Stanford probably has the best in-conference defense Washington’s seen so far, so... that doesn’t inspire confidence. They’re not some unstoppable force, but they’re fundamentally the most sound and are pretty strong in the middle of the field. Unless the staff seriously rethink things and Dylan Morris’ shellshock from playing behind that disappointment of a line dissipates, I don’t anticipate UW’s offense turning a corner here. Groundbreaking, I know.
Otherwise, Stanford’s offense isn’t lighting the world on fire, but they’re much better than initially this season now that Tanner McKee’s established in his starting QB role. Defensively, I think Washington needs ZTF more than ever if they’re gonna have a chance — McKee is so big and lanky (6’6”, very long legs and arms) that you can tell by his throwing motion and body language that he’s not fully “comfortable,” physically. (Ya know how often tall people are awkward dancers cuz they’re uncomfortable moving their limbs fully? Yeah, like that, but quarterback.) Personally I’d take him over Davis Mills by a bit, but he looks like he should be susceptible to getting in his head from pass rush pressure if the Dawgs are able to bring it early.
Washington- 17, Stanford- 24
Earlier this week, I rhetorically asked our Slack group how badly UW had underperformed against Stanford in recent history. Max pulled some numbers for me on the actual game result against the Vegas spread. In 2020, UW underperformed the spread by 16.5 points (favored by 11.5, lost by 5). In 2019, it was 23.5; 2018, 6; 2017, 16. On average, UW has performed 15.5 points worse than the spread has anticipated against Stanford in that timeframe. A big part of the gap is stylistic- UW plays a smaller, faster defense designed to stop spread offenses. Stanford plays a bigger, stronger style that is less fashionable but tends to bludgeon our defense. Even before it was fashionable for running backs to gash the Dawgs for 5+ yards per carry, Stanford was blazing that trail.
There are a few reasons to see this game a little differently. Stanford has been a bad run offense (3.5 yards/rush) and a bad run defense (5.0 yards/rush). The days of the bruising, physical Cardinal are more legend than reality at this point. When Stanford has played well, it has been Tanner McKee’s passing prowess that has carried the offense. The defense has generally struggled against whatever the opponent likes to do best. The path for UW to win is for the defensive front to play its best game of the year and allow the secondary to excel against McKee while Dylan Morris plays a full game that looks like the second half against Arizona. Given the historical underperformance, I’m not going to bet on this game being the one where the Dawgs turn it all around this year.
Washington- 20, Stanford- 28
Remember the Simpsons episode where Krusty owes a bunch of money to the Mob because he bet on the Washington Generals to beat the Harlem Globetrotters? His explanation “I thought they were due!!”
Well, I’m picking UW over Stanford this weekend. Not only are they due to get the upper hand against Stanford - which they are - but they’re due to NOT be an offense that has often looked as imaginative as one of those generic BEER cans. They’re due to flash someone on defense who has a breakout game. I think they’re even due to kick a long field goal that means something.
No, this team has not shown any marked improvement from week to week. And even if they pull out a win over the Cardinal, I don’t necessarily have confidence that will parlay into improved play the rest of the season. But they’re due goddamnit, and they just have too much talent to spend this much time looking bad on both sides of the ball... too much going for them to be the same team that loses to Montana at home with 38 weeks to prepare — or be a team that can only dominate a 1-6 opponent from Jerkwater, USA.
Of course Krusty was wrong when he thought the Generals were due. Very wrong. Ridiculously wrong. And I may very well be wrong too. But I need to see something this week that makes me remember what I felt like heading into this season. I need to believe this team is something special again.
Washington- 24, Stanford- 23
I would really love to predict a Husky victory. I’m definitely not above the occasional bout of shameless homer-ism. But at this point I don’t see how someone can reasonably pick the Dawgs in this matchup.
As Andrew noted above, Washington has reliably underperformed the spread by double digits ever since that glorious evening in 2016 when UW crushed the Cardinal in a top-ten matchup in Husky stadium. There’s also the little matter of Washington being quite atrocious against the spread under Jimmy Lake. The Huskies are 2-9 with Lake as the head coach against the spread with the only 2 covers coming at home against Arizona last year and Arkansas State this year. Until we see Washington over-perform in one of these games I’m having trouble seeing how it’s not a sound strategy to go against UW.
None of that of course is about the actual matchup itself so let’s talk about that. Both of these teams are truly godawful in all aspects of the running game. Washington and Stanford are each worse than 100th in both rushing offense and defense measured by EPA per play. If you prefer traditional metrics, both are getting out-rushed by their opponent by close to 100 yards per game this season. Something’s gotta give this week. Given that Washington is without Edefuan Ulofoshio for the season and the status of fellow defensive starters Ryan Bowman, Taki Taimani, Alex Cook, and Cameron Williams are still uncertain for this game I’m unfortunately willing to bet that UW’s defensive rushing woes win out (lose out?)
Washington’s best hope is that Stanford keeps up their offensive trends which is that they much prefer to throw the ball. The Husky corners are definitely the strength of the defense but Stanford has made a living in recent years challenging them downfield on psuedo-jump balls with their height advantages. The Cardinal again go 6’3, 6’4, and 6’5 with their 3 primary targets so we’re going to need to see McDuffie, Bookie, and Gordon pick off 1-2 of those passes to give the offense enough chances. Which is optimistic probably since Tanner McKee has only thrown an interception in one game this season.
Gabey noted in her defensive preview that Stanford has primarily been killed on defense by backs who are decisive and don’t dance in the hole. This season it seems like Kamari Pleasant has been the back best suited to doing that and given Stanford’s rush defense troubles it could be a good game for him.
Consistently this season though the Huskies have only gotten 3-4 real scoring opportunities per game without being gifted great field position. If Washington can go 3/3 of 4/4 turning those into touchdowns then they’ll have a chance to squeak one out. If they have to settle for field goals then it’s not going to be good enough. The good news is that David Shaw loves to punt from inside the other team’s 40 so hopefully he won’t pick this week to start being aggressive in 4th and short situations.
Washington- 17, Stanford- 27
THE FINAL TALLY
Against the Spread (UW +2): Washington- 1, Stanford- 3
Straight Up: Washington- 1, Stanford- 3
Average Score: Washington- 19.5, Stanford- 25.5