Arguably the most difficult schedule in college football rolls on for Stanford. The Cardinal ended their three-game losing streak last week in a nail-biter at Oregon State, and now they return home to face one of the top teams in the Pac-12.
Washington comes to Stanford, where it hasn't won since 2007, seeking to keep its College Football Playoff hopes alive. Two years ago, the Huskies went to The Farm during the home stretch of the season with a Pac-12 Championship Game opportunity and College Football Playoff bid both still in reach, but an epic performance from Bryce Love thwarted them. A new-look group aims to avoid a repeat of history.
Saturday's Pac-12 After Dark installment pits teams led by two of the best coaches in the sport head-to-head. David Shaw has won three Pac-12 titles in his time at Stanford and has appeared in four conference championship games since 2012. Chris Petersen brought a Washington program more than two decades removed from its peak back to prominence in short order, and the 2019 Huskies have the chops to win a third Pac-12 title in four years.
Washington at Stanford
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 5 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Washington -16
When Washington Has the Ball
Much of the attention concerning the Washington offense heading into the season focused on Georgia transfer quarterback Jacob Eason. Eason has been solid, completing 71 percent of his passes for 1,243 yards with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions.
However, another key development heading into the year was how the offense would replace four-year starter and record-setting ball carrier Myles Gaskin. It's been a running back-by-committee approach, with Salvon Ahmed, Richard Newton and Sean McGrew all seeing significant carries, and the approach has worked. McGrew and Ahmed are both gaining more than six yards per carry, while Newton has six touchdowns. Ahmed is coming off a career performance in which he eviscerated the USC defense for 153 yards on just 17 carries with a score.
Although Stanford has had its issues on defense this season, the Cardinal are limiting opponents to 3.76 yards per carry and rank No. 44 with 126.2 rushing yards allowed per game. Given the Cardinal's quality of opponents, that's meaningful. However, Stanford ranks No. 115 in passing defense. Part of that is the result of facing USC's air-raid look in Week 2, but the Cardinal were also bullied by Oregon State wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins last week.
Stanford's lack of depth in the secondary could be exploitable, particularly for big-play tight end Hunter Bryant. Bryant is a matchup nightmare, bigger than a defensive back but faster than most linebackers.
When Stanford Has the Ball
Since Bryce Love sustained an ankle injury last season, Stanford's offense has struggled to establish any consistency. Run-game concerns linger, but the uncertainty at quarterback — with K.J. Costello first going through concussion protocol, then sustaining a hand injury — has exacerbated the Cardinal's issues in 2019.
Davis Mills played great in Costello's stead last week, passing for 245 yards with three touchdowns. He also hauled in a touchdown on a beautiful trick-play pass from tight end Colby Parkinson. Washington's defense is a much different beast from Oregon State's, however.
Parkinson will play a key role in getting the passing game going, but establishing the run against Jimmy Lake's defense is a stiff challenge. Cameron Scarlett's production picked up the last two weeks, as he rushed for 97 and 92 yards against Oregon and Oregon State, respectively, but his 5.1 yards per carry average vs. the Ducks marks the only time he's eclipsed 5.0 ypc this season. Oregon also committed to stopping the pass, and Stanford didn't get into the end zone.
Stanford has shown flashes of being a classic David Shaw Stanford team. The Cardinal looked great building a 21-0 lead against an improved Oregon State bunch, but then a few stagnant drives snowballed on a tired defense. It was a similar story in the Week 2 loss at USC. The Cardinal's inability to score in the red zone particularly cost them in the Pac-12 opener.
While 1-3 in league play is unfathomable for a Shaw team, it's a likely result after this game. Washington has looked awesome when not playing games after midnight Pacific time. The Huskies are methodical and physically imposing, much like the classic Stanford teams of this decade. Although The Farm hasn't been kind to Washington, this is the year to end that streak.
Prediction: Washington 31, Stanford 13
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.