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Stanford upsets #15 Washington, 23-13

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Cardinal outplay Huskies after dark

NCAA Football: Washington at Stanford Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

According to David Shaw, this was an “attitude game.”

Stanford entered the contest at 2-3, playing host to the nation’s 15th ranked Washington Huskies. The coach brought in legendary back Tyler Gaffney to instill some confidence and swagger in this team. Whether it be Tyler’s inspiration or simply the fear of dropping to 2-4, something clicked: the Cardinal swaggered their way to a 23-13 upset.

Cameron Scarlett was Gaffney-esque today, but that’s almost a disservice to how good of a performance he had. He finished the day with a whopping 33 carries for 151 yards and a score, as well as 2 receptions for another 32 yards. “He’s playing the best football of his career right now,” said Shaw. His day was highlighted by scoring a touchdown behind an o-line of freshman reserves, and was punctuated by ending the game with 12 straight runs.

“I like to think of myself as a hard-nose runner, workhorse type guy,” said Scarlett. “You give me the ball [and] I’m going to make something happen, even if it’s not there.” He converted two third downs in the game’s final minutes, bulldozing through stacked boxes purely by force of will.

But he’s more than just a tough runner. “Probably one of his biggest plays of the night was in pass protection,” said Shaw. In the second quarter, with the Cardinal trailing 7-6 and needing to finish a drive with 6, they dialed up some play action. “We’re faking on the left and the safety blitz came on the right and Cam came all the way down and made a great block and allowed us to get the ball off.” Davis Mills had ample time, and threw a dart to a wide open Simi Fehoko streaking down the right sideline. He crossed the goal line untouched, and Stanford would never again trail.

For Fehoko, it was a bit of a breakout game. He came into the year with high expectations, as a big, speedy receiver filling some of the void left by JJ Arcega-Whiteside. But coming into Saturday, he had just 2 receptions for 37 yards on the season. By the end of the first half, Mills connected with him 3 times for 91 yards, including that 42 yard score. “That’s a big sucker that runs a 4-3 [40 yard dash],” said Shaw. “Great to see him make some big plays.”

Fehoko and the Stanford offense got going from the opening kick. They took the first two drives down inside the Washington 5 yard line, balancing run and pass and keeping the vaunted Huskies defense on its heels. But the visitors stiffened at the goal line on both occasions, holding the Cardinal to a pair of Jet Toner 20 yard field goals.

“We have to score touchdowns,” said Shaw. The Huskies entered this one averaging 38.2 points per game, and looked every bit the part early as they efficiently put their first possession in the end zone; Jacob Eason was 5-5 on the drive. But that was one of the only times they would find any rhythm.

From that point on, Eason would complete just 11 of his 31 attempts, including a critical fourth quarter interception. “Defensively, our best game start to finish,” said Shaw. He credited their ability to pressure the quarterback as the reason for the accuracy issues.

After the Fehoko score made it 13-7 Stanford, the Huskies took the ball back down to the red zone, but this time would settle for 3 as Eason missed open receivers in the flat on consecutive plays. The score remained 13-10 at the half, despite better than 300 yards of offense for the Cardinal.

Washington received the second half kickoff and picked up 54 yards on their first two plays from scrimmage. They once again found their way into the red zone. But on a 4th and 2 from the Stanford 13, Chris Petersen opted to roll the dice and forego a game-tying field goal try. Eason threw a quick slant to the left, but Paulson Adebo was in great position to knock it down to the turf. “Kicking field goals, that’s not going to beat this team,” said Petersen. “Thought we could make it.”

The teams exchanged punts, but a Gabe Reid sack of 18 yards set Stanford up on the right side of the 50. Big pass plays to Colby Parkinson and Osiris St. Brown moved the ball deep into Husky territory, and Scarlett finished the job for a 20-10 advantage. He eclipsed the 100 yard mark for the first time in his career, and did so before the end of the third quarter.

The Huskies added a field goal late in the third, and trailed by just one score with the ball in the fourth. But on 3rd and 10 from their own 15, Curtis Robinson nearly got home on a blitz, forcing Eason to make a poor throw, one that freshman corner Kyu Kelly would make a great play on and intercept. It was the first of Kelly’s young career. A few Scarlett runs later and Jet Toner would add the game’s final score for a comfortable 10 point lead.

The last two Stanford drives saw sophomore Jack West under center. Davis Mills was apparently looked at twice during this game, opting to return after the first. He was held out the second time for precautionary reasons, and there is no update on his status. West did not attempt a pass, as the Cardinal force-fed to Scarlett to bleed away the clock.

For the second straight week, Mills turned in an excellent performance. He was accurate, decisive, mobile, and seemingly in complete control. “He’s a very confident guy and one of the best arms I’ve seen,” said Scarlett. Before bowing out, he was 21-30 for 293 yards and a touchdown, and ran the ball three times for 26 yards. Mills has a bye week to recover, as the Cardinal next host UCLA on Thursday 10/17.

The Stanford offense was marred by untimely penalties. But that’s to be expected of a unit featuring an offensive line held together by duct tape and prayers. Henry Hattis went down today with a seemingly serious leg injury. By the end, the line was comprised of 3 freshmen and 2 juniors, with a serious shortage of healthy reserves.

Jacob Eason was 16-36 on the night for 206 yards, a touchdown, and a pick. Senior receiver Aaron Fuller was targeted 17 times, and finished with 9 catches for 171 yards. Remarkably, all other Husky players combined for just 35 receiving yards. They did, however, combine to drop a large number of passes.

The Cardinal’s second consecutive victory moves them to 3-3 (2-2 in Pac-12). Washington drops to 4-2 (1-2 in Pac-12).