Slaughter in Seattle: Washington overwhelms a hapless Stanford squad, 44-6, in front of ESPN’s Friday night lights

October 5, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 5, 2016

What is it about weeknight games in Seattle?

Four years ago, an unbeaten Stanford football team traveled to Seattle for a nationally televised Thursday night game against the University of Washington and turned in a dreadful performance, losing 17-3.

Like that 2012 team, the 2016 Stanford Cardinal was 3-0 going into its contest with the Huskies. In both cases, those records included a stirring home win against USC. Like that 2012 team, the 2016 Cardinal was coming off a prestigious postseason appearance the year before: The Fiesta Bowl in the former case, the Rose Bowl in this case. And like that team, the 2016 Cardinal was trying to replace a record-setting quarterback. In 2012, the departed signal-caller was Andrew Luck, who was succeeded first by Josh Nunes and eventually by Kevin Hogan; this year, Hogan is gone, with neither Ryan Burns nor Keller Chryst having asserted a firm claim to the position.

Oh, one more thing…

Like that 2012 team, the 2016 Stanford turned in a dreadful performance — only this was much much worse than what ESPN viewers saw four years ago. On Friday night, Washington (5-0, 2-0 in the Pac-12) systematically dismantled Stanford, 44-6, with the Huskies dominating virtually every aspect of play.

Just about every statistic was bad enough to make Cardinal fans cringe.

The Huskies nearly doubled up Stanford’s offensive yardage, 424 to 213. The visiting squad netted a paltry 29 rushing yards — a thorough embarrassment for a team that prides itself on its physicality and its ability to run the ball.

Stanford committed 11 penalties for 100 yards en route to falling to 3-1, 2-1 in conference play. At one point in the game, I think the Cardinal’s penalty yardage exceeded its offensive gains.

Washington won the time of possession with 32 minutes and 32 seconds, thanks in no small part to a nearly 10-minute-long 75-yard touchdown drive. That possession could easily have been described as Stanfordesque: The Huskies called 13 rushes and just three passing plays.

And the parade of horribles goes on and on. The Cardinal turned the ball over twice; Washington, not at all.

The purple-and-gold–clad hosts ruled both lines of scrimmage, a fact demonstrated by perhaps the two most egregious sets of numbers from the contest. First, Washington sacked Burns and Chryst eight times (eight!!!) for minus-47 yards. Stanford didn’t get to Jake Browning, the Huskies’ talented sophomore passer, even once.

Second, and this was perhaps the single most important factor in the outcome of the game, Stanford was a pathetic 2-of-12 on third-down conversion attempts. The Huskies, meanwhile, succeeded nine times in a dozen tries. A winning formula that is not.

This was a callback to the bad old days of Stanford football. The 38-point defeat was the Cardinal’s worst since the team suffered a 42-0 home shutout to USC in Walt Harris’s second and final season as head coach. (The following season, Jim Harbaugh took over the squad.)

The most painful moment of Friday night’s contest for Cardinal faithful probably came early in the third quarter, when there was a brief glimmer of hope that Stanford might become competitive. After all, many of us were thinking, aren’t head coach David Shaw and his staff the masters of halftime adjustments?

The Huskies, who already held a 23-0 lead, got the ball to start the half, but the Cardinal defense forced a three-and-out — the only one for the Huskies in the game. This was also the first time Washington had to punt in the contest.

But disaster struck on the play. Tristan Vizcaino got off a kick under heavy pressure from Stanford’s Brandon Simmons. Because the ball didn’t travel as far as the Cardinal had anticipated, it bounced off of the back of free safety Ben Edwards, and after a scramble, the Huskies’ Lavon Coleman recovered the ball at the Cardinal 40-yard line. Washington scored five plays later to take a 31-0 lead.

True, the game wasn’t over, but it sure felt that way. And every subsequent positive development for the Cardinal was offset by another failure.

For instance, with his team trailing 31 points, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey returned the ensuing kickoff 57 yards, setting up first down at the Washington 41 with more than 26 minutes remaining in the game. Burns threw to Trenton Irwin for 25 yards on the drive’s opening play, but that was the Cardinal’s only first down of the series. On fourth and 2 at the Washington 8-yard-line, Psalm Wooching sacked Burns.

Stanford forced another punt, and the Cardinal actually scored on its second drive of the period — its best sequence of the night, a 14-play, 80-yard drive that culminated in a pretty 19-yard Burns touchdown pass to J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. But by that point, the score was 30-6 with only 24 seconds remaining in the third quarter, and the outcome was all but final.

That was especially true because the defense, which had seemed flat all evening, just couldn’t stop the Huskies on the ensuing possession — the aforementioned 75-yard touchdown drive that ate up nine minutes and 47 seconds, mainly thanks to 13 rushes split up among Myles Gaskin, Lavon Coleman, Browning and even wide receiver Chico McClatcher. The drive ended with Browning throwing his third and final touchdown of the evening, extending the Huskies lead to 37-6.

The humiliation would continue. Stanford, facing its deepest deficit in years, brought in Chryst for his second possession and suffered the team’s worst series of the night. The quarterback was sacked for an 11-yard loss and then failed to connect on pass attempts directed toward McCaffrey and Arcega-Whiteside. (Interestingly, the other offensive sequence led by Chryst, late in the first quarter, had traveled 52 yards, the team’s longest possession of the night other than its touchdown drive.)

Washington inserted its reserves with four and a half minutes to go. Even so, the Huskies were able to go 46 yards for a final touchdown on only six rushing plays.

When the clock ran out, it was very hard to find any bright spots for Stanford. Yes, McCaffrey had 223 all-purpose yards, boosting his season total to 858. Alas, his paltry rushing total of 49 yards was his lowest single-game total since he gained 19 yards on only three carries in the 2014 Big Game — and he continued his streak of not scoring a touchdown in true road games.

The Cardinal is usually very good at pouncing on opponent’s mistakes, but not on Friday night. When Washington made one of its rare major miscues, with Dante Pettis’s fumbling a second-quarter punt, Stanford was unable to capitalize. Not only did Pettis manage to recover the ball before any Cardinal player, but he gained 19 yards on the return — and not only did he gain 19 yards, but the visiting squad was penalized an additional five yards for having lined up in an illegal formation, an infraction that presumably would have wiped out any potential fumble recovery by Stanford on the play.

Stanford’s own special teams miscue, when the Huskies regained the ball after the punt hit Ben Edwards’s back, was infuriating because the unit had performed so cleanly in the previous week’s very tight game at UCLA. A successful block of Vicaino’s punt could easily have changed the momentum of the game in Stanford’s favor, almost as decisively as the fumble recovery boosted Washington. Instead, the near block led to a short kick, and for some reason — a lapse on McCaffrey’s part? bad coaching? — he wasn’t able to wave off Edwards, and Stanford squandered its best defensive effort of the night.

The question this weekend, of course, is whether Friday’s debacle was a one-night anomaly or a sign of things to come. It’s an issue we’ll revisit in upcoming posts.

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