After previewing the Stanford offense and defense, and speaking with Rule of Tree’s Matt Vassar, our writers are ready to share their picks for Washington’s top-10 matchup against the Stanford Cardinal.
When the Pac-12's 2016 football schedule was released, every Husky fan I know circled Sept. 30 on their calendars, knowing that Washington's home game against Stanford had enormous potential to become one of the most enticing matchups of the entire college football season. Now, for the first time in 19 years, Husky Stadium will play host to two top-10 teams in a game that seems likely to decide the Pac-12 North, if not the entire conference.
The Cardinal come into this matchup with more than a few bumps and bruises caused by their tremendously difficult early schedule against Kansas State, USC and UCLA. Starting cornerbacks Quenton Meeks and Alijah Holder have both been ruled out of tomorrow's game due to injuries suffered in last week's game against UCLA, while wide receiver Francis Owusu is out after sustaining a concussion in the same game.
Jake Browning and Jonathan Smith will no doubt look for ways to leverage the Husky passing game against cornerbacks Alameen Murphy and Terrence Alexander, both of whom will start their first games in college at Husky Stadium. On the ground, Lavon Coleman turned in the biggest game of his career last week in the overtime win over Arizona as Myles Gaskin still looks to jump-start his season. The Stanford defensive line, though, will be Washington's biggest test in the trenches so far this year. The battles between Solomon Thomas and whichever Husky offensive lineman he faces off against (likely to switch between left tackle Trey Adams and right tackle Kaleb McGary) will be an informative frame of reference to watch as both teams try to control the line of scrimmage.
Meanwhile, the Husky defense has one job above all others: Stop Christian McCaffrey. The nation's most electric and versatile playmaker not named Lamar Jackson is a threat to score every time he touches the ball, and has earned at least 200 all-purpose yards in 13 of his last 15 games. That being said, don't dismiss running back Bryce Love or wide receivers Trenton Irwin and Michael Rector. And while Stanford's vaunted offensive line isn't the undisputed heavyweight champion it once was, David Shaw still has the personnel and the creativity to line up two tight ends, two fullbacks and a halfback, and dare the Washington front seven to beat them in a space the size of a phone booth.
Whichever team ends up winning this game, I don't see the total score exceeding 50 or 60 points, and many of our readers will surely have earned a few more grey hairs by the time the final whistle is blown. But in this even matchup between Pac-12 preseason favorites, I'll give the nod to the home team on the thought that Husky Stadium's electric atmosphere will provide the emotional tidal wave that the Dawgs will surely need in the final minutes of the game. Washington 27, Stanford 20.
In my Gekko File preview from the summer, I predicted that UW would come out of this three game stretch of Arizona, Stanford and Oregon at 1-2. My lone "win" was Stanford.
Now that we have Arizona behind us, I am revising my thinking to 2-1 and I still like us to beat Stanford.
There are two advantages that UW has over Stanford that I think are really meaningful. The first is simple: I think our QB is better than their QB. I don't mean to disrespect Ryan Burns. He did have a really nice TD drive to finish the UCLA game. He's an experienced guy who isn't going to make a lot of mistakes. He also, however, is not a guy who is going to really push for the big play. Even if he does, it isn't clear who outside of Christian McCaffrey is going to make it. Especially with Francis Owusu out.
The second big advantage is the depth of our D-Line. Stanford wants to wear you down with their rushing attack and big bodies. But they haven't yet played a team that can rotate 8 deep on the D-Line. If Stanford goes for the "body blow" strategy, they may never wear us out. Arizona neutralized that advantage with tempo. Stanford will not.
I'm not sold on the fact that UW will generate much offense in this game. But I do think they are good for one or two big plays which may be enough. Stanford 21, UW 24.
The Huskies couldn't stop JJ Taylor from Arizona, so what chance do they have against the most explosive running back in college football? That's the kind of reasoning that makes a tremendous amount of sense, is brimming with sound logic, and has absolutely no baring on the way things will shake down on Friday night.
The Dawgs will have a sound gameplan for Christian McCaffery, and while shutting him down is impossible, limiting his big plays is within the capabilities of Pete Kwiatkowski's defense. Stanford has a lot of big targets on the outside and their usual fleet of giant Tight Ends, but the quarterback position is far from solid.
The secondary for the Cardinal is banged up, but don't let that fool you into thinking Jake Browning will have his way. Josh Rosen struggled against backup DBs last week, and the Stanford D-Line will be in Browning's face all night. This will be a game where the team who makes the fewest mistakes wins, and I like the Huskies at home to minimize their own miscues while taking advantage of Ryan Burns' blunders. UW 17, Stanford 13.
I can't. I can't make a prediction. I can't do it.
My brain short-circuits each time I try to fathom either outcome. So with that in mind I'll go Washington 49-0 in the name of tradition.
For real though, I'm just gonna sit back and enjoy this, cuz it's gonna be a battle.
The Huskies have made it, 4-0, ready for the showdown against Pac-12 North Powerhouse, the Stanford Cardinal. What have we learned the past four games? The defense makes plays, quarterback Jake Browning is playing with confidence and the Huskies have shown that they are able to compete after getting hit a few times.
The safe pick is to with Stanford, especially after witnessing them, first-hand, last season, absolutely crush the Huskies in Palo Alto. What’s different this year? Browning is in this game, and he’ll show an ability to move the ball down the field with confidence. The second difference? Stanford’s quarterback Ryan Burns is inexperienced and will be facing the most daunting defense in the Pac-12, in a hostile environment.
In big games like this, the big-time players have to step up for the Huskies. Browning, running back Myles Gaskin and wide receiver John Ross should be producing explosive plays against the Cardinal defense. Expect the Husky defense to feed off of the home crowd and its energy - it will be up to the offense to take advantage of all the three-and-out along with the turnovers that this Husky defense will produce.
With this in mind, I think these factors are enough to swing the game into the Huskies’ favor. Looks like this team could make the case for being a top 5 program in the country by the end of Friday night. Washington 26, Stanford 20.
This is setting up to be a classic defensive battle in the Pac 12. Of course, that means that the game will probably be played in the 40's....
Both offenses are among the most methodical in the country, with the Huskies at 108th in the country in snaps per game, while Stanford is even lower at 124th. That puts a heavy premium on each possession, and each play for that matter. Washington's offense is more explosive than Stanford's, while Stanford is entirely comfortable in doing very little on its own, and letting a small defensive breakdown turn in to a big play.
It's the number of big plays each team is able to produce that will likely determine the outcome Friday, although big play takes on a slightly different meaning in a game like this. Flipping field position on a punt, a 25+ yard punt return, a 3rd down sack; plays that might seem mundane in other games are going to be huge in this one.
Washington isn't going to be able to completely shut down Christian McCaffrey on defense, nor do I think they'll entirely sell out to do so. On the flip side, Stanford's secondary is probably going to give up a play or two to Washington's receivers. In the end, I think the Huskies' defense and the home field advantage are able to rattle Ryan Burns just enough to force a Stanford mistake or two that allows Washington to pull out a 24-17 win.