For a while, it seemed that the young Huskies were ahead of schedule in their development, but Saturday’s defeat showed that to be wishful thinking.
STANFORD, Calif. — To paraphrase former Stanford coach Dennis Green, the Huskies are who we thought they were.
The USC victory may have tantalized Washington fans with the notion that their rebuild was coalescing faster than anyone expected. And then reality hit — the annual ambition-buster against Oregon, followed by Saturday’s 31-14 dismantling by Stanford.
And so now the Huskies are back on the exact path they were headed on all along, prior to that exhilarating USC detour against a Trojan team harboring more internal turmoil than anyone knew at the time.
Washington is a developing team of future promise and present challenges. The Huskies will have ups, downs and a whole bunch of teachable moments.
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When they face an explosive team like Oregon, they need to play over their heads to win (which they didn’t do). When they face a great team like Stanford, well, they need to play over Yao Ming’s head, and there were no stepladders available at Stanford Stadium.
“That’s a good football team we played,’’ Huskies coach Chris Petersen said. “Down the road, we’ll be a good football team. But not tonight.”
Playing without injured quarterback Jake Browning, the Huskies’ offense was cripplingly one-dimensional. Granted, that lone dimension — the explosive running of freshman Myles “Single-Taskin’ ” Gaskin — was something to behold.
Gaskin finished with 108 yards on 18 carries, his third straight 100-yard game.
But when you offer a slender passing threat against a defensive front as massive and talented as Stanford’s, it’s a no-win proposition. In fact, the Cardinal’s opponents have no wins since their inexplicable season-opening loss to Northwestern, and they’re emerging as the hands-down best team in the Pac-12.
Redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels was thrust into his first career start for the Huskies and struggled much of the time, finishing with just 118 yards on 9-of-21 passing.
Though debuting against a rugged unit like Stanford is a daunting task, the game helped explain why Browning won the starting job in camp. But Carta-Samuels also gave glimpses of why he was a sought-after recruit, particularly on Washington’s second scoring drive, which featured a pretty 33-yard completion to Dante Pettis and a 7-yard TD run by Carta-Samuels.
Gaskin, meanwhile, provided Washington’s lone moment of Zen — a 14-yard touchdown run on the Huskies’ first possession of the second half that gave them a tiny dollop of hope. Stanford’s lead was cut to 17-7, and well, you never know …
And then McCaffrey happened. Stanford’s fifth-year-senior quarterback, Kevin Hogan, connected with Christian McCaffrey on a 50-yard touchdown strike, followed by a 7-yard McCaffrey TD run.
In another life, I covered wide receiver Ed McCaffrey when he was at Stanford, prior to a fine nine-year NFL career. His kid is better. Christian McCaffrey leads the nation in all-purpose yards and is developing into a legitimate Heisman contender as a sophomore.
He added 300 all-purpose yards (109 rushing, 112 receiving, 79 on kickoff returns) on Saturday, when their main purpose was crushing the Huskies’ hopes and dreams.
“I’d say as good as advertised, for sure,’’ Petersen said of McCaffrey. “Such quick feet, and he’s one of those guys who never crosses his feet over. Those guys are kind of rare. So he always plays with great balance, which makes him a very hard guy to tackle.”
Stanford outgained Washington 478-231 and had the ball twice as long (40:05 to 19:55).
Another factor that could have been at play for Washington was an Oregon hangover, which seems like an indisputable phenomenon. In their current streak of 12 straight losses to the Ducks, the Huskies have now followed those mostly humiliating defeats by going 1-11 in their next game. And that lone win, over UCLA in 2010, was interrupted by a bye week after Oregon.
Moving forward from playing Stanford is no picnic, either.
The Cardinal is the most physically imposing team the Huskies will play all year, and they supplement their girth with top-flight skill-position players like Hogan and, especially McCaffrey, whose elusiveness is a sight to behold.
In one telling sequence in the first half, Stanford ground out a 15-play, 90-yard drive that took eight minutes and 11 seconds off the clock.
Washington got the ball, threw three incomplete passes, and punted the ball away after using up all of 36 seconds on its possession.
Petersen has made little secret of his admiration of Stanford’s program.
He likes their power-based attack, their minimal turnovers, their scholastics-first ethos (no other team in the conference lists players’ majors on their school-issued flip charts).
It’s definitely a model to emulate, and the Huskies are confident they will eventually be able to match Stanford’s prowess.
But the operative word is “eventually.”
“I know this crew is going to be good,’’ Petersen said. “I can’t put a timeline on it, but I know it.”