By King Jemison
Stanford’s offense emerged from the funk it had been mired in the last two weeks to gain 406 yards on the nation’s top-ranked defense, while the Cardinal defense shut down the explosive Washington attack in the second half to lead Stanford (7-3, 6-2 Pac-12) to a 30-22 home victory over the ninth-ranked Huskies (8-2, 5-2 Pac-12) that keeps Stanford firmly in the Pac-12 North title race.
Stanford junior running back Bryce Love furthered his Heisman campaign tremendously by running for 166 yards and three touchdowns against the top defense in the country. His three scores on the ground were equal to the combined total of Washington’s first three opponents. His performance is even more impressive considering he was playing on a significantly injured left ankle that almost forced him to come out of the game in the second quarter. He was able to return and came out even stronger. His final rush was also his longest, as he gained 35 yards late in the fourth quarter to subdue the Huskies’ comeback attempt.
“His pain tolerance is through the roof,” Stanford head coach David Shaw said after the game. “I don’t know if you can ask any more out of a football player. I don’t know if you can find a better football player in America than Bryce Love.”
The offensive explosion was also sparked by the rising dominance of junior wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside who netted 130 yards on five catches, three of which extended Stanford drives on third down. His second catch went for 39 yards down to the Washington two yard-line, setting up the first Cardinal touchdown that tied the game at seven early in the second quarter. He had another 39-yard grab later in the half. Prior to this game, the Husky defense had not allowed a play longer than 36 yards.
“JJ was phenomenal tonight,” Shaw said. “I can’t say enough about him. He’s been really good all year.”
Washington’s defense came into the game allowing only 11.1 points and 240.9 yards per game, good for second and first in the nation, respectively. In the first half, the Huskies showed off some of their typical stinginess, holding Stanford to 10 points and limiting Love to just 43 yards rushing. However, the Cardinal offense started to damage the Washington defense by finding considerable success on third down. Stanford was 10 of 18 on third downs overall and at one point converted seven straight as part of their 23-0 run to take the lead which they would never relinquish.
Sophomore quarterback KJ Costello was a big part of that third down success. In just his third career start, Costello was incredibly efficient at moving the chains, gaining 118 yards and six first downs on seven for ten passing on third down. Overall, he was 16 of 27 for a career-high 211 yards and no interceptions.
“Very proud of KJ Costello, coming in in a tough situation,” Shaw said. “When the money was on the line, he made the plays.”
The offensive turnaround would have been all for naught if not for the spirited play of the Stanford defense. After allowing Washington touchdown drives of over 80 yards on the Huskies’ first two possessions, the Cardinal settled in and didn’t allow another Washington score until the 4:22 mark in the fourth quarter. The revival started with a stop of Washington junior running back Myles Gaskin on fourth-and-one at the Stanford 18 yard-line midway through the second quarter that led to a nice drive for the offense, all culminating in a 38-yard field goal for sophomore kicker Jet Toner.
After the fourth down stop, the defense went on to force the Huskies into three-and-outs on three of their next five possessions. On those five drives, Stanford allowed only 26 yards. This stretch included a fumble recovery deep in Washington territory by junior defensive end Dylan Jackson on the second play of the fourth quarter that led to another Toner field goal, this time from 31 yards out. Senior linebacker Bobby Okereke forced the fumble from Gaskin for what turned out to be the only turnover of the game.
Okereke played a fantastic game throughout, recording 10 tackles including two sacks and four tackles-for-loss to go along with the forced fumble. His first sack came early in the fourth quarter and resulted in an 18-yard loss for Washington all the way back to their own six-yard line. On the ensuing punt, a solid return by junior wide receiver Trenton Irwin combined with a Washington personal foul gave Stanford the ball on the Husky 14 yard-line. Love scored two plays later to give Stanford a 30-14 lead. Okereke’s second sack came on third-and-12 during Washington’s final possession. The Huskies were unable to convert on the subsequent 4th-and-21, effectively ending the game.
“I don’t know who is playing better at linebacker in the second half of the season than Bobby Okereke,” Shaw said. “He’s feeling the game and making some unbelievable plays.”
Junior safety Frank Buncom also played the best game of his career, recording a game-high 11 tackles and forcing a fumble on Washington freshman running back Salvon Ahmed that the Huskies were able to recover. Senior defensive tackle Harrison Phillips continued his All-American caliber season with 1.5 TFLs and was a constant presence in the Husky backfield. Overall, the defense held Washington to an incredible 3.3 yards per play in the second half after allowing 8.8 in the first half.
Washington was able to find some offensive success despite the defensive prowess, particularly early in the game. Last year’s Heisman finalist junior quarterback Jake Browning accumulated 190 yards on 17 of 23 passing, and he connected on his first nine throws.
“(Browning’s) not a bright quarterback, he’s a brilliant quarterback,” Shaw said.
Gaskin also gained 120 yards and three touchdowns on the ground for the Huskies to continue his stellar season. Shaw called him, “the most underrated running back in our conference.”
However, Washington’s dangerous senior punt returner and wide receiver Dante Pettis was largely held in check by the Cardinal secondary and special teams. He gained just 41 yards receiving and Stanford junior punter Jake Bailey never gave him the opportunity for a punt return.
Washington came into the game firmly entrenched in the College Football Playoff discussion, but their hopes are likely ruined after sustaining their second loss of the season. They will need a Stanford loss against Cal next weekend to have any chance to win the Pac-12 North.
Meanwhile, after being left for dead in the wake of last week’s loss to Washington State, Stanford is right back in the Pac-12 title race thanks to the victory over the Huskies. If the Cardinal can defeat Cal in the Big Game next week, they will only need Washington to defeat Washington State in the final week of the regular season in order to clinch the Pac-12 North.
After such a huge victory and with health issues on both sides of the ball, Stanford will welcome the extra day of rest before they face their archrival next weekend in the 120th edition of the Big Game with their Pac-12 title hopes and Bryce Love’s Heisman chances on the line. That game is at 5:00 at Stanford Stadium on Saturday and will be nationally televised by Fox.
Contact King Jemison at kingj ‘at’ stanford.edu