Beginning what would be Washington’s decisive possession of the game, QB Dylan Morris had thrown 18 passes and completed 11 for 73 yards. The chance that he would have a meaningful throw seemed as likely as offensive coordinator John Donovan coming up with a daring, successful play.
Lo and behold, the Huskies’ braintrust was waiting to play the Stanford Cardinal fellas for suckers. For all the cranial credit given coach David Shaw and his players, they were taken Saturday night on the Farm in Palo Alto, CA., as if they were rubes bumping into Tony Soprano at the Bada Bing club.
Confined to four Peyton Henry field goals for the first 59 minutes and 39 seconds of glop, the Huskies’ offense erupted for a touchdown.
On third down and two at the Cardinal 20-yard line and trailing 13-12, the Huskies looked to run once, then go for a game-winning, fifth field goal from Henry. But Shaw had success this season with his kick-block unit. Huskies coach Jimmy Lake knew that.
So he and Donovan dialed up an end zone shot, a fade route to freshman Jalen McMillan. Given the lack of success the Huskies offense had with anything deep this game — really, for most of the season — the notion was preposterous on its face.
Instead, Morris stuck it in the faces of Stanford’s bright boys and all of his critics.
The longest completion of the UW’s night was perfect. McMillan stretched in the end zone to grab the ball with his fingertips, and the Huskies had their biggest win of a confounding season.
Along with a two-point conversion run by Giles Jackson, the Huskies prevailed 20-13 (box) to set up Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. game at Husky Stadium against the Oregon Ducks for the right to lead the Pac-12’s North Division heading into the gales of November.
Also significant was the triumph at Stanford, where they hadn’t won since 2007, when coach Tyrone Willingham’s club rushed for 388 yards in a 27-9 win. Saturday UW had 229 rushing yards, which is somewhat impressive by today’s standards, except for the fact that Stanford entered the game with the Pac-12’s worst rushing defense (203 yards a game).
“Not the way we wanted to come out after the bye,” Shaw said. “Honestly (we) played defense good the entire game, but once again it comes down to two minutes and we couldn’t get the stop to end the game. That’s how you lose.”
It was the surprising dagger from the oft-criticized Morris (17 of 25, 146 yards, no picks) that made certain the Huskies prevailed against a team that beat Oregon and USC. The three previous Huskies wins came against teams with a combined record of 3-18 entering the weekend. Morris hit six of his seven throws in the fourth quarter.
“I love it — that’s just the aggressiveness of this team,” Morris told reporters. “Offense, defense, the whole team together, we’re aggressive. We’re going to put points on the board.”
Well, not quite.
Last week at winless Arizona, the Huskies didn’t score at all in the first half before registering three touchdowns in a 21-16 win. Again Saturday there were no first-half TDs, just three field goals. But Morris’s hyperbole is forgivable since the Huskies are finally at .500 (4-4, 3-2 in Pac-12) and only Oregon (4-1, 7-1) has fewer conference losses in the North.
The real aggressors in purple were the guys on defense. They were led by a freshman, LB Carson Bruener. Making his first start in place of leading tackler Edefuan Ulofoshio, (out for the season), the son of former Huskies star TE Mark Bruener had 15 tackles and a strip sack of Stanford QB Tanner McKee.
The defense was also missing to injury starting CBs Alex Cook and Asa Turner, as well as LB Ryan Bowman, the latter also lost for the season (shoulder surgery Monday). But they held Cardinal rushers to 71 yards in 27 carries, a big uptick from the 218 allowed to Arizona, the 237 to UCLA, the 242 to Oregon State and the 343 to Michigan.
McKee was 21 of 32 for 194 yards, but had two interceptions, lost a fumble and had no scoring passes. Entering the game he had 17 TDs and three interceptions and some believed him to be the best QB in the conference.
That belief is no longer widely held. Nor should Morris be deemed the conference’s worst. He just takes 59 minutes to warm up.