Game of the Week: No. 7 Stanford vs. No. 10 Washington
It’s Week five in college football, and that means conference play is in full swing. Through the first segment of the season, it has been the east coast that has dominated college football. Alabama, Ohio State, Louisville, and Michigan, all east coast teams, have decimated their competition to begin the season and are the talk of fans around the country.
So then what’s going on out west? Well, the Pac-12, the lone power five conference in the far west and predominantly one of the nation’s superior conferences, has gotten off to an unusually poor start. Currently the Pac-12 only boasts three AP Top 25 teams, and other usually competitive members of the conference, particularly Oregon, USC, and UCLA, have underwhelmed in their first few weeks.
What the Pac-12 does have, however, are two teams ranked in the top ten: No.7 Stanford and No. 10 Washington, and they will be squaring off this Friday at 7 p.m. ET for an opportunity to claim the lead in the Pac-12 North division. The all-time series between Stanford and Washington is knotted at 41-41-4, but Stanford has won the last three matchups.
Many people around the country are wishing that this game would be played later in the regular season because the winner will have a great chance to win the conference and possibly advance to the College Football Playoff. Both teams have been excellent thus far and there is much to look forward to in this matchup.
Stanford has been rock solid, as always, and coach David Shaw has them at the top of the Pac-12 yet again. The Cardinal offense starts and ends with star running back Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey is arguably the most menacing running back that college football fans have seen since Reggie Bush played at USC. He has totaled 555 yards from scrimmage this season and is the team’s leading rusher and receiver, not to mention one of the most dangerous return men in the country.
This week he will be up against an outstanding Washington defense that includes maybe the best linebacker corps in the country. Quarterback Ryan Burns has complemented McCaffrey in the passing attack beautifully through his first three games as the starter, posting a 130.0 passer rating. Burns has waited patiently for his opportunity after playing behind Kevin Hogan for two years. On Friday, it will be imperative for him to be more than just a game manager and capitalize on big play opportunities in the passing game.
Stanford has several weapons on the outside that include Michael Rector and Trenton Irwin. However, the Cardinal will be without one of their top receivers in Francis Owusu, so look for McCaffrey to play an even bigger role in the passing game.
On the other side of the ball, Stanford enters with the nation’s eight-best scoring defense, allowing just 12 points per game and only 95.3 rushing yards per game. The Cardinal basically shut down two formidable offenses in USC and UCLA in consecutive weeks.
Safety Zach Hoffpauir has 16 tackles to lead the Stanford defense, while linebacker Peter Kalambayi has added 12 tackles, four tackles for loss, and two and a half sacks. The Cardinal’s best player on this side of the ball is preseason All-Pac-12 first team defensive end Solomon Thomas, a terrorizing force to opposing offensive lines. Stanford’s front seven has played tremendously, but the secondary is slightly more vulnerable, which could be a favorable matchup for Washington.
Washington boasts a balanced offense and is averaging a potent 45.8 points per game. Sophomore quarterback Jake Browning, coming off of a convincing true freshman season, has been lights out in his second year as the starter, completing 70.5 percent of his passes for 904 yards and 14 touchdowns. Browning has also posted a 194.9 passer rating, third best in the country.
Running back Myles Gaskin was sensational as a true freshman last year, rushing for over 1,300 yards. So far he has accumulated 302 yards and two touchdowns, while Lavon Coleman has rushed for 261 yards and has been a valuable supplement. Browning is supported by a plethora of terrific receivers led by big play threat John Ross, who has caught 17 passes for 195 yards and five touchdowns. Ross is one of the fastest receivers in the country and has also seen action at cornerback and kick returner. Opposite of him is Chico McClatcher, who has 12 receptions for 269 yards and 4 touchdowns on the season.
Perhaps the Huskies’ two best offensive players are their two sophomore tackles Trey Adams and Kaleb McGary. This offense has proven to be quite capable, but it will face by far the best defense it has seen all year on Friday.
Washington’s defense, the best in the Pac-12 last season, has only allowed 14.5 points per game and is loaded with talent. The Huskies’ secondary is as good as any in college football and is led by first team All-Pac-12 selections Budda Baker and Sidney Jones. Baker is a potential first-round pick in this year’s draft, and opponents don’t often go in the direction of these two.
A third returning starter is Kevin King, who was named to the All-Pac-12 honorable mention last season. Azeem Victor and Keishawn Bierria, who both have incredible range, lead a linebacker corps that may be just as dangerous as the secondary. This unit has often been referred to as the “Legion of Boom” of college football, an indication of the talent and tenacity that this group exudes. Anchoring the defensive line is nose tackle Elijah Qualls, who has the ability to wreak havoc for quarterbacks with his elite combination of size and athleticism.
One of the key matchups on the field will play out on the outside between Stanford’s Rector and Washington’s Jones. Rector has been the breakout star for the Stanford offense. With Francis Osuwu being inactive this week, Rector will have an even greater role in the passing game. Jones, one of the best cover corners in the nation will most likely line up against him.
On the other hand, Huskies’ OT Adams and the Cardinal’s DE Thomas are two of the top pro prospects for their respective teams. Adams has played a substantial role in Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin’s success, and Thomas will likely be his most difficult matchup all year.
This game could very well come down to the wire. Both teams are elite defensively and Christian McCaffrey has the ability to singlehandedly take over any game. McCaffrey will have his Heisman moments, but overall the Washington offense is better right now. Stanford is still trying to gradually implement Ryan Burns into their offense while Jake Browning is playing like one of the top signal callers in college football. Stanford has consistently been at the top of the Pac-12, but Washington football is back and ready for the challenge. This game will go back and forth several times, but with the Huskies also at home, they will make enough plays down the stretch and attain their first 5-0 start since 1982.
Prediction: Washington 24, Stanford 20
Will Desautelle is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him email firstname.lastname@example.org.