They filled Husky Stadium to capacity for the first time this season — for the first time in three years — thirsting for the kind of victory that might indicate, at last, that this Washington Huskies football team is trending toward greatness.
There were 72,027 of them, UW’s largest home crowd since this building’s renovation in 2013, and they stood witness to a victory so shockingly dominant that now, it must be said: the Huskies, irrelevant for so long, are the best team in the Pac-12.
Or, at least they looked like it on Friday night. All night.
It would be difficult to argue the contrary after what the 10th-ranked Huskies did to the No. 7 Stanford Cardinal, the reigning Pac-12 champion Stanford Cardinal, the class of this league since it expanded to 12 teams five years ago.
Washington didn’t just win. It embarrassed a top-10 team on national television, throttling the overwhelmed Cardinal by a final score of 44-6, burying Stanford quarterback Ryan Burns beneath a relentless pass rush, pulling away from a highly-ranked opponent like it was Rutgers, Idaho or Portland State. It was the Huskies’ largest margin of victory ever against a top-10 team, and its largest over any ranked team since 1990.
Afterward, thousands of the gathered masses sprinted onto the field, creating a sea of purple that reminded of UW’s upset of No. 3 USC in 2009.
But maybe the Huskies are the bullies now. They’re 5-0 (2-0 Pac-12) for the first time since 1992, a season that ended with a Rose Bowl appearance. Such an achievement suddenly feels as possible as it has at any time since UW’s last postseason trip to Pasadena in 2001.
“That truly was the greatest setting in college football,” UW coach Chris Petersen said after the game. “That was fun for our guys, our coaches, and I hope our fans enjoyed that, too, because that was special.”
It was, especially in the first half, the Huskies out-muscling a team that made a name for itself doing just that. Washington sacked Stanford quarterbacks Burns and Keller Chryst six times (eight total), including on consecutive plays on Stanford’s final possession of the first half. They added another sack in the third quarter when Burns dropped to pass on a 4th-and-2 play from UW’s 8-yard line and was consumed for the third time by Huskies linebacker Psalm Wooching.
Joe Mathis had two sacks. Azeem Victor had 11 tackles. Keishawn Bierria had eight tackles. Connor O’Brien had a sack and two tackles for loss. The crowd pushed the decibel meter ever higher, roaring its approval with each hit on Stanford’s quarterback.
“Every week we break down the o-line,” Wooching said. “The tackles, the guards, the center. This week, we came up with a plan just to get in his face, get in the throwing lanes, close those windows, and it showed up.”
The Cardinal managed only 16 yards rushing on 21 attempts in the first half (they finished with 29 – 29! – on 30 attempts), only 83 yards of total offense (213 total), only 2.8 yards per play (3.7 for the game). Star tailback Christian McCaffrey found little room to run; he managed just 34 yards on 10 first-half carries (and 12 carries for 49 yards total). Four first-half Stanford possessions ended with punts. The other was a turnover on downs after Chryst took a shotgun snap on 4th-and-2 — he didn’t look ready for it — and was smothered for a three-yard loss.
“That was about as poorly as we could play, from start to finish,” Stanford coach David Shaw said, “and that’s the bottom line.”
Washington’s offense offered a jarring contrast. Sophomore quarterback Jake Browning was sharp as ever, firing a pair of first-half touchdown passes — one to Dante Pettis, another to John Ross — and commanding an offense that averaged 8.3 yards per play and scored on each of its first-half possessions.
Against a Stanford defense missing its top two cornerbacks, the Huskies went 64 yards in seven plays for a touchdown on their opening possession. They went 55 yards in five plays for a touchdown on their next possession. They capped an 11-play, 61-yard drive with a field goal. They scored another touchdown on a five-play, 70-yard drive that was aided by two Stanford penalties — pass interference and hands to the face — and ended with Browning finding Ross over the middle for a 19-yard touchdown.
“Everybody just kind of did their job,” said Browning, who has thrown 17 touchdown passes through UW’s first five games, already one better than his total from a year ago. “There wasn’t anything flashy about it. Everybody just did what they were supposed to do, and executed well.”
UW’s next touchdown, the one that made it 30-0 in the third quarter, the one that officially signaled this contest a rout, came after Stanford had finally forced a Huskies punt.
But Tristan Vizcaino’s kick hit a Stanford player in the back, UW tailback Lavon Coleman fell on the ball, and the Huskies had a first down at Stanford’s 40-yard line.
They scored five snaps later on Myles Gaskin’s 8-yard run, his second touchdown of the game. The sophomore tailback finished with a season-best 100 yards on 18 carries.
Browning finished with 210 passing yards and three touchdowns, the final touchdown coming late in the fourth quarter on a 3-yard toss to freshman receiver Aaron Fuller to finish a 16-play, 75-yard drive that chewed nearly 10 minutes off the clock.
During halftime, the Huskies honored the 1991 Washington team that finished with a 12-0 record and won a share of the national championship. Several members of that team were in attendance for the ceremony. The UW marching band lined up in a formation that spelled C-H- A-M-P-S.
They were reminiscing, not prognosticating.
But after the way the Huskies rag-dolled the Pac-12’s preseason favorite, maybe the latter would have been appropriate, too.