Last night, the Cardinal once again found itself in a stunning upset for the second straight game. Except this time, it got the wrong end of the stick.
Washington (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) gave No. 8 Stanford (3-1, 1-1) its first road test of the season, and the Cardinal convincingly failed, falling to the Huskies 17-13. The loss snapped Stanford’s four-game winning streak against its Pac-12 North foe.
The Cardinal offense, which converted just five of its 18 third downs, was frustratingly inefficient and never found a steady rhythm throughout the game. In fact, it was kept out of the end zone entirely by a stout Huskies defense.
Redshirt junior quarterback Josh Nunes had a dismal performance as he completed 18 of 37 for 170 yards and tossed the game-ending interception. In front of a raucous crowd at CenturyLink field, Nunes at times either overthrew his targets by 10 yards or failed to put enough zip on the ball on short passes.
Stanford’s running game was also ineffective for much of the night. After trampling the Huskies last season for 446 yards, the Cardinal couldn’t even pound out 100 yards on the ground. Dependable halfback Stepfan Taylor rushed for 75 hard-earned yards, but only averaged a meager 3.1 yards per carry. But the senior captain shouldn’t be blamed for the team’s woes on offense, considering that the Washington defensive line found its way into the backfield on numerous occasions.
“We didn’t play well enough to win,” head coach David Shaw told ESPN. “We didn’t make the throws we needed to make. We didn’t make the catches we needed to make. We didn’t sustain our blocks in the running game as long as we should have. We got outplayed tonight.”
After going three-and-out on the first drive of the game, Stanford capitalized off a 24-yard reception by tight end Zach Ertz when placekicker Jordan Williamson drove a 31-yard field goal through the uprights.
The Stanford front seven pummeled Huskies quarterback Keith Price for most of the first half and gave up just one field goal. Linebackers Chase Thomas and James Vaughters led the pressure early on as they both recorded a sack during the first two quarters.
The Cardinal managed to tack on another field goal and take a 6-3 lead when Nunes orchestrated a 54-yard drive–the longest drive of the game for Stanford–late in the second quarter. Despite heading into the locker room with a three-point lead, the Cardinal had yet to show any signs of life on offense as it mustered only 131 yards and punted five times on just as many three-and-outs.
Things didn’t get any better in the second half.
Nunes remained inaccurate while Taylor and the offensive line could not wear down the Huskies defense as they were able to do so effectively against USC. Even when the offense managed to convert a couple first downs, it would somehow find a way to stall somewhere near midfield and punt the ball to the Huskies once again. At one point, backup quarterback Brett Nottingham had his helmet on and was tossing balls on the sideline.
In a game that proved to be a defensive struggle, it was the Cardinal defense that made the first breakthrough when outside linebacker Trent Murphy jumped on a short pass from Price for a pick-six.
But Stanford’s 13-3 lead was short-lived. On Washington’s very next drive, running back Bishop Sankey, who finished the game with 144 yards on 20 carries, darted past a couple would-be tacklers on fourth-and-1 for a 61-yard touchdown.
The Huskies’ offensive explosion didn’t stop there, as star wideout Kasen William caught a screen pass from Price and took it for a 35-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. Suddenly down 17-13, the Cardinal found itself in unfamiliar territory, trailing for the first time all night.
Nunes had one last chance to engineer a game-winning drive when the Cardinal got ball back at its own 32-yard line with 4:53 left in the game. But after not being able to methodically move the ball for the majority of the game, the Stanford offense failed to deliver yet again on its last stand.
After driving to the Washington 40, Murphy’s Law took over. A delay of game penalty on first down pushed Stanford back five yards. Sophomore Ty Montgomery dropped a well-thrown ball from Nunes in what could’ve been the go-ahead touchdown, which summed up Stanford’s offensive performance for the night. And when cornerback Desmond Trufant intercepted Nunes’ fourth-down pass intended for Levine Toilolo to end the game, Stanford’s fate was sealed.
Although the Cardinal might very well have lost the game because of one missed tackle, it will need to quickly recuperate from its first loss of the season with Arizona paying a visit to the Farm next Saturday.