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Grading the Game: Stanford Cardinal

The honeymoon is over.

NCAA Football: Stanford at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Oof. Let’s get right into it:

Quarterback - B+

He didn’t throw a touchdown, but Dylan Morris was efficient and explosive on Saturday, while also not taking a sack or turning the ball over. He was 15/23 for 254 yards, which comes out to 11 yards an attempt - a great average. He had four passes go for over 25 yards. He connected on the deep ball more than he has in recent weeks and the young quarterback seems to be improving. However, he is seemingly held back by the offensive play calling because for a second week in a row, the offense looked more dangerous in a pass-first look with Morris slinging the rock. Yet, the coaches opted to keep running the ball. He was effective scrambling too, getting yardage and popping up after a big hit.

NCAA Football: Stanford at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Running Back - B-

Sean McGrew had a decent looking box score - 16 carries, 65 yards, 2 touchdowns, but the run game as a whole was not terribly effective. It’s not all on the running backs - the offensive line struggled more than usual against Stanford’s front, and they were running into loaded boxes more often than not - that is on the play design and scheme. That being said, the running backs scored the only touchdowns of the game for Washington, so that is worth something. Richard Newton again suited up but didn’t enter the game, and his absence is a mystery, considering he was practically the only effective player in last years eerily similar loss to the Cardinal. Kamari Pleasant - who played a season low number of snaps - and Cam Davis got a few carries apiece but only netted 20 yards. We also saw the return of the fullback dive (shoutout Jack Westover) for two plays which got 3 yards a piece.

Wide Receivers - B+

I would like to give this group a “A”, because they played pretty well while out their top two receivers in Puka Nacua and Terrell Bynum, but they did not record a touchdown catch. Seeing Ty Jones haul in two deep balls - including a highlight reel one hander - was a welcome return to form for the junior. But the real story is Rome Odunze’s emergence after initially having some growing pains getting used to the speed of the college game. He finished with a team high 5 catches and 69 yards, and his strength and athleticism is starting to yield results on the field. Jalen McMillan got off the schneid with his first catch of his young career, a 16 yarder.

NCAA Football: Stanford at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Tight Ends - B

This is mostly a usage grade since inexplicably the tight ends, Cade Otton in particular, were not utilized very much. John Donovan must have heard the shouts into televisions across the Husky fandom because after not being targeted even once in the first half, Cade Otton got two receptions in the second half, including a big 42 yard gain. Morris did miss a wide open Otton running the seam in the first half which might have been a touchdown, so it’s not all on the coaches. Devin Culp got involved too with the first catch of his career. At 6-3 and 245 pounds, he can move really well for his size and hopefully will be utilized in the future - he did return kicks in high school so he knows what do when the balls in his hands.

Offensive Line - C+

Definitely the worst game for the line all year. The good news is they didn’t give up a sack, and only allowed 3 tackles for loss. But there were multiple holding penalties, including two in a row in the red zone which absolutely killed a scoring chance. While I still think this line has a lot more potential than any in recent years, they had a hard time opening holes against against a defense that was giving up 229 yards a game rushing - the Huskies got half that. Despite this, Victor Curne continues to play well and is Washington’s second highest graded player on offense (per PFF) this season.

Defensive Line - C-

Simply put, the defensive line was handled for most of the game by Stanford’s offensive line. Linebackers get plenty of blame too - but outside of Tuli Letuligasnoa, they struggled. The DL looks noticeably more stout with him in the game. Taki Taimani was okay but feels a year away from really being able to take over. I’ve fawned over Faatui Tuitele here before and he again flashed his incredible athleticism but probably isn’t quite ready yet either. Stanford only averaged 120 yards on the ground going into the game, and ran for 190 on Saturday. That’s not awful, but Washington got only two TFLs all game and the Cardinal continued to pound away for 3-4-5 yards a carry all game.

Inside Linebackers - C-

Eddie Ulofoshio got a million (13 solo) tackles as usual, but rest of the group was ineffective. They couldn’t get off blocks or make plays, and when they had opportunities, didn’t distinguish themselves. Ulofoshio’s fumble recovery and 10 yard return is the highlight for the group. They weren’t ripping off massive runs left and right, but if they needed three yards, they got four. Their run game kept them from second/third and long situations, which as Husky fans should know perfectly well makes it difficult to sustain drives. Not much to else to say except that Stanford had their way with the Husky front seven.

NCAA Football: Stanford at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Outside Linebackers - D

Not great here either. The almighty Zion Tupuloa-Fetui finally descended from Mt. Olympus to show he is in fact a human being, and can be the focal point of another team’s game plan. While he did get a pressure or two on Davis Mills, he did not record a stat, though he was extremely close to pick in the first quarter. The Cardinal clearly wanted to nullify his impact as much as possible. Sav’ell Smalls had one pressure but lost contain on one of Austin Jones longer runs he was able to bust outside. When the Huskies needed a sack on a clear and obvious 3rd down passing situation, Davis Mills had a clean pocket.

Secondary - C-

Like the rest of the defense, this unit really struggled. Seemingly every time Stanford needed to complete a 3rd and long, they could reliably throw it up and their receivers would come down with the ball. Even with good coverage they got beat consistently. Kyler Gordon got his most time on the field this season, at the expense of Alex Cook. Gordon might not have the down-in-and-down-out consistency of a McDuffie, but he’s capable of big plays and athletic feats in the secondary. His pass break up in the second half to force a punt was a highlight. The coaches had Asa Turner playing so far back he was barely involved but wasn’t great when he had his chances. The whole defense played poorly - and there’s questions to ask about the scheme - but it’s unfortunate that the best unit on the team couldn’t be leaned on in critical moments.

Special Teams - B-

Race Porter was good on his punts, and Peyton Henry was 2/2 on field goals, including a 45 yarder. That’s good, but the kickoff coverage units (supposedly a focus on practice this week) were a mess. Tim Horn isn’t reliably kicking into the end zone like he was last season and it’s hurting the team with field position.

Coaching - D-

I’ll start with the “good”. Credit to the coaches for keeping the team in the game and having the final score look respectable. Without watching the game, you would be forgiven for thinking it was a hard fought close loss. While many of us still have issues with the offense, they were hardly the problem, scoring on five of their seven possessions. The pass game design seems to have potential, but it feels like a stubborn “run the damn ball” approach is going to keep holding this team back. I understand not putting the world on Dylan Morris’s freshman shoulders, but he needs to throw the ball more, plain and simple. Jimmy Lake seems very dedicated to instilling a tough guy or “bully ball” type of approach that in modern college football, I am not sure is the answer. Right now it just feels like bravado.

Ultimately, this game was lost by the defense. A rarity for the Huskies in recent years, but they got their teeth kicked in by a Stanford team that was having a hard time running the ball and wasn’t exactly explosive in the pass game. They averaged a pedestrian 6.2 yards per play and took that all game. The Huskies followed their play book, and kept the safeties back to prevent the big play - but it doesn’t matter because Stanford doesn’t need explosive plays to win. Most college teams do, and won’t be able to methodically plod down the field in short chunks like Stanford. The Husky coaches had to adjust their game plan for this game and didn’t. Instead, we saw the same loss to Stanford we’ve seen practically every year - they were more physical, more focused, and had a better plan.

That’s just 3 wins in 13 for the Huskies against their North division rival. They take on Oregon next week, a team they have lost 14 of 16 games to. The Stanford-Oregon hump (more like impenetrable force field) is holding this program back and the coaches need to figure out how to beat the teams they will be playing every year not named Washington State.

I say this to myself after every game and it’s an important reminder, especially now: your’e never as good as you think you are after a win, and you’re never as bad as you think you are after a loss.

Go Dawgs.