Since the 2016 bludgeoning of the Cardinal, UW is 2-3 against Stanford with both wins being close, one score games. Stanford’s largest margin of victory has been 10 points in that stretch, but those games never felt that competitive. While this game is certainly not a referendum on Kalen DeBoer’s career at Washington, it will provide an intriguing look at if this coaching staff can move past the Stanford problems that have plagued this team.
Stanford has only played two games this season, but so far gain 25 yards per play on their first drives of those games. Don’t be surprised if they jump out to an early lead, or at least punch back if Washington scores fast. They’ve also have a bye week to prepare for this game. Stanford’s pass game has hurt Washington in the past and this year’s secondary has shown it can give up big plays. This will also be the first real test of our new-and-hopefully-improved linebacking corps. The Kent State and Michigan State run games were one thing, but the slow mesh is a novel concept that will tear apart an unprepared team, especially linebackers who aren’t keyed in.
I think the UW pass game with Michael Penix Jr. is the real deal and should be able to move the ball against most, but Stanford’s defensive strength is in their secondary with CB Kyu Blu Kelly. I’m also not entirely convinced of UW’s run game. If the pass isn’t working, I don’t know if Washington has enough juice in the run game to keep possession and bleed clock. Ultimately, with running back EJ Smith for Stanford out, I think that gives UW the edge and they win a close one.
Washington- 28, Stanford- 24
The body of work from this Husky football team in just three games is such that I don’t see them deflating following the big win against MSU. Likewise, I don’t think anyone anticipates a regression in the firepower of Michael Penix, Jr and Co. The Dawg O-line is delivering astounding pass protection right now and it’s a thing of beauty. Injuries can never be planned for, of course. And maybe the Dawgs turn the ball over more than their current 0.66-per-game average. But there’s no reason to think that Kalen DeBoer and his staff - in this their first season - won’t have this team improving from week to week.
While our pass rush has brought the pressure through three games, opposing QB’s have done well to avoid the sack. 6’ 6” Tanner McKee had 61 “rush attempts” for 4 yards last season, so I expect McKee will be the least fleet-footed QB the Husky D has faced, and I look for our EDGE rushers to get to him tomorrow night. Which they’ll need to do to protect Stanford’s passing game from picking apart the Husky secondary.
David Shaw is a masterful coach, but this is no longer the 10-win Stanford of yesteryear. At home, this UW offense rolls and the defense does enough to make this game a one-score win.
Washington- 41, Stanford- 34
Every Husky fan has nightmares about Stanford over the Harbaugh and Shaw years. Part of that nightmare is borne out of a stylistic clash of a UW defense designed to neutralize speedy spread offenses and a Stanford offense designed to bludgeon undersized defenses. While the feelings remain raw, the systems have changed on both sides, which gives the matchup a very different flavor.
Stanford’s move to a more RPO-centric offense has had mixed early returns. The Cardinal moved the ball well against USC, but had trouble converting those yards into points due to turnovers and negative plays. The increased aggressiveness of UW’s ILBs and Edges could blow up some of the slow mesh plays in the backfield, or they could run themselves out of position for some bigger gains. With a cast of big, talented receivers and TEs, Tanner McKee should be able to get short and medium yardage through the air, though the Cardinal lack the burner to punish UW’s deep ball vulnerability. The injury to EJ Smith could prove decisive. Emmitt’s son is Stanford’s most balanced running back and a prime source of the steady yardage they tallied against USC.
When UW has the ball, the matchup is more favorable. Michael Penix has carved up every defense he has faced this year and Stanford is several notches below Michigan State in quality. The combination of Jalen McMillan, Ja’Lynn Polk, and Rome Odunze is looking increasingly match-up proof due to the combination of size, speed, and technical ability the Dawgs feature across the position group. As the season progresses, it will be interesting to see if the Huskies get easier rushing yards as teams commit more defenders to helping in the secondary. We might start to see that trend as early as this week.
Ultimately, this game might look a lot like UW’s win a week ago- the defense gives up some points to an opponent with size and skill, but they force enough mistakes that the adversary cannot keep up with UW’s scoring output. The two-TD spread is a big number, and a UW win in the 7-10 point range would not surprise me in the least. But with Smith out, I’m taking a few points away from the Tree, which pushes UW into covering territory.
Washington- 40, Stanford- 24
My gut is actually kind of similar to what I was feeling against Michigan State, albeit with less question marks about Washington but also more confidence in Tanner McKee than I had in Payton Thorne at this time last week. It turned out I wasn’t trusting my gut ~enough~ last week since I predicted just a narrow Washington win instead of... that...
I think what will happen when Washington’s on defense is an overall pretty even matchup 85% of the time, punctuated in Stanford’s favor by a handful of big-ish air gains because A) what’s Stanford’s m.o. if not “chuck it up to that tall guy and box ‘em out”? and B) Washington’s obvious weak spot (bow tie model of distribution, anyone?) is at corner. I would like to see, even if Jordan Perryman’s back, Julius Irvin get some more snaps though, because he’s been pretty solid given the circumstances. Regardless of who’s at corner, though, I will be 0% shocked when there are a handful of air-based big plays; McKee can chuck it, and for someone of his size and arm strength has quite good touch in my opinion.
Otherwise though, I still believe more in Washington’s defense vs Stanford’s offense more than I believe in Stanford’s defense vs Washington’s offense, particularly up front. Stanford’s secondary vs Washington’s receivers will be fun to watch though, but I think between the lines going in UW’s favor and Penix being, I believe, the more dynamic, precise, and extremely high-processing passer, Washington will score more consistently. The one thing that makes me a bit nervous is whether the Dawgs can tackle well, consistently, especially if Stanford’s running backs can get a full head of steam behind pulling guards like they did at USC at times.
Still going Washington though.
Washington- 41, Stanford- 31
At this point if you don’t believe in Washington’s offense I don’t know what to tell you. They’ve scored on 14 of 16 drives in the first half of games and led by 3+ touchdowns at the break in all of them. If there’s one thing you should feel confident in going into this game it’s that the Huskies should be able to put up points independent of the opponent.
And it turns out that Stanford probably isn’t going to be the elite defense that slows the Huskies down. USC owns probably the closest analog to Washington’s offense in the conference right now and they were up 35-14 on Stanford at halftime and 41-14 at the end of the 3rd quarter. After that point they hit cruise control to allow Stanford a pair of 4th quarter touchdowns to make it look respectable. Sound a little familiar to the Washington/Michigan State game last week?
There’s one major difference which is that Stanford moved the ball all day against the Trojans but had 2 separate 73 yard drives inside the 5-yard line end in turnovers. If those had instead been touchdowns then all of a sudden that game feels quite close and requires USC to keep moving the ball. Stanford had 441 yards on almost an identical balance between run and pass (220 to 221). Their new slow mesh offense will be able to put up some points against the Huskies and a secondary that is likely to still be banged up.
The good news for Washington is that starting running back EJ Smith who had 114 total yards (but then again also 2 lost fumbles) against USC is out due to injury and will be replaced by the less explosive Casey Filkins.
The bad news for Washington is this is just a textbook trap game. UW is coming off a huge win and getting national headlines while playing a team that is coming off a bye and has had 2 weeks to prepare for this matchup. I’m also worried that the Husky running game isn’t good enough to salt away a lead and that a team coming back with late touchdowns when forced to abandon the run and UW takes their foot off the gas is going to be a season-long concern.
With all of that give me a game where the final score looks closer than it feels but the Dawgs stay undefeated going into next week’s Friday night road trip at UCLA.
Washington- 44, Stanford- 38
THE FINAL TALLY
Against the Spread (UW -13.5): Washington- 1, Stanford- 4
Straight Up: Washington- 5, Stanford- 0
Average Score: Washington- 38.8, Stanford- 30.2