It’s hard to argue that any team has played better than Stanford over the last five weeks of the college football season.
After a season opening loss to Northwestern, the Cardinal have run through their competition, scoring at least 30 points in all five of their wins, which have come by at least 10 points.
On Saturday, the Washington football team will try to slow down the Pac-12 North leaders when the two teams face off at 7:30 p.m. at Stanford Stadium. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.
“Week-to-week you are striving to get better, and they’ve done that,” defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said. “ … Obviously they are a lot better than what they did in that first week.”
Stanford’s 16-6 loss in the first week of the season is now an anomaly as the Cardinal have scored over 50 points in their last two wins, and at least 40 in their last four. The Cardinal’s 31-7 victory over UCF in week two is their lowest point total since the loss, and their 41-31 victory at USC in week three is their slimmest margin of victory this season.
The Cardinal are led by sophomore running back Christian McCaffrey, one of the most dynamic players in the Pac-12 and arguably a Heisman Trophy candidate. McCaffrey ranks second in the Pac-12 in rushing yards with 844, leads the team in receptions with 16, is second in the conference in kick return average, and also returns punts.
In last week’s 56-35 win against UCLA, McCaffrey ran for 243 yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries, and gained 192 yards on two kick returns, including a 96-yard return.
“I mean, that guy, he’s amazing,” head coach Chris Petersen said. “ … He’s that tailback they’re going to feed and then he’s equally as good on kickoff returning, equally as good as a punt returner. … You get a guy like that and you’re trying to make sure you can keep him in there and he doesn’t take too many shots and get worn out, and that doesn’t even faze him. They’re going to get the ball in his hands and he’s good.”
Stanford’s offensive style is also an anomaly, as the spread offense fills the Pac-12 and the rest of college football. The Cardinal’s old-school, ground-and-pound offense, headlined by McCaffrey and an offensive line made up of four seniors and a sophomore, present a unique challenge to the Huskies, who lead the Pac-12 in total defense and rank third in rushing defense.
“They are big physical guys,” redshirt senior defensive lineman Taniela Tupou said. “They are probably the best offensive line we have faced. Stanford has always been known for their offensive linemen.”
Unlike the Cardinal, the Huskies have struggled offensively, and could be without their starting quarterback, freshman Jake Browning, who injured his shoulder on the UW’s final touchdown drive against Oregon.
Browning has been listed as day-to-day throughout, and either redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels or redshirt junior Jeff Lindquist would take his place if he is unable to play against the Cardinal.
“Everybody is day-to-day,” Petersen said. “He’ll be there. He’s been out of practice. He’s thrown some balls, all those type of things. So we will figure it out at game time.”
Carta-Samuels replaced Browning on the UW’s final drive against Oregon, throwing an interception on his fourth play to seal the Ducks’ 26-20 victory.
In three Pac-12 contests, Browning has yet to break the 200-yard mark, and the Huskies rank ninth in the conference in passing yards.
The UW’s most consistent threat on offense has been freshman running back Myles Gaskin, who has cracked the 100-yard mark in each of the last two games. With redshirt junior running back Dwayne Washington, who is listed as the team’s starter on its depth chart, sidelined against the Ducks due to injury, Gaskin ran for 155 yards on 18 carries, including a 72-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
The UW will be without senior safety Brian Clay in the first half Saturday. Clay was ejected in the second half against the Ducks for targeting. Sophomore Ezekiel Turner and redshirt freshman JoJo McIntosh will replace Clay in the defensive backfield.
Clay is the second Husky to miss a half due to a targeting suspension. Redshirt sophomore middle linebacker Azeem Victor, the team’s leading tackler, missed the first half against the Ducks after being ejected for targeting in the fourth quarter of the UW’s 17-12 victory against USC on Oct. 8.
Reach Sports Editor Erik Erickson at email@example.com. Twitter: @Erik_Erickson