What happened to smash-mouth Stanford? It took a couple of years, but they transitioned from one of the most feared power run games in the nation, to 120 yards a game on the ground and the lowest rushing percentage in the conference:
Run Play %— WestCoastCFB (@WestCoastCFB) December 2, 2020
1. Colorado - 63.6%
2. ASU - 61.3%
3. UCLA - 60.8%
4. UW - 57.8%
5. Oregon - 53.7%
6. Utah - 52.6%
7. OSU - 49.8%
8. Arizona - 46.3%
9. Cal - 46.1%
10. WSU - 43.5%
11. USC - 42.6%
12. Stanford - 42.2%
In fact, they are throwing it at a slightly higher clip than USC, who is running the air-raid offense. This isn’t quite like the 2018-19 teams where they had a seemingly endless supply of power forward sized tight ends with great hands they could just throw the ball up to - this offense is a bit more refined.
Out With the Old, in With the Wide Receivers
Stanford still has tight ends, obviously, but they have caught a grand total of six passes through three games - three a piece for Tucker Fisk and Scooter Harrington. Instead, it’s the athletic trio of Michael Wilson, Simi Fehoko, and former UW commit Connor Wedington. Michael Wilson is a really smooth and athletic receiver who can use his 6-2 frame and sticky hands to make catches over defensive backs and make some yards after the catch as well. He’s on the field for nearly every offensive snap and he leads the team in receptions and yards (17-218) but has one TD in three games. In fact, Stanford has only thrown for two touchdowns all season. Surprisingly the other touchdown catch was for the not often targeted TE Scooter Harrington.
Simi Fehoko is an exciting prospect too, standing at 6-4 and running faster than you’d expect at that size. He’s the big play threat of the three with 16.6 yards per catch and seems to be the biggest spark the Cardinal have offensively. Finally there is Connor Wedington, who is the versatile playmaker type of the bunch. He only averages 10 yards per catch, mostly because he gets a lot of throws behind the line of scrimmage. He is capable of some play making ability as evidenced by his punt returns. While he doesn’t have elite production so far this season, PFF seems to like his play and have him as the 2nd highest graded WR in the Pac-12.
Davis Mills, Austin Jones, and the Run Game
The man pulling the trigger is Davis Mills, who took over last year for the injured-and-now transferred K.J. Costello. He was a big time recruit coming out of high school as the #1 pro-style (whatever that even really means anymore) quarterback, so he’s “got all the tools”. He’s very much a timing and rhythm type of thrower who excels at slants, quick hitters, and other short/intermediate routes. When he’s got a clean pocket and plays aren’t getting blown up, he’ll be like clockwork. He’s got a big sturdy frame at 6-4 and 212 pounds, so isn’t afraid to deliver the ball and take a hit immediately after. He can move around in the pocket, but he does not do particularly well throwing on the move or rolling out. He’s taking care of the ball this year with no picks, and 62% completion percentage. He hasn’t been terribly explosive however, with just 6 yards per attempt.
His partner in the backfield is the versatile Austin Jones, equally comfortable rushing the ball as he is catching passes out of the backfield. He’s got 12 receptions so far this year, third on the team and one more than Simi Fehoko. He’s averaging just under 4 yards per carry but has 5 touchdowns already through three games. He’s a workhorse with good vision, balance, and toughness, though he hasn’t busted a ton of big runs this year - his 17 yard burst against Oregon is his longest of the season. Despite passing the ball more than any other Pac-12 team, when they run, they will do it from tight formations, with multiple tight ends and a fullback on the field. They still want to have that power, smash mouth identity despite seeing limited success with it.
Up front, the Cardinal do have a few offensive linemen who are quite good, starting with C Drew Dalman, arguably the best in the Pac-12. G Branson Bragg has graded out as the 7th (per PFF) best guard in the Pac-12, while T Foster Sarrell - finally healthy - is 12th among tackles. They have some talent up front in typical Stanford fashion, but haven’t been able to quite put it together for a dominant ground game. They have given up 5 sacks, which is not too bad through three games, considering how much Davis Mills drops back.
What To Expect
Where this offense can hurt teams is when they get into a rhythm, where Mills can excel and distribute the ball to his wide receivers. They are excellent at limiting turnovers, with just one lost fumble and no interceptions so far this year. They can be annoyingly methodical - like Utah - and hurt teams despite a lack of explosive plays. Washington needs to counter this with havoc plays and hopefully generating turnovers, because without that, Stanford can go 5.4 yards per play up and down the field. Fortunately they haven’t done that too much this year but playing Stanford has been a tough proposition for the Huskies recently, winning just three of the past twelve (two of which were by only four points).
It will be intriguing to see what approach Stanford takes - throw the ball into the teeth of this Husky defense and test Elijah Molden and Trent McDuffie, or try to establish the ground game against a Husky run defense than has been vulnerable at times. My guess is they will throw early and often to set up the run and will find some success, before UW can adjust. As inconsistent as Stanford has been offensively, they just always seem to know how to attack UW. The play of safeties Alex Cook and Asa Turner will be critical in this game.
How many points will Stanford score?
This poll is closed
35 or more