The Huskies will have something different for Stanford on Saturday.
At least, they’d better.
Washington is 4-0, as we all expected they’d be at this point. But the first month of the Chris Petersen Era has been marked by inconsistency. That can’t happen against a team as good, as tough and as disciplined as Stanford.
So the Huskies have to come up with something new. We know Petersen made a name for himself as an offensive wizard at Boise State, with those trick plays and odd formations and upsets over some of the biggest programs in college football. This is his first game against Stanford, but he has a 6-2 career record against the Pac-12 — with both of those losses to UW — and he’s typically had his team prepared for these one-time (in this case, first-time) big-game showdowns against a team he isn’t supposed to beat.
We know, too, that UW’s new offensive coordinator, Jonathan Smith, would love to make a statement with a victory over the nation’s top-ranked defense.
So they’ll have something new for Stanford. No doubt.
Maybe it will be a triple-reverse-flea-flicker-to-the-wide-receiver-for-a-behind-the-back-pass-to-the-quarterback on a daring fourth-quarter call.
Maybe they will run more read-option with Cyler Miles. Maybe they’ll run less of it.
Or, maybe, the Huskies will just punch Stanford right back in the mouth.
Here’s what we’ve learned about Stanford’s rise in the Pac-12 over the past few years:
Stanford is good enough to not only beat anyone and everyone it plays but also destroy opponents’ spirits. Oregon’s dominance, in comparison, comes with the quickest of jabs that often leave opponents wondering, “Wait, what just happened?” It never really feels like the Ducks actually just won by three touchdowns. Stanford’s brand of dominance tends to beat opponents into submission (“Please, no more!”). It often feels like you’ve lost by more than three points because Stanford makes every point and every yard more meaningful.
That also means there’s more to lose for Stanford with each point and each yard gained or not gained. In other words, there’s very little room for error — for the Cardinal and for their opponents. That helps explains why Stanford can out-gain USC 413-291, hold the ball for almost 34 minutes, and still lose 13-10. Stanford had two lost fumbles and two missed field goals and still had a chance to win it late.
The lines matchup well Saturday: UW’s veteran D-line vs. Stanford’s young but promising O-line; and UW’s veteran O-line vs. Stanford’s sound D-line.
“These guys are always going to challenge our manhood, and we’re going to do the same thing for them,” UW senior nose tackle Danny Shelton said.
It’s worth noting that every starter, with one exception, on Stanford’s two deep is a junior or senior. (Redshirt freshman tight end Austin Hooper (6-4, 249) being that one exception.) The Huskies will again start two true freshmen in the defensive secondary — a matchup Stanford will no doubt try to exploit with the 6-2, 220-pound Ty Montgomery, one of the best receivers (and returners) in the Pac-12, and the 6-4, 229-pound Devon Cajuste.
Montgomery almost single-handedly beat UW last year. It probably goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: The Huskies can’t let him go crazy again in the return game again. His 99-yard return on the opening kickoff set the tone for Stanford last year. He also beat Marcus Peters on a 39-yard touchdown reception just before half (giving Stanford a 17-7 lead) and added another 68-yard return in the third quarter — after UW pulled within 24-21 — to set up Stanford’s final touchdown.
It many ways, it feels like the Huskies have to win the special-teams battle Saturday to have a shot at the upset. They need something special from John Ross or Dante Pettis … or both.
Cyler Miles has the UW offense buzzing: The Huskies have scored 69, 59, 44 and 45 points in his four career starts. (And I still contend that his second-half, fill-in effort at UCLA last November might have been his best performance yet).
And yet, there just isn’t enough evidence to suggest Miles can beat an elite defense. Is he capable of that? Probably. Are the Huskies capable of winning this game? Absolutely.
But after four uneven games, there are too many unknowns with this team and this new coaching staff to reasonably project an upset.
The pick: Stanford 27, Washington 24
Percy Allen’s pick: Stanford 21, Washington 17
Around the Pac-12:
Washington State at Utah: The Utes might be the biggest surprise in the Pac-12 so far, and the Cougs might be the biggest disappointment. And still, for some odd reason, I’m thinking WSU had a great shot here. I’m also very hungry. The pick: Washington State 34, Utah 31.
Oregon State at USC: It’s been like a millennium (roughly) since the Beavers won at USC. Ain’t happening this weekend, either. Sorry, Beavs. The pick: USC 35, Oregon State 24.
Colorado at Cal: Defensive purists ought to avoid this one. You wonder about the Bears coming off that heartbreaking “Hill Mary’ loss to Arizona last week: Will they be galvanized by such a defeat? Or is it the start of a larger collapse? We’ll go with the former. The pick: Cal 49, Colorado 42.
Note that I did pick UCLA to beat Arizona State on Thursday morning. So, uh, that makes me just awesomely awesome, right?