Not easy to find many positives from Washington’s 31-14 loss to Stanford on Saturday night – and the negatives are all pretty obvious – but that’s what we do on these day-after-game Sundays, so here we are.
1. Myles Gaskin (I realize I’m repeating myself).
Despite a woeful offensive performance, the Huskies’ freshman tailback impressed yet again, finishing with 108 yards rushing and a touchdown on 18 carries. And he again created many of those yards for himself – though the offensive line deserves a lot of credit for opening some holes on that 5-play, 57-yard scoring drive to start the second half – particularly on his 14-yard touchdown run in which he changed direction with a quick jump-cut and sprinted to the right corner of the end zone.
“He continues to show he’s a good runner with the football,” offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said. “Even the touchdown run to start the second half wasn’t blocked all that cleanly. Kid’s a good player. He’s coming along.”
Gaskin was already the first true freshman in UW history to rush for 100 or more yards in consecutive games, so, obviously, he’s now the only such player to do it in three consecutive games. And with 606 yards rushing with five games remaining in the season, it’s not unfathomable to think he could crack the 1,000-yard mark in his first season – in fact, a significant dropoff in production would be required for him to not get there.
For all of the frustration the Huskies have experienced offensively this season, Gaskin has been a bright spot – and that’s especially true because he’s just a freshman, one of many who are already playing but will be relied upon as cornerstones of the program in the future.
2. Chris Petersen sounded fairly optimistic that Jake Browning can return next week.
Browning suited up and threw a few short passes during warmups, but he appeared in pretty obvious pain and the Huskies already knew they were going to start K.J. Carta-Samuels at quarterback.
But asked if there’s hope Browning can return next week against Arizona, Petersen replied: “Oh, yeah. I think there’s a big hope.”
If Browning is able to play – and if his shoulder is healthy enough for him to make all of the necessary throws – there’s no reason why the Huskies shouldn’t be able to compete with Arizona, which has lost several key defensive players to injury and has essentially assembled its secondary out of spare parts.
Then again, it’s not like Washington’s offense was all that efficient or consistent with Browning at quarterback, either. But there’s no question that he gives them a better chance to win than anyone else on the roster, so getting him back as soon as possible remains tremendously important.
3. Despite playing at less than full strength, the defense held Stanford well below its Pac-12 scoring average.
Granted, it was UW’s worst defensive game of the season, seeing as how the Huskies allowed 478 yards, 6.6 yards per play and 31 points – the yards per play and points are both season highs for a UW opponent – but it came against the Pac-12’s best offense, and it obviously didn’t help that Washington’s offense did close to nothing for most of the game.
Stanford entered the game averaging 48.5 points per game in Pac-12 play, and the Cardinal’s point total had increased in each game it played this season, from 6 to 31 to 41 to 42 to 55 to 56. So there’s something to be said that despite trailing 14-0 in the first quarter, the Huskies still held Stanford 17.5 points below its average point total in conference games.
1. The offense, with first-time starter K.J. Carta-Samuels at quarterback, did not play at a Pac-12 level.
From yesterday’s game story:
So, how bad was it?
So bad that in the first half of this 31-14 loss to the 10th-ranked Stanford Cardinal, the Washington Huskies ran only 18 plays.
So bad that only 10 of those plays actually gained yardage.
So bad that only two of those plays achieved first downs.
The Huskies were without their starting quarterback and without a chance against the powerful Cardinal, and so they served as little more than a speed bump on Saturday night at Stanford Stadium.
Carta-Samuels completed only 9 of his 21 pass attempts for 118 yards, a figure boosted by completions of 24 and 33 yards on a fourth-quarter scoring drive that Carta-Samuels gamely capped with a 7-yard scramble for a touchdown.
The first half, obviously, was particularly brutal, as Carta-Samuels completed just 3 of his 10 passes for 17 yards and didn’t look particularly comfortable doing so. Gaskin did what he could, but with no credible passing game, a consistent offensive attack simply was not sustainable.
“I actually thought he saw the field pretty well in regards to what he was seeing,” Smith said. “But first half in general, third down – it’s not all on him, either – but we didn’t convert a third down in the first half. And that looks pretty ugly.
“… We’ve got to be able to convert on third down to get some of these plays called.”
It’s hard to project much from this performance to the rest of the season, especially if that’s the only game Carta-Samuels plays. The Huskies were obviously pretty limited in their playcalling – Petersen said afterward that he wanted to minimize the risk of a turnover to put the defense in an even worse position – so it’s difficult to draw any broader conclusions aside from the obvious: they really need to get Jake Browning back.
2. Travis Feeney, Keishawn Bierria, Joe Mathis and Kevin King are banged up.
Huskies defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said Feeney and Bierria, who were both injured last week against Oregon, weren’t able to practice much leading up to the Stanford game. Both played, but they didn’t spend nearly as much time on the field as they usually do – Bierria still finished with five tackles, and Feeney had one – and UW’s defense suffered as a result.
Junior defensive end Joe Mathis missed his second consecutive game with an undisclosed injury, and junior safety Kevin King left the game with what appeared to be a right leg injury, though Petersen said he didn’t think it was particularly serious.
That’s a lot of top-line talent to take off the field. The Huskies need those guys to get healthy – especially Feeney and Bierria, who have been solid at linebacker all season – to maintain hope of winning three of their last five games and qualify for a bowl.
3. Why not go for two?
This is a minor nit to pick, because it almost certainly would not have mattered. But as several folks noted on Twitter – why didn’t the Huskies go for two after their final touchdown instead of kicking an extra point? A successful two-point try would have cut the lead to 31-15, making it a two-score game. Of course, anyone who watched the game knew darn well there was no way the Huskies were going to score 16 points in 11 minutes against Stanford, but hey, it’s college football. Crazy stuff happens all the time. Just seems odd that the Huskies wouldn’t at least try to give themselves a chance. And considering some of the game management issues UW has had in the past two seasons, it’s at least worth noting.
Christian Caple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ChristianCaple