Stanford football (1-1, 0-1 Pac-12) returns to action this weekend after an early bye week. On deck is the team’s first road trip, where they’re set to face off against the red-hot No. 18 Washington Huskies (3-0, 0-0 Pac-12).
Before the bye, the Cardinal showed flashes of strong execution and promise against USC, particularly with their new offensive scheme. However, they couldn’t keep up with the high-octane Trojan offense and ultimately fell 41-28. This time around, Stanford will have to face another high-powered offense in the Huskies, who have scored 45, 52 and 39 points in their first three games of the season.
The Daily’s Kaushik Sampath, Jibriel Taha and Noah Maltzman discuss Stanford’s new-look offense, run game in wake of injuries and chances against a versatile Washington offense.
Stanford got a rest this past weekend thanks to a Week 3 bye. Heading into this stretch of 10 games in 10 weeks, what has you most excited about this Cardinal team?
Kaushik Sampath (KS): I’m most excited about the offense. This team is littered with talent at the skill positions, and the running game looks much improved from last year. The balanced offensive attack could keep Pac-12 defenses off-balance and provide the Cardinal enough offensive power to make a bowl game this season.
Noah Maltzman (NM): Like my colleague, I am most excited about the offense, but more specifically, the receivers. Last year’s team was dramatically hampered by injuries, especially in the wide receiver room; conversely, many of the top receivers are healthy this year. I am excited to continue watching weapons like senior roommates Michael Wilson and Brycen Tremayne, who ended their seasons early last year.
Against USC, Stanford unveiled its new “slow mesh” style of offense, which head coach David Shaw said he adapted from Wake Forest. What are your thoughts on how its debut looked?
KS: I think the slow mesh offense is great because a lot of the concepts allow our talented receivers to get one-on-one opportunities on the perimeter. However, in order for it to work the rest of the season, the offensive line needs to keep up their performance. If defenses can stop the run without putting extra linebackers or safeties in the box, the run-pass options simply won’t work.
NM: The first thing I learned about football is that whoever wins at the line of scrimmage will win the game. Stanford, quite frankly, lost at the line of scrimmage against USC. In order for the new style of offense to work, the line needs to be able to win their matchups. In this case, they need to give junior quarterback Tanner McKee enough time to let the wide receivers get into single coverage. Hopefully this aspect will get better, but as of now the fans have only seen a glimpse of the scheme’s full potential.
Jibriel Taha (JT): It looked great! The coaching staff was able to keep the new scheme under wraps all offseason and didn’t show any signs of it against Colgate. I thought the squad looked strong in both the pass and rushing game, with the offensive line playing much better than anything we saw in 2021. Turnovers were to blame for the lack of points to keep up with the Trojans, but the 441 yards of offense were impressive. I’m sure there are more wrinkles to the scheme that have yet to be revealed as teams begin to prepare for this Stanford offense.
The Cardinal’s next opponent is Washington. The Huskies knocked off then-No. 11 Michigan State this past weekend by a score of 39-28. In what will be Stanford’s first road contest of the season, what will be the key to the game for Stanford?
KS: The secondary will need to play much better. The Huskies were able to tear apart Michigan State’s man and zone coverage schemes. At times, the Cardinal will have one-on-one opportunities with Washington’s receivers and they’re going to have to make individual plays to prevent touchdowns. Additionally, Stanford will need to disguise their coverages so that the Huskies can’t run concepts designed to beat whatever they anticipate the Cardinal will run.
NM: Like I previously said, winning the line of scrimmage leads to winning the game. Stanford’s offensive and defensive line did not play well against USC. It is vital that the Cardinal win in the battle up front in order to even have a shot at winning against the Huskies. Considering Washington shut down the Michigan State defensive front seven last week — which features linebacker Jacoby Windmon, who ranks second in all of college football in sacks — Stanford will have to play extra hard in order to win this battle.
JT: The offense needs to not turn the ball over and score touchdowns when they get in the red zone. I don’t know what to expect from the Stanford defense this weekend, as we’ve only seen them play offensive quality at the two extremes (an FCS offense in Colgate and against one of the best offenses in the country in USC). They just need to keep the Cardinal in the game, unlike what happened against USC. The offense is the key to an upset victory, and they need to have a great game to get it done.
Husky quarterback Michael Penix Jr. went to work against Michigan State, throwing for 397 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. Stanford’s defense has struggled in the past few years against dual-threat quarterbacks. Who wins this matchup between Penix Jr. and the Cardinal defense?
KS: I’m gonna go with Penix Jr. in this battle. Penix Jr. and Washington head coach Kalen DeBoer worked with each other at Indiana, and it seems like they know what they’re looking for and how to expose a defense. DeBoer is one of the best offensive minds in college football and, even if Stanford runs something he hasn’t seen, I believe in his ability to adjust on the fly.
NM: Stanford can not match the “big Penix energy,” as commentator Robert Griffin III put it last week. Penix Jr. has always been a good quarterback, even before this year. At Indiana he was under constant pressure against better Big-10 defensive fronts, and pulled out some great victories. In 2020, the only reason the Hoosiers won is because of Penix’s dual-threat abilities. He is a bonafide dual-threat, which is a scary prospect. The Cardinal faced a dual threat quarterback two weeks ago when Caleb Williams torched their defense. Unfortunately, I see a similar result unfolding.
The running game was a question mark heading into the season, largely due to Austin Jones and Nathaniel Peat transferring to USC and Missouri, respectively. Junior running back E.J. Smith has impressed in Stanford’s two games so far, rushing for 206 yards and three touchdowns. However, he has also fumbled three times and will miss this weekend’s game due to injury. What is your confidence level in Stanford’s rushing game both for this matchup and beyond?
KS: The running game, and in particular the offensive line, looks much improved from last season. Being able to run for 220+ yards against a Pac-12 team, which Stanford did against USC, seemed like a pipe dream during the seven-game skid in 2021. Even with the loss of guard Branson Bragg, the team was still able to put up that rushing total. I’m very optimistic that this rushing attack can continue. However, E.J Smith’s injury is certainly a cause for concern, as he’s been very involved in both the running and passing game. Smith also possesses very good vision in finding gaps to run through, which can’t be easily replaced. Hopefully junior running back Casey Filkins can play adequately until Smith fully heals.
NM: Long term, I am confident that the run game will play to the standard that is expected. Smith has looked great in his two games, and while it is unfortunate that he will miss the trip to Seattle, Casey Filkins looks primed to start. Against USC, he looked better than expected, rushing 16 times for 77 yards and a touchdown. This could be the start of a great stretch by Filkins, and I am excited to see what will happen. While I am excited for Filkins and Smith throughout the season, I am scared for this game specifically because it will be the first game without guard Branson Bragg. Like I said before, whoever wins the line will win the game, and it will be really hard for Stanford to replace Bragg’s play and leadership.
Stanford and Washington have split their last six matchups. Who wins this one, and what are your score predictions?
KS: Washington 42, Stanford 31. I think it will be close early on, but the home crowd will eventually help propel the Huskies to victory on Saturday. However, it would not shock me if Stanford won due to timely turnovers and a prolific offensive attack.
NM: Washington 41, Stanford 27. As we saw last week in Seattle, the home crowd at Washington will be a huge factor in the game, especially now that they are newly ranked. In addition, the talent that Stanford lost within the last two weeks is very hard to replace. Stanford needs this win, and while I hope they achieve it, I am hesitant as to whether they will play winning football.
JT: Washington 38, Stanford 28. Washington and their quarterback Penix Jr. are playing fantastically to start the season, and Husky Stadium will undoubtedly be packed. While I think the Cardinal will put up a good fight, I think the crucial plays of the game will go Washington’s way and they will grab a victory.