Stanford (1-2) at No. 23 Washington (3-0)
1 p.m. Saturday, Husky Stadium
TV: FOX. Radio: SportsRadio 950 KJR.
Latest line: Huskies by 11 points.
UW key players
QB Dylan Morris: 643 passing yards, 59.8% completions, 4 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 21 rushing yards, 1 rush TD
TE Cade Otton: 16 catches, 212 receiving yards, 13.2 yards per reception, 3 TD
OLB Zion Tupuola-Fetui: 13 tackles, 7 sacks, 7 tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, 1 pass breakup
DB Elijah Molden: 18 tackles, 1 INT, 1 TFL, 1 pass breakup
Stanford key players
QB Davis Mills: 536 passing yards, 62.5% completions, 2 TD, 0 INT, 19 rush yards, 1 rush TD
RB Austin Jones: 194 rushing yards, 3.9 yards per carry, 5 TD, 11 catches, 73 yards
LB Curtis Robinson: 23 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 FF
DE Thomas Booker: 13 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery, 1 blocked kick
A physical confrontation
Both of these teams want to run the football, possess the ball and enforce their will. Both want to pummel their opponent into a million broken pieces. Both want to avoid mistakes and physically dominate up front on both sides of the ball. And in Stanford’s 23-13 win over Washington last season, that’s what the Cardinal did. They rushed for 189 yards and 4.4 yards per carry and possessed the ball for 39 of 60 minutes. They forced the Huskies and then-offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan to essentially abandon the run in the second half. This time around, can UW — which managed just 88 rushing yards and 3.4 yards per carry against Utah last week, while surrendering 215 rushing yards and 5.1 yards per rush — be the bully? Can the Huskies run the ball, convert on third down and in the red zone, extend drives and stuff Stanford on the other side? That’s the winning formula.
Through three games, UW and Stanford both rank tied for fifth nationally in turnover margin (1.33). The Huskies’ seven forced turnovers leads the Pac-12, while the Cardinal’s one turnover lost is tied for the conference lead as well. On Saturday afternoon, something has to give. And it’s fair to assume that, had the Huskies not forced four turnovers against Utah last weekend, they would not have come anywhere close to winning. A UW defense that struggles to stuff the run instead has to find stops in different ways. Thankfully, redshirt sophomore outside linebacker Zion Tupuola-Fetui consistently creates takeaways — having forced three fumbles and recovered another in his first three games. It also helps that UW’s ball-hawking secondary is likely the Pac-12’s best. But Stanford quarterback Davis Mills has yet to throw an interception and will be a difficult player to rattle.
The task at hand
In 2020, especially, it can be difficult to avoid distractions — and UW was dealt a couple big ones this week. It was initially unclear whether Stanford would be able to prepare for and play in Saturday’s game, after Santa Clara County issued a three-week ban on all professional, college and high school sports. There was an ever-present possibility that the Huskies might be saddled with a replacement game for the second consecutive week. And, on Dec. 12, a date with Oregon loomed in the distance. Should UW defeat Stanford and Oregon in back-to-back weeks, Jimmy Lake’s crew will win the Pac-12 North and advance to the conference title game on Dec. 18. But the first part of that is beating Stanford, and that can only be done with impenetrable preparation. If the Huskies concede another lackluster first half, as they did against Utah, they’ll lose to the Cardinal for the second consecutive season.
This series could not be more even. Over 90 all-time meetings, it stands at 43-43-4. But UW has won two consecutive games over Stanford inside Husky Stadium, and that streak will be extended on Saturday. It won’t be easy, but the Huskies will run the ball effectively against a Stanford team that ranks dead last in the Pac-12 in rushing defense (229 yards allowed per game) and opponent yards per carry (5.73). They’ll also struggle at times to stop the run, but Tupuola-Fetui will harass Mills into occasional mistakes and the Husky secondary will smother Stanford’s receivers. UW redshirt freshman quarterback Dylan Morris will have the opportunity to punish the Cardinal with play-action, and — going out on a limb here — the Husky wide receivers will make strides on Saturday. Add it all up, and you can probably guess the outcome.
Final score: Huskies 31, Cardinal 20