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Grading the Game: Washington Takes Stanford to School

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Saturday was a very good day.

Stanford v Washington Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Students at both the University of Washington and Stanford University returned to school last week to begin their fall terms. On Saturday, those same students were given a day off of school so that they could watch their respective football teams compete for PAC 12 supremacy, if that happens to be their thing.

How appropriate, then, was it to witness Washington take the Cardinal to school?

My job here is to provide a letter grade for each aspect of the team from last week’s game. But where to begin after a day like that? It’s like trying to grade a bag of Skittles by color. They are all awesome and their performance really only varies based on your own personal taste.

While writing this does kind of seem like a mission to nowhere, it is also true that I may not soon again have the opportunity to write something quite as euphoric or uplifting as this piece. So, let’s begin.

Run Defense: A++

The first critical success factor that the Huskies had in the game plan was to shut down Stanford’s run game. This is elementary. The Cardinal want to establish a physical rushing attack early on and wear your defense out over the course of a game. The hope is that 3 to 4 yard runs in the first quarter becomes 6 or 7 yard runs by the fourth. With a guy like Christian McCaffrey available, some of those runs are certain to become big plays or long touchdowns. Thus, taking it away is a top priority, even if you have to create other problems for yourself in order to do so.

The Huskies committed themselves to taking McCaffrey out of the game and they were more successful in doing so than any team has been since McCaffrey became a full time starter two years ago. The middle of the Huskies defensive line - Greg Gaines, Vita Vea and Elijah Qualls - straight up whipped the vaunted Stanford offensive line. Play after play, those guys were crushing the inside of the Stanford line creating a giant sinkhole in the middle of their offense that just sucked all forms of humanity into it.

With Stanford committing so many resources to simply handling UW’s defensive front three, UW’s linebackers were basically unblocked and free to roam. Azeem Victor and Keishawn Bierria took full advantage. They registered 25 tackles between the two of them and were sublime in the open field. In those few instances where McCaffrey did find his way to the second level, one of those two were there to take him down. When the air cleared, McCaffrey was held to 49 rushing yards while the Cardinal, overall, were limited to just 29 yards.

UW was able to get a lot of backups rotated in during meaningful snaps. Jaylen Johnson, Tevis Bartlett, Ben Burr-Kirven and DJ Beavers all got into the game at different times and showed up in the rush defense. This is how good teams build championship level depth. Great effort all around.

Passing Attack: A-

Saturday’s game marked the first time that Jake Browning has ever faced the Stanford defense. Recall that he missed last year’s game due to a shoulder injury. Based on his results, I’m guessing David Shaw is not too eager to see him again.

Stanford v Washington
WR Dante Pettis played a key role in helping UW to defeat Stanford last Saturday.
Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Browning was an efficiency machine in guiding the Huskies to victory. He passed for 71.4% accuracy, 3 TDs, 0 INTs and a yards per attempt of exactly 10.0. Those are remarkable stats against any team, much less a top 10 team that also happens to be the reigning PAC 12 champion.

The offensive line has really turned a corner the last two weeks and was stellar in pass protection on the day. Much was made about how much damage Stanford DE Solomon Thomas was capable of doling out. However, the right side of the Husky line - in particular RE Kaleb McGary - stonewalled Thomas most of the night. Browning had a few plays where pressure was applied - I’m thinking of his first TD pass to Dante Pettis - but he always had enough pocket preserved to move and to deliver the ball. He was not sacked a single time all night.

Speaking of Pettis, I thought he had his best game as a receiver in his time with UW. Not that the other Husky receivers didn’t play well - they did - but Pettis was really aggressive as a blocker, concise with his routes and sure with his hands. The rotation that UW is emphasizing with him, John Ross and Chico McClatcher stressed Stanford’s secondary with their speed. If I there were a critique it would be that they didn’t do more damage to a depleted group. But we are picking at nits. They converted several big plays and created an opportunity for UW’s rushing attack.

Rushing Attack: B+

The stats are exactly what you’d like them to be: 41 carries (out of 62 total plays), 214 yards, 5.2 yard average, 3 TDs. That’s the kind of output that Chris Petersen would take out of his rushing attack against any opponent on any day.

On top of the total output, the Huskies spread the wealth. Myles Gaskin led the way with 18 carries and 100 yards (2 TDs) with the reinvigorated Lavon Coleman adding 74 yards and a TD of his own (including UW’s best 25 yard run).

UW’s line is really run blocking well after having taken a few weeks to get their timing down. TEs Will Dissly and Drew Sample are really starting to show up as factors.

The only complaint is that we are still waiting for Gaskin to break off a big one. As he has had with the past weeks, there were a few plays he left on the field whether it was a stumble or a mis-timed cut. But he continues to run strong and generate positive yards after contact. You can’t ask for much more.

Pass Defense: A+

When your BUCK goes for 6 tackles, 3 sacks and a forced fumble, you certainly perk up. When that same player wins the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week, you definitely take notice. When that defender’s name is Psalm Wooching, you slap your momma in the face and tell her that you won’t tolerate any more lies.

Well, maybe not quite so much. The truth is that there hasn’t been a more maligned player among fans than Psalm Wooching. But there he was on Saturday taking advantage of all the damage that the front three were dishing out and terrorizing Stanford quarterbacks Ryan Burns and Keller Chryst.

NCAA Football: Stanford at Washington
LB Psalm Wooching terrorized Stanford QBs to the tune of three sacks and a forced fumble last Saturday.
Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

He wasn’t the only one. The Huskies recorded 8 sacks on the night including two from Joe Mathis - who had another fantastic game - and one each from Gains, Vea, and Connor O’Brien. It was a party in the backfield all night long.

It was so bad for Stanford QBs, that I can’t really make an assessment on how well the UW secondary played. But I can say that they were active. Sidney Jones showed up in a big way. Budda Baker and Kevin King were also holy terrors all over the field. Darren Gardenhire, Ezekiel Turner and JoJo McIntosh all each had their moments making plays in the open field.

It was a dominating effort by UW’s pass defense in just about every facet of the game.

Special Teams: A

Again, not a ton to complain about here. In the kicking game, UW made their one FG attempt and averaged 41 yards on the two punts that they kicked all night (did you realize that UW scored on every one of their possessions in the first half?)

Kick coverage may have been something that we could complain about here as McCaffrey did most of his damage in that area with 144 return yards. Most of that came from one 57 yard return. All in all, UW played special teams with a lot of physicality and with a lot of speed.

A’s all around.