- There's been much fretting over Stanford's struggles this past weekend, so let's open with this: Despite not playing their 'A' game, the Cardinal led wire-to-wire on their way to beating a top-15 caliber football team. Washington entered Saturday's game having never trailed in 2013. But though the Huskies' offense outgained Stanford 489-284, they were behind during every single snap from scrimmage on the evening.
- As a result, David Shaw is thanking Pete Alamar's special teams unit. Ty Montgomery's 204 kick return yards (a new Stanford record, besting Mike Dotterer's previous mark of 201) immediately sparked the Cardinal before keeping them afloat with a critical second half momentum jolt. There was a true deja vu element here: Montgomery's game-opening 99-yard touchdown opened the contest in the same fashion that Stanford did versus the Huskies at home in 2009, when Chris Owusu took one 91 yards back to the house right off the bat. Shaw has repeatedly said that he wants Montgomery to replicate Owusu's prolific kick return threat, and he got a carbon-copy effort Saturday.
- Not a single Washington player came within touching distance of Montgomery on his opening touchdown return. Stanford's blockers swallowed Washington's coverage unit. Jackson Cummings, Lee Ward, Pat Skov and Joe Hemschoot all stonewalled their men while Remound Wright and Jarek Lancaster teamed up to drive another potential tackler out of bounds on the right side. On Montgomery's second big kick return, a 68-yarder in the third quarter, Jeff Trojan sealed the lane with a solid block. By the way, Montgomery may be the only player in NCAA history to return a kick for a touchdown at the start and end of a game. Remember, he housed one at Washington State in 2009 as time expired.
- Aside from saving Stanford in this one, special teams also evened out the gaping yardage discrepancy between the two teams. With return production also accounted for in the final tally, Washington only outgained the Farm Boys 540-527 (once penalties are added into the mix, Stanford actually won the yardage war 474-451). It's been rarely discussed, but the Cardinal's return coverage was again sensational Saturday. Usua Amanam started the party with a brilliant stop early, while Francis Owusu's stellar second half punt coverage fittingly came during a game when fans were reminded of his older brother.
- Stanford's offense was called for its first holding penalty of the season on the last legitimate play of its fifth game. Lee Ward was flagged trying to clear space for Hogan's bootleg on third-and-one, but Washington declined the penalty. Earlier, Ward delivered an excellent kick-out block to spring Tyler Gaffney into the end zone out of this Elephant formation:
- The disciplined Washington defense that Stanford's staff raved about entering the game was the real deal. Despite the departure of premiere cornerback Desmond Trufant to the NFL, the Huskies curtailed Kevin Hogan's previously explosive aerial production (12-20, 105 yards, 5.3 YPA -- down from 9.6 YPA). The longest Stanford catch by a wide receiver not named Ty Montgomery (his 39-yard touchdown catch saved the Cardinal, too) went for only six yards to Kodi Whitfield. Washington did an excellent job of anticipating when Stanford would pass. They often dropped seven men into coverage at these times, forcing Hogan to deliver darts in order to see success. No. 8's receivers were no longer roaming free behind the defense, and he was unable to consistently supply the needed precision -- though that Montgomery bomb to end the first half was pretty. Hogan must establish accuracy on the all-important quick comeback throw. He must also avoid forcing the ball into double coverage like he did twice in a row to Michael Rector with Devon Cajuste open elsewhere.
- Along those lines, expect Ryan Hewitt to make a return to the passing game Saturday against Utah. The fullback/former tight end has caught only three balls for 12 yards this season, and the Stanford staff certainly hasn't forgotten that he hauled in 34 receptions in 2011. Saturday made it clear that the Cardinal are thirsting for short-range aerial production, and Hewitt can provide that. No. 85's excellent blocking production indicates good health: He sprung Hogan's 19-yard zone read run with a fine cut block on the left side.
- For the second straight week, Stanford scripted a play
designed for Montgomery as its first foray from scrimmage. In
Seattle, Hogan targeted No. 7 on a streak pattern. On Saturday,
Washington was ready for another early deep strike, so the
Huskies' cornerbacks gave the Cardinal receivers spacious first
down cushions. Mike Bloomgren capitalized on the soft edges by
calling the end-around to Montgomery. It went for 26 yards, and
center Khalil Wilkes impressed by leading the way out in front.
- The Cardinal's defense was excellent early, forcing five consecutive punts. Washington finally churned out a 12-play, 88-yard touchdown drive near the end the first half. The Huskies maintained that momemtum coming out of the locker room, scoring on a four-play, 75-yard drive fueled by some misdirection (three receivers lined up on the right side, but Bishop Sankey shot left for 30 yards). Perhaps the Farm Boys should be wary of opponents' second half-opening drives: Just two weeks earlier, Arizona State had also ripped off 75 yards on six plays to burn the home team.
- UCLA's Brett Hundley and Oregon's Marcus Mariota are both
talented quarterbacks, but matching Keith Price's Saturday
effort when they face Stanford's defense this season will be a
tremendous challenge for both of them. Price was sensational
against the Cardinal, completing 33-of-48 passes for 350 yards
and two touchdowns. He did that with an injured thumb in the
face of Stanford's traditionally heavy pressure (five sacks and
countless more crunching hits). Price enjoyed excellent
chemistry with his top-quality targets: Kasen Williams, Kevin Smith, Jaydon Mickens, and 276-pound Austin Seferian-Jenkins
were all an absolute handful for the Cardinal's secondary,
particularly when Price dialed up perfect timing on intermediate
routes, releasing the ball before his receiver made his cut.
- Stanford led wire-to-wire, but the outcome of this game was in the hands of a replay official with time waning. From the Cardinal's perspective, it should have never come to that, especially after A.J. Tarpley's interception to preserve a 10-point lead with six minutes remaining. But Shaw became far too conservative late, and it almost cost his team the game. Case in point, fourth quarter passing yards: Washington 141, Stanford 0. The Cardinal only attempted one pass in the fourth quarter. It's safe to say they got away with a disturbing lack of late balance.
- Speaking of Tarpley's interception, Trent Murphy set that up with another beautiful two-handed deflection. As was the case during his pick six at CenturyLink Field the week prior, he had a clear shot at the quarterback, but was disciplined enough to not take it and play the short pass. Fittingly, Murphy was repeatedly practicing this very technique during pregame warm-ups. I asked him about it as he headed back to the locker room to put his pads on. "That's what I have to do to get those interceptions," he responded. Five hours later, that extra work paid off in a huge way again.
- If there's one facet of Murphy's game that has markedly improved since last year, it's his burst. The normally elusive Price seemed shocked when No. 93 covered five yards to sack him in the blink of an eye early on. That's some serious explosiveness. Stanford fans are witnessing an All-American campaign.
- All of Stanford's running backs contributed Saturday (including Ricky Seale, whose 17-yard middle gash burned Washington when the Huskies were expecting another quarterback keeper on the zone read), but pass protection still leaves something to be desired following the departure of Stepfan Taylor's fundamental steadiness. Anthony Wilkerson missed a blitz pick-up on Washington's Travis Feeney in the first half. That's the type of error Stanford must eliminate moving forward.
- The Cardinal's defensive performance also suffered from some leaks. Most notably, late hit penalties from James Vaughters and Kevin Anderson (who saw the most extensive playing time of his career) both gave big boosts to Washington drives. And while Husky fans will blame their special teams unit for blowing this game, don't forget that a fake punt resurrected the Dawgs' offense in the third quarter. On that play, Washington punter Travis Coons broke through Wayne Lyons' arm tackle attempt.
- On a positive note, how strong must Vaughters be to drag down the 6-foot-7, 276-pound Seferian Jenkins with only his arms? That was impressive.
- For the first time since his injury, Stanford appeared to
truly miss defensive end Henry Anderson. With Ikenna Nwafor also
out, the Cardinal was operating shorthanded up front against an
uptempo offense. As the game wore on, the Farm Boys struggled to
generate pressure without blitzing, and they were unwilling to
turn to fresh depth until they were forced to do so (Aziz Shittu
came in for his only snap when Ben Gardner was briefly hurt). As
a result, linebacker pressure was extremely important for
Stanford in this game. That made Shayne Skov, Murphy, Vaughters,
and Tarpley extremely valuable. For a textbook pass rush effort,
don't miss the second half moment when Skov's spin move ruptured
Washington's line to set up Vaughters' violent sack.
- Along those lines, Steve Sarkisian's theory that Stanford was
faking injuries is inane. A replay clearly showed that Skov took
a helmet to the knee. He missed not one, but two, plays in
crunch time as a result. No. 11's 14-tackle performance marked
one of the most electrifying games of his career. Rest assured,
it would never cross Randy Hart's mind to suggest that a pair of
defensive studs (Gardner also went down) voluntarily remove
themselves from vital moments of Stanford's effort. Given the
missile-like way in which Skov was playing, his brief hiatus on
the sideline was more of an offensive opportunity for Washington
than anything else, while the Cardinal would never instruct
Gardner to sit just so Shittu could come into a frenetic second
half completely cold.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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