At the outset of the 2010s, the Pac-12 embraced up-tempo offense as its identity. Programs following the success of Oregon, which brought on Chip Kelly as offensive coordinator in 2007 and two years later began a run of three straight conference championships, hired coaches of similar philosophies: Rich Rodriguez at Arizona, Todd Graham at Arizona State, Sonny Dykes at Cal, Steve Sarkisian at Washington.
Shortly thereafter, though, the script flipped. Stanford, under David Shaw, employed a tenacious defensive style and ball-control offense with workhorse running backs and a rotation of outstanding tight ends to claim three Pac-12 titles over four years. A new trend was set.
Sarkisian's departure from Washington for USC prompted the hire of Chris Petersen, a coach who emerged on the national stage overseeing a razzle-dazzle offense at Boise State — but whose teams truly dominated thanks to their play in the trenches. With Jimmy Lake on the defensive staff, the Huskies adopted a hard-nosed approach that has produced two Pac-12 titles since 2016. Washington's in line for a third if it can continue on its unbeaten start to 2020.
The two programs most responsible for reshaping the conference's identity will meet at Husky Stadium on Saturday, approaching the stretch run of a most unique season.
Stanford at No. 22 Washington
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 5 at 4 p.m. ET
Spread: Washington -11.5
When Stanford Has the Ball
In 2017, Bryce Love cruised past the 2,000-yard mark en route to a Heisman runner-up finish. Among his most impressive games was a Friday night clinic against Washington that ostensibly kept the Huskies out of the Pac-12 Championship Game. Love's remarkable campaign has ended up being the last hurrah (for now) of a once-dominant Stanford rushing attack. Since his injury woes in 2018, the Cardinal are amid a three-year stretch of putting up some of the most anemic run totals in the conference — and this year, without Mike Leach's almost pass-exclusive offense in the Pac-12, Stanford ranks dead last for rushing offense at just over 120 yards per game.
All the same, Austin Jones has scored at least one touchdown in every game this season. He reached the end zone twice in last week's one-point win over rival Cal. Backfield mate Nathaniel Peat is averaging more than eight yards per carry, though his usage as a change-of-pace has been limited.
Quarterback Davis Mills, who missed the opener due to COVID-19 protocols, passed for more than 300 yards against Colorado. He followed it up with a 75 percent completion rate against Cal.
When Washington Has the Ball
In this spectacular season for tight-end play, Washington's Cade Otton is fast establishing himself as one of the best. Otton comes into Saturday's contest with back-to-back 100-yard receiving games, and the game-winning touchdown in a comeback win over Utah.
While Otton has become a reliable top target for quarterback Dylan Morris the emphasis for the Huskies on offense remains largely on a multifaceted ground game. Kamari Pleasant and Sean McGrew have been solid sharing carries; last year's breakout performer from the stable, Richard Newton, did not play against Utah. His status for Saturday will be a storyline to follow.
In the meantime, the mix of Terrell Bynum into the run game adds a potentially explosive additional layer for the Stanford defense to watch.
Washington looked sluggish at times in the opener against Oregon State — perhaps to be expected, given it was an opener. The start against Utah, which saw the Huskies dig a 21-0 hole, also exposed some areas for improvement. But in this truncated season, every team is a work-in-progress; building off the positives is essential, and when the Huskies have shown their positives, they've looked like the class of the conference.
With a date against rival Oregon looming — and potentially determining the Pac-12 North — Stanford could be a trap game. The first quarter will determine a lot about the direction of Saturday's contest, but expect Washington to be locked in and dominant.
Prediction: Washington 31, Stanford 14
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— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.