Following its bye week, Stanford football (3-5, 2-4 Pac-12) clashed with Washington (4-4, 3-2 Pac-12) Saturday night at Stanford Stadium. The Cardinal struggled to kickstart their offense and ultimately fell to the Huskies 20-13.
The defeat broke a two-game win streak over the Huskies and was Washington’s first victory at Stanford Stadium since 2007. It was the Cardinal’s third straight loss following their stunning upset of then-No. 3 Oregon.
“This team is better than it’s playing, and it’s up to me to find out why we’re not and what we can do to get there because we can play much better than we played tonight,” said head coach David Shaw. “ I’m tired of saying that. We’re going to find a way to get more out of this football team and get us back into the win column.”
Stanford moved the ball on its opening possession of the game, but its 12-play drive stalled in the red zone. Shaw called on his special teams unit, and sophomore kicker Joshua Karty connected from 35 yards to put the Cardinal on the board 3-0. At the time, the opening drive was Stanford’s longest of the season both in terms of plays (12) and time of possession (7:04).
Unfortunately for the Cardinal, their opening drive would be the high point of their offense in the first half. Despite a key reception from sophomore tight end Benjamin Yurosek, Stanford struggled to put points on the board.
Two possessions later, Stanford threatened again, breaching the Washington defense for a trip to the red zone. On third down at the Washington 15-yard line, sophomore quarterback Tanner McKee targeted junior wide receiver Elijah Higgins on a short pass play. In traffic, the ball was tipped upward and caught by Washington linebacker Jackson Sirmon.
It was just the fourth interception of the season for McKee.
Throughout the first half, the Cardinal defense bent but did not break. After a stop on the first possession, the Cardinal gave up three straight scoring drives but were able to hold strong. All three drives ended in field goals, which meant that the Huskies only led by six points heading into halftime.
After two stops from the Cardinal defense to start the second half, McKee was sacked by Washington linebacker Carson Bruener. Before McKee hit the ground, he lost control of the football, and Washington recovered the fumble on Stanford’s 34-yard line. The Huskies capitalized on the turnover shortly thereafter, as kicker Peyton Henry made his fourth field goal of the evening.
Through three quarters of play, neither team had found the end zone. But the Cardinal would end that spell early in the fourth, and a 1-yard run from McKee capped off a 16-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Karty tacked on the extra point, and the Husky lead was only 12-10.
The defense kept Stanford’s momentum alive, forcing a Husky third-and-one on the Stanford 45-yard line. The Cardinal defense stuffed two straight rush attempts to turn the ball over on downs.
Back on offense, the Cardinal advanced the ball down the field but were halted on third down at the Washington 26-yard line. Karty came in to kick the 43-yard field goal and split the uprights, giving Stanford its first lead since the opening quarter.
Down 13-12 and in desperate need of a score, the Washington offense marched down the field into Stanford territory. But once again, the Cardinal defense came up big. On fourth-and-four, junior cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly broke up a pass attempt to force another turnover on downs.
“We knew they were going to go for it,” said junior linebacker Levani Damuni. “We just knew that look when they get short yardage — under center with backs, tight ends are close like that. That’s their sneak look. Yeah, just yelling, ‘Sneak, sneak,’ to alert everybody. Got the A gap closed off. Got that good push.”
With the lead and possession of the ball, Stanford was in the driver’s seat. However, just like two weeks ago against Washington State, the Cardinal could not close out the game. With 3:12 remaining, the Stanford offense went three-and-out and only managed to run 21 seconds off the clock.
Washington took full advantage of the extra possession. A poor punt by junior punter Ryan Sanborn set the Huskies up well, and UW drove 67 yards for the score. They added on a two-point conversion to put themselves up 20-13, leaving only 21 seconds for the Cardinal.
Junior running back Nathaniel Peat returned the ensuing kickoff to the Stanford 39-yard line, but the Cardinal could not pull off the miracle. McKee threw his second interception of the game on the first play from scrimmage.
Despite the offensive struggles, Yurosek was a bright spot once again. He finished with six catches for 93 yards — his third straight game with at least 90 yards.
“We just got to go out there and execute,” Yurosek said. “We have the tools we need to. We obviously get past the 50 yard line plenty of times. We have to finish drives.”
The offense got sophomore running back EJ Smith back from injury but still misses two key pieces of the wide receiver corps: senior Michael Wilson and sophomore John Humphreys.
Defensively, Damuni led the team with 12 tackles, while Kelly recorded five of his own along with two pass breakups.
The Cardinal rush offense and rush defense struggled yet again Saturday night, as Stanford was out-rushed 229-71.
“The numbers from today and from past games make me sick looking at them, especially in the run” Damuni said. “That first down, they’re getting six, seven yards a pop. Yeah, just need to bring it more. I don’t know. Just has not been what we want this season.”
After going 3-2 through the first five games, the loss drops the Cardinal to 3-5 overall. The result in all likelihood spells the end of Stanford’s Pac-12 championship hopes and means that the Cardinal must win three of their last four games to reach bowl eligibility.