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Grading the Game: Washington at Stanford

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Washington - without their starting QB - faced off against a veteran, top-10 Stanford team last night and got pounded. The score didn't reflect the gap between the two teams. Were there any positives to take away from this game?

RB Myles Gaskin's play was one of the few positives from the game at Stanford
RB Myles Gaskin's play was one of the few positives from the game at Stanford
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Thanks to the bizarre policies ESPN uses with their broadcasts, I didn't see the first 9 minutes of the game last night.  For some reason they think folks in this state would rather continue watching an SEC game where the outcome is already certain and force you to change the channel to watch the start of the Washington/Stanford game (and thus screwing-over folks that have to rely on recording the game by DVR in order to watch it) than switch the SEC game over to a different channel and show the Washington/Stanford game in full on the regularly scheduled channel.

Not that it really mattered - Stanford used a mix of their powerful run game and improved skill talent to roll down the field on their first drive for a TD, with Washington following up by failing to secure a 1st down after three runs by Myles Gaskin.  Washington's defense stiffened on the next drive to force a 3-and-out and the Huskies then managed one first down before punting on a 4th and 1, and then TV coverage picked up in time to see the Cardinal grind their way 90 yards for another TD while chewing up 8+ minutes of game clock, and it was clear how this game was going to go.  There was a brief moment of hope early in the 3rd quarter after the Huskies built off a big kickoff return by Chico McClatcher and then rode Gaskin for all 57 yards in 5 carries to close things to 17-7, but Stanford answered with a very Stanford-ish drive that included a 4th down conversion followed by a big 50-yard TD catch by Christian McCaffrey to put them up 24-7 and effectively close the door on any upset hopes for the Dawgs.  Were there any positives to take away from this game?  Let's take a look...

QB:

This wasn't exactly the easiest situation for a QB to make his first career start - while the Cardinal D is not the elite unit they've been in recent years, they are still a big, physical and tough defense, and they have the advantage of a very strong Stanford offense that usually allows them to play with a big lead.  That said, this wasn't a good showing by K.J. Carta-Samuels.  He was frequently off-target with his throws, finishing the night just 9/21 for 118 yards.  Two of those were tipped at the LOS, but he had several throws that were not accurate and was lucky none of them were picked-off.  It wasn't all bad - he settled down a bit in the 2nd half where he went 6/11 for 111 yards, and he did manage to direct a nice TD drive that was mostly built off his arm and capped off by him scrambling the final 7 yards for the score.  There are certainly some building blocks here with KJCS, and if Browning has to sit out more games it's not impossible to imagine he'll improve enough to be a plus.  But for right now, he's got a lot of work to do.  Lindquist got a token look in the "Lind-cat" package which fooled nobody.  Grade:  D

RB:

While he's still not the pass-blocker or asset in the passing game that Dwayne Washington is, Gaskin is clearly a major asset in the run game.  He's now surpassed 100 yards in three consecutive games - a true freshman record at Washington - and he's been the best thing about the offense for weeks now.  He shows terrific vision, patience and burst, has very good speed and surprising toughness.  He's already a very good runner, and it's exciting to think what he'll become with another couple of years of experience and S&C training.  While you probably don't want to wear him out with 25+ carries per game, he needs to get the rock as much as possible without beating him to a pulp.  Washington returned from injury and provided a nice outlet for KJCS in the passing game, finishing with two catches for 18 yards and a key first down.  Grade:  B+

WR/TE:

It's hard to pin down exactly how these guys did - not only did they not get a lot of opportunities given the way the game went, the lack of time KJCS frequently had to throw and a number of off-target (or tipped) throws, ESPN rarely shows the whole alignment at the LOS so it's hard to see what the receivers are doing off the snap.  I don't recall seeing any glaring errors from this group and there were some nice plays, including a terrific double-move by Dante Pettis that led to the longest pass of the game for Washington (33 yards) and some nice catches in traffic by Jaydon Mickens.  Josh Perkins was frequently the victim of off-target or tipped throws and finished without a catch.  Blocking on the screens was poor, and at least part of the issue with the pass blocking seemed to be receivers not getting enough separation quickly enough, allowing Stanford's front to get in KJCS's face.  Grade:  C

OL:

The line did a decent job with run blocking, enough to spring Gaskin for another 100 yard game, though there were some notable failures on 3rd downs.  And while KJCS was only brought down for one sack, he was frequently under duress and forced into throwing off his back foot or throwing the ball away.  With the number of OL that have seen action this year and are able to rotate in (Kaleb McCary, Matt James and Jesse Sosebee all saw some time off the bench), it's worth considering whether the Huskies should take a page out of Stanford's playbook and run some "ogre" stuff with extra linemen and develop a smashmouth identity with the run game.  One thing was clear though - if Stanford's OL is the gold standard in the conference, our crew has a ways to go.  Part of that is certainly youth and relative inexperience, and the hope is these guys look as stout, strong and athletic as the Cardinal do in a couple of years.  Grade:  D+

DL:

There's nothing like testing yourself against the best, and as good as our DL rotation is, they too often lost the battle against the Stanford OL.  They played hard and were not overwhelmed, but when the Cardinal needed to make a play to keep a drive going they usually were able to do so, including going 2 for 2 on fourth downs - both run plays, and both easily converted.  Part of the issue was fatigue as Stanford owned the ball for over 40 minutes and often ran power formation football with extra linemen and beat on the Husky front.  Elijah Qualls and Greg Gaines both had nice moments and Will Dissly and Jaylen Johnson got some good reps in place of the injured Jojo Mathis.  They actually managed to limit Stanford to 3.9 ypc, well below their season average of 5.0, but they also only got to Kevin Hogan twice as the Cardinal passing game was extremely effective.  Grade:  B-

LB:

Injuries were certainly a factor with this group as both Keishawn Bierria and Travis Feeney were limited.  Azeem Victor had his moments with 8 tackles and two QB hurries (including one where he swatted Hogan's arm and Stanford was lucky no Husky was close enough to corral the fluttering throw).  Ben Burr-Kirven continues to flash his speed and nose for the ball and Psalm Wooching and Cory Littleton had their moments off the edge.  But too often this group was unable to wrap up Stanford's ball carriers quickly enough and got burned by the slashing running style of McCaffrey or lost the Cardinal tight ends in pass coverage.  Grade:  C+

Secondary:

Yesterday marked two games in a row of below-par play by the secondary.  Brian Clay missed the first half due to his targeting penalty, and when he returned in the 2nd half he got burned on multiple occasions.  Both Jojo McIntosh and Ezekiel Turner had some nice plays in the first half in relief of Clay and will give coach Jimmy Lake a lot to think about for next week.  Sidney Jones got a nice pass break-up but was also also called for a PI during Stanford's 2nd scoring drive.  Budda Baker made the best play of the night by the secondary as he showed his range, hops and hands by stepping in front of a slightly-underthrown Hogan pass for an interception at the goal line.  But Baker and the rest of the secondary were also victimized at times by poor angles and poor tackling against the Stanford run game and allowed Hogan to complete 17 of 24 passes for 290 yards and 2 TDs.  Grade:  D+

Special Teams:

While McCaffrey managed one nice kickoff return for 38 yards, they otherwise held him in check on both kickoffs and punts.  Korey Durkee had another effective (if not always pretty) game as he averaged 44.9 on his 7 punts with no returns and just one touchback for a 42.0 net average.  Pettis was contained on punt returns (and appeared to give up too quickly on one where he took a knee despite several yards of open space in front of him), but Chico McClatcher had a good game including a 43 yard return to open the 2nd half and set up Washington's first TD.  Grade:  B

Coaching:

Chris Petersen talked earlier in the week about how much he admires the way Stanford plays and their coaching staff does things, and he reiterated last night how they are in a lot of ways a model for the Huskies.  You can see how they might get there with time with the way they have recruited both lines and guys like Gaskin already and Sean McGrew on the way.  But you also look at Stanford's players and how every year they look like grown-ass men that are the epitome of a team that looks good "coming off the bus", i.e. highly developed physically.  If Tim Socha can get the young guys in this program to look like their Stanford counterparts by the time they're in their 3rd year in the program, then we're headed in the right direction.

Washington's approach on defense appeared sound, but there were enough breakdowns against the pass to yield some big plays for Stanford, including their first TD (a nicely designed play that went to TE Austin Hooper for 21 yards) and their back-breaking third TD (a wheel route to McCaffrey where Clay blew the coverage and the result was a 50-yard TD).  The defense also had some issues taking correct angles to McCaffrey and keeping leverage, and too often allowed him to squeeze and wriggle his way for an extra 2-3 yards.  The Huskies also lag behind much of the country in generating turnovers as they've gained just 11 on the year, good for a tie at 71st in the nation.

While it would be easy to pin most of the blame on the offense with the inexperience of KJCS, it's frustrating that the Huskies continue to struggle so mightily on this side of the ball.  It's become a given now that Washington will fail to score in the first quarter of games and will come out of halftime with their best drives of the game.  It's also become a given that despite some success in the run game, circumstances will dictate that the Huskies can't lean more heavily on it due to score and/or TOP.  Still, it's tempting to think that Washington should not just talk the talk about admiring Stanford but walk the walk and go for the mindset of being a pound-it-out, old-school, "we're tougher than you" approach.

Whatever the answers are, they need to be found soon.  The schedule lightens up a bit and there are no games left that the Huskies couldn't win, but (aside from maybe Oregon State) there are no certain wins either.  If Washington is going to extend their bowl streak, they have to get more productivity out of their offense and start generating some turnovers.  Grade:  D+