Washington will be assured of a bowl game. It just won’t be a return trip to the College Football Playoff.
The Huskies (8-2, 5-2 Pac-12) struggled in several areas in a 30-22 loss to Stanford on Friday at Stanford Stadium. There’s never been a two-loss team in the current CFP format which has gone on to reach the semifinal. Unless numerous teams in front the Huskies were to collapse, the best they could hope for is to reach the Fiesta Bowl — and they need some help for that too.
Here’s what we learned from UW’s defeat.
THIRD DOWN WOES
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UW built an identity this season around its defense and entered this week with arguably the best in college football.
The Huskies were first in total defense and were the only program ranked in the Top 6 in passing defense, rushing defense and scoring defense.
Another less publicized trait of the Huskies’ defense was how they stopped opponents on third down. They were allowing teams to convert just 30.4 percent of the time which was good enough for 14th.
Stanford owned UW on third down by going 10 of 18 (55.5 percent).
“How the game unfolded, they just played their game better than we played our game,” Huskies coach Chris Petersen said. “They hold the ball, grind up time, try to limit your possessions and they did exactly that.”
The Cardinal took a two-pronged approach when it came to getting results on third down.
Initially, they went to receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.
Stanford had an advantage with its receivers and tight ends. Arcega-Whiteside, who is 6-foot-3 and 222 pounds, was too much for either Myles Bryant or Austin Joyner.
Bryant is 5-8 and 180 pounds while Joyner is 5-10 and 182 pounds.
Arcega-Whiteside’s size allowed Stanford to convert at will.
The second option was Love. He started slowly, but broke through to rush 30 times for 166 yards and three touchdowns.
Love was responsible for three of Stanford’s conversions on third down in the third quarter alone.
NOT ALL THE RIGHT MOVES FOR BROWNING
Jake Browning’s mobility has been a gift for UW’s offense over the past couple years. That wasn’t the case against Stanford in the fourth quarter.
Browning was sacked twice in the final quarter while the Huskies tried to rally. The Cardinal jumped out to a 23-14 lead with 11:45 left.
UW went three-and-out on the following drive, which ended with Browning taking an 18-yard sack. Browning was given initial protection, but Stanford’s coverage eventually forced the UW line to give.
Browning tried running around but took the sack instead.
Stanford scored on the next drive for a 30-14 edge with 9:40 remaining.
UW climbed back with a touchdown and the defense held firm to give Browning and the offense a shot to tie the game.
The Huskies’ final drive set up Browning for a 3rd-and-12 situation which ended with him taking a sack for a 9-yard loss.
Both sacks were a result of Browning trying to help out his receivers with Stanford dropping several players back in each situation.
Petersen was asked if the coaching staff encourages Browning to run around to help out his receivers.
“We don’t encourage him to take an 18-yard sack,” Petersen said. “You’d think. It’s easy for you and I to sit there. I’m telling you the answer and he’ll say the same thing: he should have thrown it away.
“He’s made a lot of plays this year running around and making plays. Every now and again, you get caught. If he had to do it over a 100 times, you gotta throw that ball away.”
GASKIN COMES THROUGH AGAIN
UW did have success running the ball. Junior tailback Myles Gaskin ran 18 times for 120 yards and three touchdowns.
He accounted for all of UW’s touchdowns and was responsible for nearly 37 percent of the Huskies’ total offensive yardage.
Gaskin’s three-touchdown performance tied him with Bishop Sankey for the most rushing touchdowns in program history with 37.
The past few games have shown UW has benefited greatly from its rushing attack. Gaskin has rushed for more than 100 yards in three consecutive games.
He ran for 169 against UCLA and picked up 123 in a win over Oregon. For the year, he’s ran 166 times for 1,038 yards and 13 touchdowns.
CHUNK PLAYS CRUCIAL
One of the traits UW showed in its wins over Oregon and UCLA was the ability to get the big play.
The Huskies had big plays against the Cardinal. Gaskin had runs of 14, 15, 16 and 18 yards.
Browning had four passes of more than 18 yards.
The problem? Just four of UW’s chunk plays came in the second half.
Stanford had fewer chunk plays but the offense’s big strikes came at opportune times.
The Cardinal’s eight plays of more than 13 yards were spread throughout the game. Five of those plays came on third down.
“They knew exactly what defense we ran and they just knew exactly where to go with the ball,” Huskies linebacker Keishawn Bierria said. “They made quick decisions and they just converted.”
Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark