Game Ball Goes To: Myles Gaskin
Gaskin earns his second game ball in as many weeks for two main reasons: First, he became the first true freshman in the program's history to rush for more than 100 yards in three consecutive games; second, it doesn't seem hyperbolic to say he's the only part of the offense that at the moment is anything other than a hot mess. Gaskin plays with a remarkable sense of patience and understanding of what he needs to do in order to let plays develop in front of him, and has clearly adjusted well to the speed of the college game. It's difficult to overstate how impressive his emergence as a true freshman has been, especially in light of the fact that the Huskies came into 2015 with its top-two leading rushers returning from the 2014 season. Make no mistake: Myles Gaskin in the future of the Husky offense.
Who Stepped Up: Elijah Qualls
As is wont to happen with nose tackles, Qualls' numbers don't jump off of the stat sheet—he contributed three tackles, including a half-sack—but a careful viewing of the game reveals that he turned in a strong performance worthy of praise. As has seemingly been the case for years, Stanford's offensive line is one of the best in the country, and Qualls did well in positioning himself to plug interior running lanes and demanding double-teams. What's more, the 6-1, 311 lb. interior lineman is finding himself playing north of 70 plays per game due to the offense's inability to string together a drive and provide the defense a respite, and the sophomore's conditioning has shown through in not playing terribly fatigued in the third and fourth quarters of recent games. Without Elijah, this game likely gets out of hand much, much earlier than it did. His steady play will be of paramount importance to Washington's bowl hopes.
Most important play: Daniel Marx's 15-yard screen pass at 11:59 in the second quarter
On its face, this isn't a particularly important play, certainly not when compared to a momentum-killer like Christian McCaffrey's 50-yard touchdown catch following Gaskin's TD run to start the second half. After all, it was the first play in a second-quarter drive that ended in a four-and-out for the Cardinal, and was bookended by Husky punts—definitely not the most exciting sequence. Rather, I selected this play because it's the purest distillation imaginable of the way in which Stanford doesn't just beat its opponents, but instead goes about systematically destroying their will and morale. Just look at the way that 6-5, 321 lb. offensive guard Josh Garnett, the pride of Puyallup High School, puts a monster de-cleater of a block onto 6-1, 196 lb. safety JoJo McIntosh. If that hit happens anywhere outside of a football field, he'd be booked for felony assault. The Huskies never really had a chance of coming away with the win on Saturday, and this one play is the perfect visual for conveying just how physically and schematically outclassed the Dawgs found themselves on that night.
Most Important Statistic: 19:55 (Washington's time of possession)
It's hard to score points when you don't control the ball, and for 40:05 seconds, Stanford's offense played a masterfully-executed game of keep-away. The Cardinal converted six of 14 third-down attempts, and unafraid of Washington's offense, they proceeded to convert both of their fourth-down attempts. The Huskies now have two losses against Pac-12 North opponents (Cal and Stanford) in which they have controlled the ball for 40:06 compared to the opponents' 79:54. I know this a revolutionary #HotTake around these parts, but if Chris Petersen wants his team to play in a bowl game, he needs to find a way to transform the offense into something that can be described with an adjective other than ‘abysmal.'
Most Encouraging Takeaway: Washington committed zero turnovers, and played the field-position game better than many had expected
For all the grief that we are (rightly) heaping on the offense, we must also give them credit for playing technically sound and not giving the Cardinal extra possessions. (Not that they needed them, of course, but it's a good sign nonetheless.) Saturday was Washington's first game of the year in which the Huskies neither lost a fumble nor threw an interception, and was just the third time this year in which they finished the game with a positive turnover margin. That trend is going to have to continue for the rest of the year, as the Dawgs likely cannot afford to lose a 50/50 game the rest of the way and still find a path that ends with them playing in the postseason.
Biggest Source of Frustration: The offense's transformation from weakness to liability
Though many observers predicted Washington's offense would take a step back in 2015 after losing four starting linemen and a quarterback to graduation and injury, few would have guessed that the bottom would fall out the way that it has. From the three seasons between 2013, 2014 and 2015, Washington's total offense has gone from 499.3 yards per game, to 388.6, to 334.1; in terms of national ranking, that's a shift from 13th, to 77th, to 116th. For the second consecutive year, Husky fans are watching the program throw away a highly talented defensive effort because the offense can't get its act together and put enough points on the board to keep the score close and the defense off the field. That amounts to a devastating indictment of offensive-minded head coach Chris Petersen, and leaves open the question of what, if any, changes to staff or scheme will have to happen between now and the end of the season.