Notebook: Stanford QB K.J. Costello delivers on big stage against Notre Dame

Mike Vorel and Tyler James
ND Insider

PALO ALTO, Calif. — Something about playing Notre Dame in Stanford Stadium seems to bring out the best in Cardinal quarterbacks.

In Saturday night’s 38-20 victory for Stanford, redshirt freshman K.J. Costello completed four touchdown passes. It was the first time a Cardinal quarterback had totaled four touchdown passes in a game since Kevin Hogan did the same against Notre Dame in 2015.

Costello hit the mark in just his fifth career start.

“He'll sit here and tell you he should have had five touchdown passes,” Stanford head coach David Shaw said of Costello’s competitive spirit. “For a young quarterback in this kind of environment, some of those — the pocket wasn't perfect. These guys are good. They're good pass-rushers. They edged a couple times. He got hit a couple times.”

On Costello’s third touchdown pass — a 19-yard completion to tight end Kaden Smith — the 6-foot-5, 220-pound quarterback slid away from Irish defensive end Julian Okwara pass rush to deliver a perfect throw.

Notre Dame was unable to make plays against Costello and the Stanford passing game at crucial moments. Typically the Cardinal receivers were simply beating Irish defenders.

“We were prepared,” said Notre Dame rover Drue Tranquill. “There wasn’t a look we got tonight that I didn’t see this week in practice. Ultimately it comes down to players making plays. Our guys, we didn’t make the plays necessary in order to win the game.”

And Costello seemingly always made the right decision.

 “Our young quarterback, we put a lot on his shoulders this game,” Shaw said. “Ninety percent of the plays we ran tonight were on his shoulders. We called three plays in the huddle. At the line of scrimmage, had to pick the right play, step up in the pocket, make successful big-time throws. He did that tonight.”

St. Brown shines

Notre Dame junior wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown — who was questionable for Saturday’s game with a concussion — led the Irish with five catches for 111 yards, the highlight being a 75-yard touchdown scamper along the sideline.

That came as no surprise to Shaw.

“You have to recognize the talent on the other side,” Stanford’s seventh-year head coach said. “We recruited Equanimeous. We knew he's a talented son of a gun. We saw it on film.

“We weren't sure he was going to play. We find out he's going to play. He's a guy that you circle because he can make big plays.”

Besides St. Brown, sophomore wide receiver Kevin Stepherson contributed three catches for 112 yards, including an untouched 83-yard touchdown. He also added a 10-yard run.

Stepherson, who did not play in Notre Dame’s first four games, has 215 receiving yards and three touchdowns in his last two games.

It was the first time in school history that Notre Dame has recorded two passes of 75 yards or more in the same game.

“They played well, both of them. They played fast,” Kelly said of St. Brown and Stepherson. “That's the way we've got to have them play. They're both guys that can be game changers.”

Added junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush: “If you get them the ball, as a quarterback it’s lovely. It’s awesome if you throw a five-yard pass and they take it 75 to 80 yards. Two huge assets that I’m able to use. They’re obviously great football players.”

In the name of Love

If that’s what Bryce Love looks like when he’s injured, can you imagine when he’s healthy?

Brian Kelly probably doesn’t want to. Despite running on an injured ankle on Saturday, Love — Stanford’s 5-foot-10, 196-pound junior running back and Heisman Trophy candidate — rushed for 125 yards and 6.2 yards per carry in his team’s 38-20 victory over No. 9 Notre Dame (9-3).

In 11 games this season, Love has 1,848 rushing yards with 8.6 yards per carry and 16 touchdowns.

“Offensively you run out of words for what Bryce Love is,” Stanford head coach David Shaw said on Saturday night. “(He had) 130 yards on a sprained ankle. I mean, he's been in pain for a month. Now we're with the doctors, with the trainers all the time, trying to make sure we're not doing any permanent damage. It's pain tolerance. It's unbelievable. (He had) 130 yards, 20 carries, with a smile on his face.

“It's not about winning awards. It's not being an All-American. It's not because the game is on national TV. He just loves to play. He loves his teammates. If he can be out there, he wants to be out there. It's awesome.”

Stat stuffers

• Notre Dame hasn’t won a game it has trailed at halftime since overcoming a 14-12 deficit to beat Virginia 34-27 in 2015. The Irish failed to beat Stanford on Saturday after the Cardinal built a 14-10 lead at halftime.

• Kevin Stepherson’s 83-yard touchdown reception is the longest pass play for Notre Dame since Kyle Rudolph’s 95-yard touchdown against Michigan in 2010.

• Chris Finke’s 41-yard punt return was Notre Dame’s longest since C.J. Sanders return a punt for a 50-yard touchdown against UMass in 2015.

• Stanford forced a turnover for the ninth straight game and won the turnover battle 3-0. Stanford is 43-4 under David Shaw when winning the turnover margin.

Notre Dame’s Nyles Morgan (5) blocks a pass by Stanford’s K.J. Costello (3) during the Notre Dame-Stanford NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017, at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN