As the week began, coach Chris Petersen said Stanford was the best team Washington had seen this season. The Cardinal is likely the best team in the Pac-12 and has a good chance at college football’s four team playoff.
So when K.J. Carta-Samuels tentatively took to the field in Palo Alto, CA., Saturday night for his first start as Washington’s quarterback, the game was virtually over before it started.
The fact that the final result was merely 31-14 (box score) was a small tribute to Washington’s resolute defense, which held Stanford (6-1) to 10 points fewer than its 41-point average over its past five games, all victories.
When starting QB Jake Browning’s sore right shoulder kept him pre-game from throwing the ball hard or well, any chance that the 19-point underdogs entertained for an upset vanished.
“Sometimes it takes a minute to settle down,” said Petersen of Carta-Samuels. Actually, it was an hour. Just seemed like a week against a Cardinal defense as quick as it was big.
Carta-Samuels, a redshirt freshman from Saratoga, CA., just down the road from The Farm, looked bewildered and even scared as he completed 3 of 10 passes in the first half, when the Huskies (3-4) trailed 17-0 because they had 55 yards of total offense.
But after halftime, Carta-Samuels led Washington on a scoring drive by doing the smart thing — handing the ball to freshman RB Myles Gaskin five times in a row for all 57 yards. The last 14 to the touchdown came on a read-option play that Gaskin took up the middle, then made a jump-cut to his right that broke ankles throughout the Cardinal defense.
He finished with 108 yards in 18 carries, his third 100-yard game in a row — a first in UW history for a freshman.
Cutting the lead to 17-7 restored some dignity and caused an ember of hope to glow, but it was quickly hosed by Stanford’s punishing attack. Not only does the Cardinal have five agile giants along the front, they lead for one of the marvels of the collegiate game, RB Christian McCaffrey.
Son of Ed McCaffrey, who used to torture the Seahawks in the Kingdome when he caught passes from John Elway as they led the Denver Broncos, the youngster did no damage to his Heisman Trophy campaign when he rushed for 109 yards on 23 carries, caught five passes for 112 yards (including a 50-yard TD) and returned kicks for 79 yards.
The 300 yards padded his national lead in all-purpose yards (he had 369 last week against UCLA) to blow away the Huskies.
“He’s got extremely quick feet and plays with such a solid base,” Petersen said. “If you don’t wrap him up, he’ll make you pay. They take him out of the backfield, and you know they’ll get him the ball.”
The mismatch statistically was most apparent in time of possession — Stanford had a 40-20 edge. The Huskies defense, which actually forced Stanford to punt a few times, wore down, in part because some starters (DE Joe Mathis, CB Brandon Beaver) sat out with injuries and LBs Travis Feeney and Keishawn Bierria were limited.
Over the last half-dozen years Stanford, thanks to former coach Jim Harbaugh, went from doormat to colossus by recruiting nationally and offering the prestigious Stanford scholarship to bright, hard-assed kids. Saturday they seemed to be throwing platoons of 12th-year seniors at Washington’s baby-faced freshmen and sophomores.
“That’s Stanford’s style — they take their time, they’re efficient, physical and played the kind of game they wanted,” Petersen said. “There’s a lot of youth on our offensive side, and that leads to lack of consistency.”
Nowhere is the youth more painfully visible than at quarterback. Asked if there was a thought to change quarterbacks at halftime, Petersen indicated they may have considered it, but held on.
“You gotta give a kid a half,” he said. “You have to give him a chance to settle in. He threw some nice balls in the second half. There’s no substitute for game experience.”
Even if healthy, Browning wouldn’t have been a difference-maker because he too makes mistakes of inexperience.
“We think we’ll get him back pretty soon,” Petersen said. “He’s just not 100 percent. He didn’t get the reps in practice so it’s not fair to throw him in there.”
Before the season began, the Huskies knew the midseason stretch of consecutive games against powerhouses USC, Oregon and Stanford was going to be brutal. They went 1-2, getting a win at USC as the brief Steve Sarkisian era headed into a crash. They gave a faded Ducks team a late run, losing 26-20.
But Stanford has the full array of armaments for a national championship run.
The Huskies, with freshmen backing freshmen at quarterback, do not.
Washington hosts Arizona at 8 p.m. Halloween night. Feel free to suggest to Commissioner Larry Scott that he say hello that evening to his mentor, Satan.