University of Washington

No. 15 Huskies crumble on the road, fall to Stanford 23-13

Defensive back Myles Bryant leaned against a wall, answering questions from reporters in a small media room inside Stanford Stadium. As he attempted to explain Washington’s defensive struggles during Saturday’s 23-13 loss to the Cardinal, the sounds of a victorious locker room drifted down the hall.

The Huskies’ players were stone-faced and quiet. Center Nick Harris said in the corner, picking the tape off his hands as he diagnosed a suddenly sputtering offense. In the background, Stanford’s players cheered and chanted as they celebrated yet another home victory over UW. The Huskies haven’t won at Stanford since 2007. That didn’t change on Saturday night.

“Kind of felt like two years ago coming down here,” said UW head coach Chris Petersen, referencing UW’s 30-22 loss in 2017. “Very, very similar. They held the ball, converted opportunities when they needed to on third downs, those type of things. Then on offense, we got nothing going. We got into no sort of rhythm.”

Early in the game, the Huskies’ defense did some bending.

Later on, it did some breaking.

Stanford’s first two drives each lasted longer than 5 minutes and spanned more than 70 yards. The Cardinal reached the UW’s 2-yard line both times, but the Huskies were able to hold them to a pair of field goals.

But then busted coverage in the third quarter led to quarterback Davis Mills’ 42-yard touchdown pass to Simi Fehoko. And after Peyton Henry hit a 24-yard field goal for UW, Cardinal running back Cameron Scarlett answered with a 4-yard touchdown run to push Stanford’s lead to 20-10.

Early in that drive, a holding penalty on the Cardinal brought up 2nd-and-20. But it took just one play — a 22-yard pass from Mills to tight end Colby Parkinson — for Stanford to make up the yardage.

“We understood the game plan and they ran exactly what we thought they would,” Bryant said. “It comes down to being able to tackle. I feel like we missed a lot of tackles, just how we did in the Cal game. It ends up being a similar result. That’s stuff that we got to go back in and fix.”

Stanford finished with 482 total yards and averaged 6.5 yards per pay. Entering the game, the Huskies were allowing 17.4 points per game and 336 total yards. But a week after holding USC to just 14 points, UW’s defense crumbled. Asked about the lapses, Bryant reiterated the importance of fundamentals.

“As we get down toward the road — October, November and then December — a lot of guys forget the fundamentals,” Bryant said. “I feel like that’s something that we’re going to get back to doing starting with tackling. I feel like we missed a lot of tackles, including myself, just all over the board. We’ll get back and fix that.”

Petersen, too, pointed to the defense’s tackling issues. He wasn’t able — or wasn’t willing — to immediately diagnose the problem. But Bryant offered his thoughts.

“I really think just guys understanding leverage and understanding the job and understanding how we work with one another,” Bryant said. “It starts with that and then just being able to understand that if you miss the play, it’s going to breakout. Just being able to do your job. That’s all we can ask for.”

The troubles weren’t limited to the defense.

Aaron Fuller, who finished with nine receptions of 171 yards, was the only wide receiver with more than one catch. Running back Richard Newton, who left the game with a foot injury in the third quarter, still finished as UW’s leading rusher. He had 10 carries for 64 yards. Tight end Cade Otton, who had two receptions fdor 16 yards, was the second-leading receiver. He also caught the Huskies’ only touchdown. Quarterback Jacob Eason completed 16-of-36 passes for 296 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

The offense never got into a rhythm. Eason, who was sacked twice, often found himself under pressure with no options. The running game never got going. The receivers couldn’t get open.

“I think they made some good adjustments that I don’t think we were particularly prepared for,” said senior center Nick Harris. They kind of game-planned us a little bit on certain things. I think they executed when they had to and they had the chance.”

Petersen pointed to dropped balls — a problem that also surfaced during the 20-19 loss to Cal — and said the offense needed to give Eason more to work with.

“A couple times he was standing back there with no answers,” Petersen said. “Couple that with protection stuff and he was running around. A couple guys didn’t make plays for him and when you’re not going to get the ball a bunch, you better capitalize.”

The Huskies, who finished with 294 yards of total offense, didn’t capitalize on much.

On its first drive of the second half, UW reached Stanford’s 13-yard line. Facing 4th-and-2, the Huskies decided to go for it. After the game, Petersen explained the decision by saying UW needed to score touchdowns in the red zone. The gamble didn’t pay off. Instead, Eason’s pass to Andre Baccellia fell incomplete and the Cardinal took over on downs.

By the start of the fourth quarter, UW was trailing 20-13 and desperately needed a stop. The Cardinal drove into Husky territory again, reaching the 41-yard line before Ryan Bowman tackled running back Austin Jones for no-gain to prevent Stanford from converting on 3rd-and-16.

Trailing by one possession, UW’s offense had an opportunity. But the series barely had a chance to start before it faltered. Eason targeted Fuller on the first two plays but both passes fell incomplete. Then, on third down, Fuller fell along the left sideline and Eason’s pass was intercepted by Kyu Blu Kelly.

There were nearly 11 minutes left on the clock by the time Stanford started its next drive but the remaining time seemed like a technicality. The Cardinal already had the game won. Jet Toner added a 36-yard field goal for good measure, producing the final score with 8:04 remaining.

“We can’t change the result so it’s pretty much you’re going to fold or come back even harder,” Bryant said. “I think we have a lot of young guys in there who haven’t been through all of this before but I think they got a good head on their shoulders and they’re going to be ready to battle back.”