On Saturday evening at 6 p.m. PST, Stanford football (5-3, 3-2 Pac-12) will head into Seattle to face Washington (6-3, 4-2 Pac-12) at Husky Stadium. The team hopes to get back to winning ways after a closely contested 41-38 defeat against Washington State last weekend.
The matchup features the two Pac-12 teams with the highest expectations at the beginning of the season, with Washington ranked No. 6 and Stanford No. 13 in the AP Top 25 preseason poll. Considering the way that both teams have underwhelmed lately, this showdown is not the battle of powerhouses that many anticipated earlier in the year, but should still yield a competitive and entertaining game.
On the Husky side, Washington’s offense has largely disappointed, particularly their passing attack. Though talented – and once-Heisman candidate – senior quarterback Jake Browning has been mediocre so far, throwing for 228 yards per game over nine games and 12 touchdowns to eight interceptions. His receivers, including junior Aaron Fuller and sophomore Ty Jones, who have combined for 1079 yards and nine touchdowns, have been efficient but do not require double coverage. Still, the Huskies boast a team that scores 26.56 points per game, just a tick more than the Cardinal’s 26.5. Much of this production comes from a potent backfield featuring senior Myles Gaskin, who rushed for three touchdowns in the teams’ last meeting in Palo Alto, and sophomore Salvon Ahmed.
Based on Coach David Shaw’s ground-and-pound offensive philosophy and Washington’s success running the football, Saturday’s bout could very easily mirror last year’s contest, in which Gaskin and senior running back Bryce Love each rushed for three touchdowns. However, this time around both backs are day-to-day, with Gaskin battling a shoulder injury and Love and ankle issue. Washington will look for Ahmed and sophomore Kamari Pleasant to pick up the slack and keep the Huskies moving the chains, while Stanford turns to junior Trevor Speights, who is also day-to-day, and senior Cameron Scarlett.
After an offensive explosion against Washington State, Stanford could try to build on its success in the passing game by targeting senior receivers JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Trenton Irwin as well as junior tight end Kaden Smith early and often. Testing the Huskies’ secondary would be pitting strength against strength as Washington comes in with the 12th ranked pass defense in yards allowed, only surrendering 171.7 yards per game. Even with cornerbacks Taylor Rapp and Byron Murphy locking down receivers thus far, Washington will still likely double Arcega-Whiteside who has 11 touchdowns on the season, good for second in all of college football. On Arcega-Whiteside being doubled, Shaw said, “It’s kind of annoying, but at the same time, someone’s got that one-on-one matchup.”
The difference in this game will likely come down to Stanford’s defense. Although the numbers for both teams’ offenses are very similar, Washington holds a huge advantage on the other side of the ball, only allowing 15.22 points per game to Stanford’s 23.25. Turnovers will be a huge factor in limiting the Huskies’ opportunities and time of possession. Cal laid out the way to slow down the Washington offense with a couple turnovers last week in their 12-10 win. Also, the Cardinal are 5-0 in games in which they force a turnover, and 0-3 in games when they do not.
Stanford has won 10 of its last 13 meetings against Washington and hopes to continue that success on Saturday night to prevent a second back-to-back loss this season. The Cardinal have all the weapons necessary to pierce through the Huskies’ defense and limit the Washington offense but the game will still be decided by coaching and execution. If Stanford can get a victory in Seattle, a quality bowl game is still a distinct possibility to cap off the season.
Contact Andrew Tan at tandrew ‘at’ stanford.edu.