Stanford’s football team (7-3, 6-2 Pac-12) grinded it out and pulled off a massive upset against No. 9 ranked Washington (8-2, 5-2 Pac-12) and its No. 1-ranked defense. In an offensively dominated showdown that put 52 total points on the board, Stanford went blow for blow and took the game 30-22.
One major thing to take away from this game is that junior running back Bryce Love is still in the Heisman conversation. Playing on an aggravated sprained ankle versus the best defense in college football, Love showed an incredible amount of grit and determination, racking up 166 yards on 30 carries with three rushing touchdowns.
Love was bottled up and heavily limited during the first half, nursing his ankle. His absence was felt immediately by the Cardinal, as their first drive stalled out after only 27 yards, forcing a punt from junior punter Jake Bailey.
The Huskies took over on offense and shocked the stadium, bursting into an uptempo, mostly no-huddle offense that caught the Cardinal defense sleeping. Washington quarterback Jake Browning displayed veteran leadership in keeping the offense humming down the field, making several clutch throws during extended plays.
The no-huddle Huskies offense made it to the goalline of the Cardinal with relative ease. Junior free safety Frank Buncom seemed to be the only player ending plays, coming up with six tackles during the first 12-play drive. Washington running back Myles Gaskin had 38 total rush yards during the drive, culminating in a 2 yard touchdown run.
Without the consistent presence of Love on the offense during the first half, it was up to sophomore quarterback KJ Costello and the aerial attack to propel the Cardinal to score, especially with the point deficit provided by Browning.
Costello began leading the offense down the field, making clutch third down conversions to his receivers, juniors JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Trenton Irwin. Stopped at fourth and inches, head coach David Shaw stepped out of his comfort zone and went for the conversion. Costello fumbled the snap but picked it up and dove over the first down marker.
On the next snap, Costello dropped back and threw a perfect pass to Arcega-Whiteside down the left sideline, resulting in a 39-yard completion and placing the Cardinal on the goal line. The 39-yard catch was the longest allowed by the Huskies the entire year.
Even on a bad ankle, Love plunged the ball into the endzone at the beginning of the second quarter.
With both teams scoring, the offenses were off to the races, and Washington was not about to be left behind. A huge blown play let Browning scramble to safety and hit receiver Aaron Fuller for 32 yards. A facemask penalty on senior defensive tackle Harrison Phillips tacked 15 more yards onto the play, leaving the Huskies at the Stanford 25.
The Stanford defense just couldn’t muster enough of a pass rush to contain Browning during the first half. He kept slipping away and extending plays by a few seconds, which was enough for Washington receivers to slip coverage and get open.
Stanford’s run defense then gave way, and the Huskies were admitted into the endzone free of charge. Huskies running back Lavon Coleman ran for 11 yards, followed by a Gaskin 15 yard run for the touchdown, putting Washington up 14-7.
The defenses seemed to wake up, as Stanford punted and Washington was stopped on 4th-and-short on its next possessions, but when Stanford got the ball back at the end of the second quarter, it was back to the air.
Costello hit Arcega-Whiteside for another 39-yard catch and then Irwin for a 15-yard catch propelling the Cardinal into field goal range. Sophomore kicker Jet Toner nailed a 38-yarder to bring the score to 14-10.
Another failed drive by both teams brought the game to halftime.
Whatever halftime adjustments were made by David Shaw, the defensive line, the medical staff and Bryce Love’s ankle were immediately noticeable, because the Cardinal came out of the tunnel with a vengeance.
The Cardinal returned to the field with more pressure packages, forcing Browning into quicker decisions. They forced a three and out on the kickoff possession for the Huskies, gaining good field position.
When the Cardinal offense once again got the ball, it was incredibly clear that they were playing with a brand new Bryce Love. During the Cardinal’s first drive of the quarter, Love tore off a 21-yard run that brought the stadium to life. He followed it up with a 12-yard run off of a shovel pass, and then a slippery 13-yard touchdown run, putting Stanford up 17-14.
Alongside the revitalized play of Love, the defense began playing inspired football. No longer was Browning allowed to extend plays for 15 seconds. Junior linebacker Bobby Okereke was a force on the line of scrimmage, getting 4 tackles for loss in the second half.
Stanford continued to bottle the Washington offense, and Costello kept the clock moving for the Cardinal with completions to Arcega-Whiteside. Arcega-Whiteside finished the evening with five catches for 130 yards.
Despite keeping the chains moving downfield, the Cardinal was forced to settle for a few field goals as Costello took a few deep shots into the endzone to no avail. The score came to 14-23 after a few more possessions, including one that ended in a punt by Browning himself on what seemed like a fourth down conversion try.
Okereke began to penetrate the line deeper, punching the ball out of Gaskin’s hands and forcing a fumble. He followed this up on the next possession by getting a sack on Browning as he scrambled onto his own one yard line when Washington was trying desperately to play catch up. The offense could not stop the Stanford blitz.
With great field position after the Okereke sack and an Irwin return, Love made football look easy by punching a 6-yard run followed by a 9-yard run for his third touchdown on the night.
It was all but over for the Huskies as Browning heroically led a fourth-quarter drive downfield, assisted through the air and by a few calls by the officials on the Stanford secondary. Washington scored and converted a two-point try to bring the game within 8, 22-30.
With five minutes on the clock, there was a question if the Cardinal would lose the game after all, when the offense stalled and attempted a 48 yard field goal. Toner missed the attempt and the Huskies took the field for the last time.
The Cardinal defense put a stop to the game with incredible effort. Okereke picked up his second sack of the night to force the Huskies into a 4th-and-long situation for the game. On the last offensive play of the night, Browning returned to scrambling, running around behind and then past the line of scrimmage until junior safety Justin Reid laid him out with one final hit.
The offense assumed the field in the victory formation, and the upset was complete, accompanied by the riotous cheers of the student section as they swarmed the field in congratulations.
The Cardinal will take on Cal next Saturday during the Big Game, with a potential shot at the Pac-12 North on the line.
Contact Bobby Pragada at bpragada ‘at’ stanford.edu