The Washington Huskies find themselves in Palo Alto, Calif., where they will take on the Stanford Cardinal for the 88th time since first playing Dec. 29, 1893. The Huskies lead the series at 42-41-4, and snapped a three-game Cardinal winning streak when they won a top-10 matchup last fall at Husky Stadium. The betting line for Friday’s matchup favors the Huskies to win by six, while ESPN’s Football Power Index gives the Huskies a 63.5 percent chance to walk away with the win. How the the UW Dawg Pound writers expect Friday’s game to turn out?
Recent history does not favor the Huskies to win this game. Washington’s last win in Palo Alto came in 2007, when Ty Willingham’s team defeated a Cardinal program headed by first-year coach Jim Harbaugh. Since that day, Stanford holds a 7-2 edge over the Huskies, including a 2-1 record in games between David Shaw and Chris Petersen.
And yet, try as I might, I simply can’t bring myself to be scared of this Stanford team. Don’t get me wrong: Bryce Love is scary as hell, and it would be foolish to expect any rushing defense, even one as good as Washington’s, to simply shut down a player who has ran for nearly 1,500 yards and 12 touchdowns in eight games. Even more impressive, Love has picked up 40 yards or more on 12 different occasions, better than any player in college football. He’s going to get his touches, and he’s going to do damage, even if he remains hobbled by the nagging ankle injury that limited his effectiveness against Washington State.
But outside of Love, who on this Stanford team is a true threat to neutralize Washington’s stellar defense or (at the bare minimum) competent offense? Quarterback K.J. Costello was nothing more than mediocre last week against Washington State, completing nine of 20 attempts for 105 yards and an interception, and it’s unlikely that the Cardinal will find any great deal of success throwing the ball to players like JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Trenton Irwin against Washington’s deep and talented secondary.
The Huskies are the only team in college football not to yield 40 or more yards on a single play in 2017; I would not at all be surprised to see that streak come to an end at the hands of Love, who lives and dies by the long play. But one or two home runs aside, this Stanford offense simply doesn’t have the talent to put together long, sustained drives against the Washington defense. If the Huskies can consistently put the Cardinal into the position of having to convert third downs with six or more yards to go, the Dawgs should be well positioned for another climb in the College Football Playoff rankings come Tuesday. Washington 38, Stanford 17.
I could see there being a bit of offensive struggle for Washington to begin with before they get rolling. Luckily with Stanford's defensive weakness being Washington's offensive strength, it feels like just a matter of time before the Dawgs commit to Gas Can and whatever cool nickname Lavon Coleman secretly has.
And while KJ Costello is an improvement at quarterback, he's still a redshirt freshman working in an offense that has yet to 100% figure it out going against the best scoring defense in the country (provided we take away the three defensive TDs that have been scored against Washington this year). There's about a 90% chance the Cardinal hit a field goal on the first drive because that's practically the Washington defense's tradition but after that I think the Cardinal will struggle quite a bit. Granted, I don't think the Huskies' offense is going to be incredibly fine tuned -- definitely sense an interception coming if Jake takes even one play off -- but with their running game taking off lately and Stanford struggling there, it looks to definitely add up in the Dawgs' favor.
Final: Washington 31 - 13 Stanford
There's a lot to like about this match-up. Stanford is still figuring out the QB position in the post Kevin Hogan era, and their defense isn't as fierce as usual.
First, the Stanford offense. Bryce Love is arguably the best big play threat at running back in the country, and has at least one 50 yard run in each game this year. His 1,456 yards and 12 TDs are remarkable numbers at this point in the season, and he averages nearly 10 yards per carry. His status coming off an ankle injury will be something to watch (he played last week but did not look 100%). The offensive line is solid, though most Stanford fans would probably say it's not the physical unit of years past. LT Walker Little going down with an injury is a big loss for them. K.J. Costello is expected to start under center and while he hasn't been dangerous throwing, he's a big body who can evade a pass rush and scramble for first downs. They haven't gotten too much serviceable QB play (74th in passing efficiency), but they do have a stable of big TEs with excellent hands. JJ Arcega-Whiteside will be a match up nightmare, and leads the team in yards and TDs. Dalton Shultz catches most of their short passes, and Colby Parkinson has been a revelation as a freshman - four of his 8 total catches this year have been for TDs.
Defensively, the Cardinal rank in the middle of the PAC-12 in most all stats, so at first glance they seem like a unit that can be beat, on the ground especially. They certainly give up yards, but rank 2nd in the PAC-12 to Washington in the most important statistic: scoring defense. Similar to the Dawgs, Stanford can be susceptible to giving up yards but are pretty good at keeping opponents out of the end zone. Up front Harrison Phillips is one to keep an eye on, and Justin Reid at safety anchors a very strong secondary. CB Alijah Holder is injured for the year but flanking him is another strong cover corner in Quenton Meeks.
The way Washington wins this one is to ensure they follow the same formula from the last two games - keep the ball on the ground and establish Myles Gaskin. Throwing into the teeth of the defense with a banged up receiver corps is a recipe for disaster. The defense should have no problem continuing to do what they do best and keep Stanford from scoring. That they have one truly dangerous offensive weapon should be more than enough for the Huskies to keep the Cardinal offense one dimensional. PAC-12 teams on the road have had a rough go this year, and Stanford has been known to rise to the occasion at home. Bryce Love might get loose for a big run, but Stanford will struggle to throw it against this secondary. The Cardinal defense will make life difficult for Browning and do a decent job against the run.
I see a really close game, with the Huskies escaping Palo Alto 17-10.
This one is going to be a battle.
Stanford has been getting horrible QB play for most of the season. Unfortunately for the Huskies, the Cardinal's least horrible quarterback (KJ Costello) is getting the start. Stanford's offensive line has not been up to par this season, and with LT Walker Little out, logic says they will struggle against the Husky front. Football doesn't always follows logic, though, and I expect the Stanford O-Line to play their best game of the season.
If Costello makes a bunch of mistakes, UW could run away with this one. I just don't think that will happen, though. David Shaw will stick with the run as much as possible, and look for a size advantage on the outside (probably against Myles Bryant) and throw a few jump balls to JJ Arcega-Whiteside or Trenton Irwin.
If things don't go well early, UW has to keep their poise. This game could be a low scoring grind if Stanford comes out and plays the way I expect them to. Stick to the gameplan, keep balance on offense, and....MAKE THOSE KICKS!
UW 23, Stanford 13