K.J. Costello Spring Breakdown

K.J. Costello showed more in the Cardinal-White Game than you might have thought upon first look.

The consensus after last Saturday’s Cardinal-White Game was that K.J. Costello struggled, and his stat line, such as it was, corroborated that. Costello was 5-13 for an undisclosed amount of yards, and that certainly felt in sync with the eye test. He overthrew receivers, missed left, right, pretty much everything but short, and was “sacked” on multiple occasions.  Judged solely by a first look at the spring game, one could hardly be blamed for dismissing K.J. from the list of potential candidates for meaningful time at quarterback in 2017.

One would be wrong.

I will happily concede to counting myself among those who were underwhelmed by Costello’s effort last Saturday. Then I saw his completion percentage and smugly doubled down on my dismissiveness.  But then I rewatched the game, and came away feeling much more confident about Costello’s prospects than I was beforehand.

Costello went from abysmal on first look to pretty decent in my eyes fairly quickly upon review of his 13 passes, and the nature of his mistakes actually encouraged me that he is a viable candidate to play in 2017.  Those mistakes combined with the things I saw him do well further resolved my newfound faith in Costello.

Now don’t get me wrong.  5-13 is still 5-13, and bad throws are bad throws.  Costello didn’t go from looking like Lou Costello to Andrew Luck thanks to the power of the DVR. However, the flaws that he showed on Saturday seem very correctable, and the virtues he put on display seem repeatable. With the interminable march to to August 27 now underway, we’ve got time on our hands.  Let’s dive in, shall we?


“Pass” 1


Release Time:  2.11

On the first play of hte scrimmage, Kevin Palma charged right up the left A gap, running back Cam Scarlett didn’t see it, and Costello is “sacked.” Clearly, Costello could see Palma coming right in front of him, but given the limited time he had and the failure of both lines of protection to help him, it’s tough to really put this on K.J.


Pass 2


Release Time: 1.7

Costello hits Donald Stewart on quick slant from the right side.  It was a one-look, quick throw that Costello executed decisively, which spoiler alert,  is going to be a running theme here.  Costello showcased a quick load and had his feet ready to go, as his excellent release time suggest.  INterestingly enough, the C-W game may have been a foreshadow of the return of the quick slant to Stanford’s pass game.  Despite running the West Coast Offense, the move to shotgun for virtually all passes has coincided with a steep decline in this route’s usage as compared to, say, the Troy Walters days. It’ll be interesting to see if the slant is back as a featured pass route this season.


Pass 3


Release Time: 3.04


This was one of only three non-play action drops from Costello that went longer than three seconds, and it resulted in a sack.  Unfortunately, the Harrison Phillips/ Peter Kalambayi Party in the Backfield was more about A.T. Hall turnstiling and the interior line being bulldozed than Costello failing to get rid of the ball.  Still, a semi-rocky start here for Costello.


Pass 4


Release Time:  2.41


Dalton Schultz starts with his hand on the ground on the right side of the line.  He breaks left across at about four yards from the LOS, stops, plants, and pivots back towards the middle of the field, where he receives a pass from Costello. Costello wasn’t looking anywhere else, and the play went for a minimal gain, but there’s really not much to criticize here.


Pass 5


Release Time:  2.54


Costello hits J.J. Arcega-Whiteside for a 17-yard gain  on a slant from the left side.  He showed a good plant and arm-load again here.  His mechanics seem consistent and repeatable, which are two more reasons to like him.


Pass 6


Release Time: 2.51


This was probably the worst decision Costello made on the day.  He tried to hit Stewart, who drew double coverage, on a go route on the right side.  The pass was thrown nowhere near Stewart or either of the two defenders (thankfully for Costello), but it probably should not have been thrown at all. Have faith in your guys one-on-one, but challenging double teams is not really a good recipe.


Pass 7


Release Time:  3.51


Costello makes a play-action fake and overthrows Schultz deep middle.  Costello’s feet were not set when he made the throw, and usually that causes problems with distance, but here, K.J. had plenty of arm.  What the happy feet did here was cost him accuracy.  He had Schultz with a properly placed ball on this play.


Pass 8


Release Time: 3.07


Stanford goes five-wide but curiously sends both receivers at the widest spots nowhere.  They simply turn to face Costello at the snap. Costello looks first at Arcega-Whiteside on the deep left seam then comes back to Trenton Irwin crossing left to right at medium depth.  He leads Irwin too much and the pass goes incomplete.  What is encouraging here is that Costello went through his progressions and did so in a pretty timely manner.


Prior to his next actual pass, Costello steps up and runs for a big gain up the right sideline.  It was ruled a sack but honestly, I think Costello took off before he would have been tackled.


Pass 9


Release Time:  3.01


Stanford did some really interesting stuff with routes on this play.  The Cardinal ran a double-shallow cross combination with Jay Tyler dragging across one receiver and then undercutting a second receiver, in this case Paxton Segina.  All the traffic frees up Segina, and Costello hits him on the cross for an eight-yard gain. K.J. looked poised on the play.


Pass 10


Release Time:  2.51


Costello runs play action again, and then misses Harrington on a medium cross.  This pass had too much heat on it, but the window was tight, and again K.J. had good feet on this play.


On his next dropback, Costello is sacked by Mike Tyler, who had a fantastic game.  He beat Devery Hamilton, who did not. The play was over in 2.43 seconds, so again, this really wasn’t K.J.’s fault.


The next step was a fumbled exchange.  Clearly, nothing to like here, although at least Costello fell on the ball.


Pass 11


Release Time:  3.51


Costello is forced to step up after going through his progressions and hits Scooter Harrington on a shovel pass, for which Harrington paid a severe price. Scooter was popped pretty good on this play, but Costello showed some creativity and again, some decent poise in delivering him the ball.


Costello was sacked in 2.34 seconds.


Pass 12


Release Time:  2.21


Costello makes a big boy throw here, hitting Irwin on a deep out to the right side. The play picks up 13 yards but of course the ball traveled far further than that. Costello had his ups and downs, but he finished with arguably his two best throws of the day.


Pass 13


Release Time:  2.18


From the defense’s 20, Costello let loose his best throw of the day, a gorgeous pass with just enough arc and perfect placement down the left sideline right over Arcega-Whiteside’s shoulder. J.J. could only offer with one hand because his right hand was being held.  The play resulted in an incompletion and a pass interference, but it was a great touch pass thrown on balance from Costello.

So obviously the missed throws need to be cleaned up, as does the botched snap. However, Costello made quick, decisive, and good decisions with the ball the vast majority of the day.  His mechanics were tight and consistent, which offers hope that the accuracy will come along with reps. He looked comfortable in the pocket, and I’m sure after the coaches saw the film they remained convicted that K.J. is still very much a viable contender for playing time as we creep closer to the 2017 season opener. It’s anybody’s guess how this is all going to shake out, but nothing happened on Saturday (on second look) to suggest there won’t be at least three viable options at quarterback for the Cardinal.

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