For years, Stanford’s ability to out muscle teams that wanted to spread the ball in the PAC-12 was their advantage. Last night they were the ones who were out muscled. People will blame coaching, or poor quarterback play, or the lack of receiving talent. While those are factors make no mistake, Stanford lost this game because they were absolutely dominated in the trenches on both sides, which lead to Washington rolling in a 44-6 win. That is not what is supposed to happen to Stanford. Let’s dive into this game.
Jake Browning looked great as he diced up the Stanford secondary for 210 yards and three touchdowns. Not only was he able to sit in the pocket and make deep throws but when Stanford did manage pressure he would calmly roll out, extend the play and throw for a strike. His most impressive throw was when he lined up as a receiver, ran back like it was an end around at the snap but sat back and delivered a first down pass across the field while Solomon Thomas was in pursuit. Browning is the real deal.
Not only did the Huskies line give Browning a lot of clean pockets and time to sit back and throw, but their run blocking was great. Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman combined for 174 rushing and three touchdowns. They did a good job up front handling Phillips and Thomas, but they also got to the second level to really give their backs extended running lanes down the field.
The Huskies may have one of the fastest, under the radar receiving cores around. John Ross was burning up the secondary and was one of three receivers who had at least one catch of 20+ yards. As a group they also consistently got open and had three players catch four receptions to help spread the ball around.
On the other side Ryan Burns had a very long night. While he was sacked eight times, and does not deserve all the blame he did play miserably. The Cardinal coaching staff really put the game in his hands taking far more deep shots and trying to let him sling the ball more than in the opening three games. His response was to under throw receivers a number of times or hold the ball long enough for his receiver to run into the safety, missing the hole in coverage. It might be time for Stanford fans to wake up and smell the roses on Stanford’s quarterback situation, which may be the only roses to smell this year.
The Stanford line was just straight up beat. The Huskies blitzed a handful of times and for almost the entire game only brought four guys and continually got pressure or kept Christian McCaffrey from getting space. While UCLA looked solid the week before, this line still helped McCaffrey run for 138 yards. This week he had 49 yards, 49. November 22nd, 2014 is the last time McCaffrey had under 50 rushing yards in a game. McCaffrey never had a chance as the Huskies refused to give up the edge and forced him to run inside to the linebackers.
McCaffrey led in receptions with five and it does not get better from there for the receivers. Irwin and Rector were the only receivers who could get close with three catches apiece. This receiving group has looked mediocre at best, struggling to get separation and is not helped by the fact that they do not get Rector involved in the passing attack. He is far and away their best receiver and instead of letting him try and burn corners on deep routes or use his strength to out muscle defenders on jump ball they are content to throw to him a few time on hitches. It will be a long year watching this group if they continue to ignore Rector.
The Huskies defensive line had eight sacks while barley blitzing. They simply beat the Stanford line across the board. When Stanford ran the ball the Huskies sealed the edge and forced him inside to the linebackers and safeties. The game plan was force McCaffrey into the most traffic and put a bunch of bodies in the secondary to force Burns to hold the ball till the pressure gets home. Washington did a great job executing the game plan.
The secondary for the Huskies challenged Stanford all game to beat them over the top as they were committed to stopping the run and Burns was never able to take the top off. They only let a few check plays and did a good job not letting up yards after the catch.
The lack of starting corners Holder and Meeks really took a toll on this defense. They had to put more guys in coverage, which meant less players going after the quarterback. The defense looked off their game all night and never recovered after the first couple drives from Washington that led to chunk plays and touchdowns. This defense will continue to struggle till they get healthy. Despite the injuries, Harrison Phillips, Solomon Thomas, and Peter Kalambayi needed to play better as the studs up front. Very quiet game from all of those guys who are expected to disrupt an offense.
Final takeaway: Stanford did some weird things this game, most notably having their new corners start every play in man press only to have them bailout fast at the snap. Because they started every snap running backwards an with their back to the sideline every deep sideline route with a break was open for Washington. How do you not play a deep zone with fresh corners so they can keep the play infant of them? They also did a bad job of trying to get their top pass catching threats involved as Rector went unnoticed in this game with only 18 yards. But in the end, Shaw said it best, there is no excuse they just had to be better. Washington was better. They had a plan on defense that they stuck to all game to stuff McCaffrey and the run game. On offense Jake Browning was sensational and the better team won this game.
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