Stanford vaulted itself into first place in the Pac-12 North on Friday night and pretty much put the Pac-12’s College Football Playoff aspirations to rest in the process.
At 8-1 entering Friday night, No. 9 Washington was the conference’s last hope to reach the four-team playoff, but the Cardinal played spoiler, upsetting the Huskies 30-22 at Stanford Stadium.
Stanford did it with a familiar recipe: tough, physical defense and a ball control offense. But things started poorly for the Cardinal.
Washington’s offense put on a clinic in its first two drives, relying mainly on its running game to march down the field for scoring drives of 81 and 89 yards to take leads of 7-0 in the first quarter and 14-7 early in the second.
But that success suddenly came to a halt.
Washington’s third drive began a lot like the first two, but the Cardinal defense was able to stop the Huskies on a fourth-and-one play from the Stanford 18-yard line. Stanford tacked on a field goal on the ensuing possession, cutting the UW lead to 14-10 at halftime.
The second half was all Stanford — and a whole lotta Bryce Love.
While the Cardinal defense put the clamps on Jake Browning and the Washington offense, Love, Stanford’s Heisman candidate running back, got going. Though he scored his team’s first touchdown of the game, Love, nursing a bum ankle, mustered only 43 yards on 13 carries in the first half.
The second half was a different story. Stanford put up points — two touchdowns and two Jet Toner field goals — on its first four drives of the second half. Love played a big part. When the final whistle sounded, he accumulated 166 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries, nearly doubling what the vaunted UW defense had allowed per game to this point in the season.
Stanford, with redshirt freshman K.J. Costello getting the start at quarterback, was stellar on third down, converting on 10 of its first 14 third-down tries. That success allowed the Cardinal to build up a 20-14 lead by the end of the third quarter. That lead, built on the back of long drives, grew to 30-14 thanks to defense and special teams.
First, Stanford forced steady UW running back Myles Gaskin to fumble early in the fourth in his own territory, leading to another Toner field goal to increase the lead to 23-14. On its next possession, Washington literally went backward with Jake Browning inexplicably running toward his own end zone when trying to escape a sack.
That meant Washington would punt from its own end zone. Trent Irwin reeled off a nice return and a 15-yard penalty resulted in Stanford starting its next drive from the UW 14. Two plays later, Love reached the end zone for the third time, increasing the lead to 30-14.
Washington made things interesting late. First, UW cut the lead to 30-22 with a Gaskin touchdown and two-point conversion. Stanford took some time off the clock on its next drive, but put it back in Washington’s hands with 2:35 to go after Toner missed a 47-yard field goal.
But Washington’s last-ditch effort to tie the game looked a lot like its other drives Friday night. It went nowhere, and Stanford held on for a big win.
Now 7-3 overall and 6-2 in Pac-12 play, Stanford, for now, sits alone atop the Pac-12 North standings. No. 19 Washington State (8-2, 5-2) can join the Cardinal there tomorrow with a win at Utah. Washington, now 8-2 overall and 5-2 in conference play, sits third in its own division with home games against Utah and WSU left on the schedule.
But on top of that, UW now has pretty much no chance to make a return trip to the College Football Playoff. The Huskies needed chaos around the country for the Playoff to be realistic in the first place, now they, and the Pac-12 as a whole, will undoubtedly be on the outside looking in.
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