Stanford have, somewhat bizarrely, only played two games thus far, slamming FCS Colgate and losing by two scores to top-10 USC, both in predictable fashion. Washington started the season unranked, but have surged all the way to #18 in the AP Poll after demolishing two tune-up opponents before shockingly beating Michigan State in dominant fashion last weekend in Seattle. Let’s take a look at the odds and predict this late-night Saturday ballgame, which will be Washington’s conference opener.
Stanford Vs. Washington Odds
Washington is favored by 13.5 in this game, which sounds like a lot, but might be a bit low considering the two teams’ seasons so far, and how hard Husky Stadium has been for even the best Stanford teams. The points total is set at 63.5, which makes a lot of sense for two offense-first teams.
Stanford Vs. Washington Prediction & Pick
Looking at the analytics for this Washington team is pretty fascinating. Under first-year head coach Kaelen DeBoer, a former offensive coordinator and QB coach, the Huskies have taken pass-first offense to a new extreme; by looking at EPA/play, so far they have the 99th best defense in the country, with both rush and pass prevention being shoddy, as well as the 93rd best rushing offense. However, they have the 26th-best total EPA/play in the nation- almost entirely on the shoulders of their 6th-ranked air attack. This of course has coincided with the arrival of Indiana Transfer QB Michael Penix Jr., who has been genuinely outstanding so far, particularly in the destruction of familiar Big Ten foe MSU, the best performance of his college career
As weird as Washington’s start to this season has been, Stanford’s 2021 was weirder; they beat #14 USC on the road, then #3 Oregon in Palo Alto, and proceeded to lose literally every game from that point on and finish 3-9. This year, despite already having lost to USC, they’re looking for similar highs, and to avoid the egregious lows. The Cardinal are led by returning QB Tanner McKee, who was extremely sharp in those two marquee victories a year ago, before struggling with both turnovers and injuries as the season dragged on. Stanford will need to improve drastically to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, as has been the hallmark of every one of David Shaw’s high-achieving teams.
I do like Washington to pull away and win this thing comfortably, covering that two-touchdown spread, but Stanford, namely through McKee, is going to be able to score enough points on Washington’s relatively pedestrian defense to push the points total over.
Stanford vs Washington Key MatchupsStanford Offensive Line vs. Washington Front Seven
Last year felt like the first time since the Harbaugh era that Stanford’s offensive line has not been able to assert its dominance to any degree whatsoever. So it’s a bit of a conundrum that they return four starters; continuity and experience are a premium in college football, but the Cardinal are essentially returning the same group that played poorly last year. Hopefully, there will have been learning from last year’s debacle, and talented, former top recruits such as veterans Branson Bragg and Walter Rouse will realize their potential.
They’ll be facing off against that front seven that EPA/play absolutely despises. However, PFF is a bit more friendly, as they have graded Washington in the top 50 for pass rush, albeit not even in the top 80 against the run. This difference lines up with what you can see on the traditional stat sheet, as Washington have gotten to the QB a decent amount of times, led by linebacker Bralen Trice and D-Lineman Voi Tunuufi, who have put up 2.5 and 2 sacks, respectively. Star edge rusher Zion Tupuola-Fetui, who has generally been seen as a pretty strong NFL prospect, has been essentially silent so far this season; that can’t continue if the Huskies are going to have sustained success this year.
The key for Stanford, if they’re going to pull of the upset, is going to be taking advantage of that poor run defense and controlling the pace of the game. This will be a huge moment for the offensive line, as they’ll be trying to establish the run while compensating for the absence of lead rusher E.J. Smith, who has gotten off to a solid start including an explosive performance against Colgate and a steady one against USC.
Stanford Secondary vs. Washington Air Game
While Stanford has a lot of work to do in terms of defensive line play, the secondary should actually be pretty solid this season. They’re led by the team’s lone first-team all-conference preseason selection, shutdown corner Kyu Blu Kelly. Another key member of the Cardinal defensive backfield is returning safety Kendall Williamson, last year’s second-leading tackler, who is joined by Oklahoma transfer safety Patrick Fields who already has two sacks on the season.
They’ll be tasked with limiting Penix and company, which namely consists of the former Hoosier himself as well as wideout duo Jalen McMillan and Ja’lynn Polk. Both receivers are off to an outstanding start, averaging just above and below 20 yards per catch, respectively. Polk has hauled in 4 of Penix’s 10 touchdown passes so far, while 3 have gone to McMillan. It’s pretty simple- if Penix is able to feed the ball to his top two targets, Washington will absolutely run away with this one like they did against a much stronger Michigan State team. If Stanford’s secondary is able to shine, we may have a ballgame on our hands.