and playing against a physical Pitt defense, it was unclear if Stanford would have enough of a rushing attack. Scarlett did his job with 94 yards on 22 carries and the one touchdown on the freak fumble recovery. Dorian Maddox 23 yards on four carries.
Pitt got the rushing game it expected from Hall, but with Ollison out, more of the offense had to come from quarterback Kenny Pickett. The best he could muster was 11 of 29 throwing for 136 yards and no touchdowns.
Stanford gets its ninth win and finished the year at 9-4. For those desperate enough to need college football to look forward to, the Cardinal will open their season at home Labor Day weekend against Northwestern.
Pitt finishes the season at 7-7. This is the second straight season without a winning record for the Panthers, despite winning the ACC Coastal Division. Pitt opens the 2019 campaign at home against Ohio.