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Grading the Game: Stanford Cardinal vs. Washington Huskies Football

An early offensive barrage turned out to give the Huskies just enough breathing room to secure an important victory against a divisional opponent.

NCAA Football: Stanford at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Thanks to the gods of chaos who visit their wrath upon every college football season, the Washington Huskies entered Saturday’s game in the thick of the race for a Rose Bowl berth despite owning three losses on their resume. They came out firing against the Stanford Cardinal and looked for much of the first half like they would cruise to an easy victory, but a spirited comeback on the part of K.J. Costello and the Cardinal defense brought some high drama to the game’s closing minutes before a hail mary interception by Taylor Rapp secured Washington’s victory. The Huskies now continue on their collision course with the Washington State Cougars in the upcoming Apple Cup for the right to represent the Pac-12 North in this year’s conference championship game.

Rushing Offense: A-

After a two game absence, Myles Gaskin’s return to the active roster was a godsend for the Huskies as the senior running back picked up 148 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. His yardage total represented his best single-game output since the 2017 Apple Cup, and he was particularly effective in the red zone, gaining 27 yards and his TD on five rushes. Meanwhile, the Washington offensive line did a good job of controlling the line of scrimmage, allowing just two tackles for loss on designed run plays. Gaskin was especially good in third- and fourth-down situations, converting two of three attempts for first-downs and averaging more than six yards per carry.

Among the reserves, Gaskin’s backups Salvon Ahmed, Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant saw limited action, combining for 39 yards on 10 carries.

Passing Offense: B

Saturday’s game marked the sixth consecutive contest in which Jake Browning has thrown a single touchdown pass. He played especially magnificently in Washington’s first three drives of the game, completing seven of 10 pass attempts for 90 yards, four first-downs and a touchdown. In third- and fourth-down scenarios throughout the game, Browning completed five of nine passes for 81 yards (as well as taking a nine-yard sack and picking up 12 yards on a trio of scrambles). Altogether, he completed 16 of 27 passes for 194 yards on the day, and refrained from throwing an interception for the first time since the Sept. 29 game against Brigham Young.

Among Washington’s receivers, Aaron Fuller paced the team in receptions and yards, hauling in five catches for 62 yards. While he remains the team’s leader in both categories on the season, Ty Jones is nipping at his heels: In the last three games, Jones has caught 10 passes for 115 yards compared to Fuller’s 11 for 148, and against Stanford, Jones accounted for 28 yards on three receptions. In addition, the tight end trio of Cade Otton, Drew Sample and Hunter Bryant (!!!) earned 48 yards and a touchdown on four catches, including three first downs or TDs. And the offensive line afforded Browning good protection, yielding three sacks for a loss of 24 yards, as well as a fourth sack that was taken off the board due to a personal foul penalty levied upon Jovan Swann.

Rushing Defense: B+

NCAA Football: Stanford at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Bryce Love is one of the nation’s most dangerous running backs when he’s operating at full health, and it worked to Washington’s benefit Saturday that Love is nowhere near 100 percent. The UW front seven limited Love to 71 yards and a TD on 18 carries and held the entire Stanford offense to just three rushes of 10 yards or more, although that figure includes Love’s dagger of a 28-yard gain at the start of the Cardinal’s final touchdown drive during the fourth quarter. On third down, Washington limited Stanford to six yards and one conversion on three attempts, including two that the Dawgs stopped for no gain.

Ben Burr-Kirven’s 12 tackles led the night for the Huskies, while Tevis Bartlett (six tackles), Brandon Wellington (five tackles) and Jaylen Johnson (four tackles, one TFL) all got in on the action as well.

Passing Defense: B

Washington’s entire football team was essentially Dr. Jekyll in the first half and Mr. Hyde in the second, and nowhere was that transformation more apparent than when K.J. Costello aired the ball out against the Huskies’ secondary. In the first two quarters, Costello completed 15 of 23 attempts for 142 yards (6.2 yards per attempt) while throwing two interceptions — and 55 of those yards came on two throws during Stanford’s final drive, when the Huskies were playing a pure prevent defense. In the second half, however, Costello was lights out, hitting his targets on 14 of 20 attempts for 205 yards (10.3 yards per attempt) and two touchdowns against one interception.

Byron Murphy was burned in one-on-one coverage on a 33-yard Trenton Irwin touchdown reception but otherwise played well, tallying seven tackles and one pass defense on the day. Keith Taylor made his second career start (stepping up in place of an injured Jordan Miller) and made several key plays, but was also hit with a pass interference penalty that had the Cardinal knocking on the door of the red zone. Elijah Molden had his best game as a Husky, earning seven tackles and two pass defenses that included a fourth-down incompletion that ended a 10-play Stanford drive in the second quarter, and his fellow defensive back Taylor Rapp earned six tackles and secured the victory on a game ending hail mary interception. Finally, I wouldn’t dream of ending this portion of the recap without mentioning Ben Burr-Kirven’s pass deflection that made possible Greg Gaines’ tip drill interception, which gave Washington its best candidate in years for the coveted Piesman Trophy.

Special Teams: B+

NCAA Football: Stanford at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Peyton Henry has bounced back nicely ever since his missed field goal at the end of regulation last month against Oregon, and continued that streak against Stanford by hitting both of his field goal attempts (coming from 22 and 38 yards) as well as all three of his PATs. Washington’s kickoff coverage continues to show signs of weakness (they allowed a return of 30 yards or more Saturday for the third consecutive game) but also didn’t do anything disastrous, giving Stanford an average starting position at their own 25-yard line over the course of the day. Joel Whitford brutally shanked one of his punts for 17 yards but averaged a respectable 39.3 yards on his four others, and Trenton Irwin gained 14 yards on one punt return but averaged just 1.5 yards on his two others. The Dawgs’ returners had their quietest day of the season, as Washington did not attempt to return a single kickoff or punt on the day.

Coaching: B-

Washington came into this game with serious questions regarding how motivated its players would be to put on a competitive performance, considering that A) their preseason goal of making the College Football Playoff is well and truly off the table, and B) that they dropped an eminently winnable game the week prior on the road in Berkeley. In that regard, Saturday was an unquestioned win for the Washington coaches, whose preparation was clearly on display in the dominant way the Huskies began the game. Over the course of the game’s first six drives, Washington scored 21 points and outgained Stanford 179 yards to 21, while the Cardinal offense produced two three-and-outs and an interception.

On the other hand, there’s no question that David Shaw won the battle of mid-game adjustments, as the Cardinal outscored the Huskies 23–6 in the game’s final 42:20. That comeback is made even more impressive considering that Stanford did so with a hobbled Bryce Love and without JJ Arcega-Whiteside, who leads the conference in touchdown receptions and suffered an ankle injury while making his only catch of the day.

Washington also regressed in terms of penalties, committing 10 on the day (eight of which were enforced) for a loss of 85 yards. That includes a staggering four personal foul penalties, among which was an ejection for targeting against JoJo McIntosh early in the second quarter that forced reserves into starting roles in three of Washington’s five nickel positions. The eight enforced penalties is Washington’s worst showing since the season opener against Auburn, when the Dawgs drew 10 flags for 95 yards.


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