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What We Learned: Stanford

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Bleh.

NCAA Football: Washington at Stanford John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

I made a number of predictions last week about what I thought might happen vs. Stanford.

Let’s see how I stacked up, Dots style:

  • Azeem is on the outside looking in: From a purely football perspective, I noted that:

I was only correct in that we didn’t see much of him, because he actually started for the defense on their first series, notching a sack. The Huskies had a hard time with Stanford’s run game, and Azeem Victor’s presence later in the game did not do much to help. And now that he’s been suspended for a DUI, he’s definitely on the outside looking in. I would bet we saw the last significant minutes of Azeem Victor in a Husky uniform vs. Stanford.

  • It’s Aaron Fuller’s time to step up: I noted last week that with all the injuries at WR and TE, Aaron Fuller had a massive opportunity in front of him, if by virtue of nothing else than he’s next in the depth. He’s mostly seized that chance, and in his last two games he’s had 8 catches for 129 yards. This offense still needs more out of the passing game but with all the injuries it’s nice to still have healthy WRs that can produce.
  • JJ Arcega-Whiteside will be a match-up nightmare: I hate cliche’s like “match-up nightmare” but it was apt. He caught 5 balls for a whopping 130 yards, most of which were contested. His size and hands were simply too much, and each of his 5 catches maddeningly went for a first down. I wasn’t the only UWDP writer to show concern here as most of us felt that Myles Bryant inevitably lining up across from a 6-4 TE would be a problem.
  • The offensive line is playing well despite the loss of Trey Adams: Well, at least they were. They didn’t have a completely terribly game against Stanford, but this one felt like a step back. Stanford hasn’t been great getting into the backfield and the Huskies allowed Stanford a season high 8 TFLs.
  • The defense should have no problem continuing to do what they do best and keep Stanford from scoring: Sorry everyone, I finally jinxed the Huskies with my over confidence of the defense. They kept the 30 point or less streak intact, but it still felt like the worst game the defense has played in at least a full season. It’s not just the 166 yards and 3 TDs for Bryce Love, which doubled the number of rushing TDs this defense has allowed this year, but the fact that the Huskies could not figure out a mostly one-dimensional offense. I’m struggling to think of a team in the last 2 seasons that’s been as heavily focused on one player as Stanford is that the Huskies haven’t been able to shut down.

Now, on to what we learned. Just two this week:

This defense is...gasp!...beatable

Shocking, I know. After having arguably the nation’s most suffocating defense coming into this game, they got seriously exposed. The injuries in the defensive secondary no doubt had an effect - a taller, more physical Jordan Miller likely has more success against Stanford’s big receiving threats. A ball hawk like Byron Murphy maybe gets a pick.

The lack of a strong outside pass rusher gave KJ Costello a clean pocket (after the first series sack from Azeem Victor) to work from nearly the entire game. The plan clearly was to neutralize the strength of the defense, Greg Gaines and Vita Vea, of which they did a great job. Stanford was also able to neutralize the smaller Husky LB’s greatest asset - their speed - by simply running straight at them. Namely, Keishawn Bierria and BBK. Bierria has been a been a bit quiet this season but actually had a nice game relatively, leading the team with 7 tackles (all solo) and 2 TFLs. BBK had 5 tackles but the two of them together struggled to slow down Cardinal rushing attack after Gaines and Vea were neutralized.

Lastly, the lack of “splash” plays that has plagued the defense all year really hurt against Stanford, a team known for taking care of the ball and avoiding self inflicted wounds. If they couldn’t consistently keep Stanford behind the sticks, then they needed big plays - fumbles, sacks, interceptions, anything...without generating those big plays and allowing Stanford to stay on the field for 36 minutes, it’s incredibly difficult for a defense to be successful. Most offenses can’t do what Stanford did (I can’t believe I just wrote that) without making a mistake, and they had a great game plan executed damn near perfectly.

Myles Gaskin is the offense’s engine

Probably news to no one, but Myles Gaskin is the best hope for this offense. When given the chance, he’s been the engine. He had 27 carries against Colorado and his running kept the Colorado offense off the field. Then he had 40 carries between UCLA and Oregon when the offense looked as efficient and explosive as it had all year (albeit against weaker defenses). Against Stanford, he was the only dangerous part of the offense. Jake Browning averaging over 8 yards a completion was solid but it was Gaskin moving the chains and actually scoring TDs.

With the ups and downs of the passing game, where the ups haven’t been that high, he’s been the one consistent weapon in the backfield, especially with Lavon Coleman seemingly taking a small step back (7.5 YPC in ‘16 vs. 4.5 in ‘17). His fumble was costly (and only the 2nd of his career so he gets a pseudo-pass), but he was the only thing working on Friday night. I’m not arguing that more carries always = more offense, but it is worth noting that the fewest carries he’s got in a conference game were 14 vs. ASU, the worst night for the offense all season.

Myles Gaskin deserves recognition for not only keeping the Huskies in the game vs. Stanford, but for being the only part of the offense that’s really worked all season.