For all of you folks who spent the last few weeks complaining about grade inflation in this series, rest assured that it won’t be a problem this time around.
The Washington Huskies were outplayed, outmatched and outmanned Friday night in Palo Alto by the Stanford Cardinal, who overcame a 14-10 halftime deficit to beat the Dawgs 30-22. The star of the show was Heisman candidate running back Bryce Love, who scored all three Cardinal touchdowns of the evening. The Huskies found success in the running game thanks to Myles Gaskin, but the offense’s inability to move the ball through the air hamstrung the team down the stretch. Combined with the defense being on the field for 36:05 (Washington controlled the ball for just 23:55), the Cardinal were able to secure an important victory that keeps them in the driver’s seat for the Pac-12 North championship while simultaneously all but destroying Washington’s hope of making it to the title game.
Rushing Offense: C+
Of Washington’s many problems in this game, the rushing attack was not one of the most visible. Myles Gaskin eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark on the season by turning in his third consecutive 100-yard game, earning 120 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries. Lavon Coleman found much less success against Stanford, collecting nine carries for 25 yards, and Salvon Ahmed had just two touches — interestingly, Washington’s first two plays from scrimmage on the entire day. Tellingly, the offensive line had more than its share of struggles at the line of scrimmage, allowing Stanford to accumulate a season-high eight tackles for loss at the cost of 35 yards. Lastly, Gaskin coughed up just the second lost fumble of his career, with the turnover bracketed by two Stanford field goals in the late third and early fourth quarters.
Passing Offense: D-
Washington’s passing attack has been a maddening show of peaks and valleys in 2017, and at no time was that characteristic more on display than Friday night. At times, Jake Browning’s chemistry with his receivers resulted in huge gains, such as his 32-yard completion to Aaron Fuller (who, by the way, has taken some very positive steps forward in the last two games) early in the second quarter that set up a Husky touchdown. At other times, though, Browning cost his team dearly, such as when he rolled directly into three defenders (with just one blocker for support) and took an 18-yard sack on a critical fourth-quarter drive.
And don’t even get me started on Browning’s decision to tuck the ball and run on a must-convert fourth-and-21, the inevitable failure of which marked Washington’s last offensive play of the game.
While Browning’s numbers aren’t horrendous — 17 completions on 23 attempts for 190 yards — it’s important to note that he converted just one of seven third- or fourth-down conversion attempts that utilized pass plays, including two drive-killing third-down sacks in the fourth quarter. Dante Pettis led the team in receptions (five) while Fuller paced the team in yards (53), and Browning failed to throw a touchdown pass for the third time in the last four games.
Rushing Defense: C-
The matchup of an unstoppable force (Bryce Love) against an immovable object (Washington’s rushing defense) broke decisively in favor of the former Friday night, with Love picking up 166 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries. To put that into perspective, Love’s three rushing touchdowns were as many as the Husky defense had allowed in the season’s nine previous games, and no opposing team (let alone player) had scored more than one.
Now, Love’s name is near the top of the very short list of the finest running backs in college football, and the UW offense’s inability to eat clock and keep the defense on the sidelines clearly played a factor in Stanford’s rushing performance. But it was nonetheless disquieting to watch Washington’s defense wither after playing so strongly to start the season. After beginning the year allowing just 2.18 yards per rush in the season’s first eight games, Washington has now allowed 4.46 yards per rush in its last two games against Oregon and Stanford; that number would rank 78th nationally if extrapolated to the entire season, settling right between Maryland and New Mexico State.
Passing Defense: C
After weathering the storm of losing starters Byron Murphy and Jordan Miller to injury earlier in the year, Washington’s depth (or lack thereof) at cornerback was on display for the first time all season against Stanford. K.J. Costello, who earned 5.3 yards per attempt and completed 45 percent of his passes two weeks ago against the Washington State Cougars, looked like an entirely different quarterback against Washington. He finished his night with 16 completions on 27 attempts for 211 yards.
By far the biggest beneficiary of Costello’s improved outing was junior wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside, who led the team with 130 receiving yards and a monster 26.0 yards-per-catch average. Though he didn’t find the end zone Friday, Arcega-Whiteside played the most important role in Stanford’s victory outside of Love and Costello, as all five of his completions resulted in Cardinal first downs. If Washington’s future opponents are looking for a blueprint to beating Washington’s secondary, David Shaw has delivered it to them on a silver platter.
Special Teams: B
There’s not much to say about Washington’s special teams in this one, on account of there simply not being a whole lot of special teams plays in the game. Dante Pettis was forced to call fair catches on both of his would-be punt returns; meanwhile, Salvon Ahmed had one nice kickoff return for 25 yards, and another not-so-nice return that gave Washington the ball at their own 11-yard line. Joel Whitford’s punts were well executed but hardly out of the ordinary, and Tristan Vizcaino’s only scoring plays came on a pair of extra point attempts, both of which he connected with little issue.
In news that will surprise absolutely no one, Washington’s struggles to move the ball have led dissatisfied fans on social media to point their fingers toward offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith. That criticism seems more and more valid every day, though, especially considering Smith’s dual role as the team’s quarterback coach. While there are numerous legitimate reasons as to why, it is undeniable that Browning has regressed significantly from the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year he was in 2016. In particular, his yards-per-game metric has fallen from 245.0 to 209.7, and his touchdown-to-interception ratio has shrunken from 4.8 to 3.2.
The defense’s coaches’ struggles, from coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski on down, seem at the very least to be understandable. Secondary coach Jimmy Lake has proven himself several times over to be one of the best in the business, and his unit’s problems seem to be almost entirely injury-related. Washington’s next-weakest defensive link, the pass rush, was also on display Friday night. Newly converted defensive end Azeem Victor (man, it feels wrong to type that) registered Washington’s sole sack on Stanford’s first drive; Vita Vea notched a sack midway through the third quarter on a Stanford third-and-18 play, but committed an egregious error when he pulled Costello’s face mask, triggering an automatic first down. Bryce Love proceeded to score a touchdown on the very next play.
What overall grade do you give the Huskies for their performance against the Cardinal?
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