Stanford football coach David Shaw often talks about the "next man up" culture of his program. That credo was tested Saturday night at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, when Stanford overcame injuries to four starters to overtake UCLA in a thriller, 22-13, and register its ninth consecutive win in the series.
In the second quarter, the seventh-ranked Cardinal lost cornerbacks Alijah Holder and Quenton Meeks, and wide receiver Francis Owusu. Fullback Daniel Marx left early in the fourth quarter, but returned.
Their departures created opportunities for others, and all delivered.
Terrence Alexander and Alameen Murphy each made four tackles and broke up a pass against talented Bruins' quarterback Josh Rosen.
But the biggest contribution came from wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside. Filling in for Owusu in only his second game, the 6-3 sophomore from Inman, South Carolina, made three catches for 29 yards, including the game-winner, a leaping 8-yard fade pass from quarterback Ryan Burns over cornerback Nate Meadors with 24 seconds remaining.
Arcega-Whiteside was an all-state basketball player at Dorman High, and boasts a vertical jump of over 31 inches. He's also one of the fastest players on the team and finished fourth in the 100 meters in the 2014 state meet.
"That guy can jump pretty high," Burns said. "I just put it up for him, and he made a great play."
Arcega-Whiteside made his first career grab in the second quarter, hauling in a 7-yard pass from Burns on third-and-6. But he came up big in the fourth quarter on one of college football's biggest stages in front of 70,833 fans and a national television audience, forever endearing himself to Cardinal faithful.
Arcega-Whiteside also caught a 14-yard toss from Burns on the final drive.
"It was surreal," Whiteside said of his first collegiate touchdown. "It's something I've been dreaming about since I was little. We work on that after every practice. But to do it in a game … it just feels great to help the team win."
As expected, UCLA locked in on running back Christian McCaffrey. He worked hard to surpass 100 yards rushing for the fifth straight game, gaining 138 on 26 carries against a tough and physical Bruin defense.
"We went into the game knowing it was going to be a dogfight," he said. "They had a lot of momentum going for them, but some young guys stepped up for us."
The Stanford defense has surrendered only three touchdowns in the first three games. Led by defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, the unit recorded three sacks and six tackles for loss against UCLA.
Thomas was disruptive and dominant at times, posting a sack and two tackles behind the line. On the game's final play, he returned a fumble 42 yards for a touchdown. It was the second career score for Thomas, who carted a fumble 34 yards against USC last year in the Pac-12 title game.
The group was bolstered by the return of starting nose tackle Harrison Phillips, who had a sack and 1 1/2 tackles for loss.
Stanford (3-0, 2-0 Pac-12) has a short week, playing at Washington on Friday at 6 p.m. The No. 10 Huskies (4-0, 1-0) beat Arizona, 35-28, in overtime in Tucson on Saturday night. Washington also has wins against Rutgers (48-13), Idaho (59-14) and Portland State (41-3).
McCaffrey ranks second nationally in rushing yards per game (145.3) and all-purpose yards (211.67). He's 15th in rushing yards (436) . . . Conrad Ukropina is tied for first in field goal percentage (100 percent), converting all six attempts . . . Stanford ranks eighth in scoring defense (12.0), 17th in rushing defense (95.3) and 33rd in total defense (337.7) . . . Stanford is off to a 3-0 start for the fifth time since 2010 … Shaw is 20-2 against California teams and 12-2 vs. UCLA and USC … Saturday's win marked the sixth time in the past eight years the Cardinal has swept UCLA and USC … Jeff Jordan, '87 MBA and a general partner at Andreesen Horowtiz, served as honorary captain . . . Rafer Johnson and U.S. Olympic women's water polo coach Adam Krikorian served as honorary captains for the Bruins … The Stanford fall academic quarter begins Monday.