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Washington Huskies’ loss to Stanford reveals several issues to address

Stanford running back Bryce Love runs against Washington during the second half of an NCAA college football game Friday, Nov. 10, 2017, in Stanford, Calif. Love gained 166 yards on the ground in Stanford’s 30-22 victory. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)
Stanford running back Bryce Love runs against Washington during the second half of an NCAA college football game Friday, Nov. 10, 2017, in Stanford, Calif. Love gained 166 yards on the ground in Stanford’s 30-22 victory. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

There is a lot to digest from Stanford’s 30-22 upset of No. 9 Washington on Friday night.

The Huskies (8-2, 5-2 Pac-12) lost their second straight road game, saw their College Football Playoff dreams go up in flames and suddenly need help (from California) to have any shot at the Pac-12 North title.

How did all that happen?

Here are three things that stand out from Stanford’s victory:

Third-down defense

Stanford did what Stanford has done so well to so many around the Pac-12 for much of the last decade: It beat up the Huskies, wore them down at the line of scrimmage, and held onto the ball.

Stanford (7-3, 6-2) converted 10-of-18 third-down plays and had possession for just over 36 minutes.

Bryce Love is the best player in the Pac-12. He showed that again Friday night, rushing for 166 yards and three touchdowns, while playing on “one leg,” as Stanford coach David Shaw said.

What really hurt the Huskies, though, was the K.J. Costello-to-JJ Arcega-Whiteside connection. Before Friday, the Huskies hadn’t allowed a pass play longer than 36 yards. In the first half alone Friday night, Costello had two 39-yard completions to Arcega-Whiteside, a 6-foot-3 receiver who beat the coverage of 5-8 cornerback Myles Bryant and 5-10 freshman nickelback Elijah Molden on those plays.

Arcega-Whiteside finished with five catches for 130 yards. Injuries finally caught up with a UW secondary playing without its top top cornerbacks (Jordan Miller and Byron Murphy).

“We were worried about them throwing fades on our smaller guy,” UW’s Pete Kwiatkowski said, “so we were playing in a little bit different, softer coverage.”

Costello wasn’t oh-my-gawd good – going 16 for 27 for 211 yards – but he was efficient and he got the ball to his receivers when he needed to most.

Stanford’s offensive line neutralized UW’s standout defensive tackles, Vita Vea and Greg Gaines, in a way no team has this season. The Huskies had just one tackle for loss Friday night — and that came on Azeem Victor’s sack of Costello on the game’s first drive.

What’s up with Jake Browning?

The immediate and overwhelming frustration from Huskies fans seems to be centered around Jake Browning.

Fair or not, the lasting image of this game might be of Browning’s mad second-half scrambles this way and that way and all around the backfield.

Browning has a wonderful knack for eluding the first wave of a pass-rush; in that regard, he’s an underrated athlete. But there’s a fine balance between escaping the pocket and trying to make something out of nothing — a la Russell Wilson — and making a quick read/decision as designed on a passing play.

“He’ll say the same thing, he should have thrown it away,” UW coach Chris Petersen said of Browning’s 18-yard sack at the UW 6 in the fourth quarter. “He’s made a lot of plays this year running around making plays. Every now and then you get caught. If he had to do it over again, you got to throw that ball away.”

Self-inflicted wounds

Rare it is to see the Huskies beat themselves with penalties. The Seahawks, these ain’t.

But the Huskies had a season-high seven penalties for 73 yards Friday night, and two of them were especially critical.

The first, a false start on receiver Andre Baccellia in the second quarter knocked the Huskies back from a third-and-1 at the Stanford 18-yard line to third-and-6. Two plays later, Myles Gaskin was stuffed on fourth-and-1. At the time, the Huskies were leading 14-7, and the stalled drive there helped shift momentum for Stanford.

“That was a big play,” Petersen said. “It’s never one play, especially that early in the game, but that was a huge play. Who knows what we do from there, maybe we still don’t score, I don’t know, but it’s frustrating when you got fourth-and-1 and a half yards and you try to run a kind of bread and butter play and we don’t get it.”

In the third quarter, with Stanford driving into UW territory, Vita Vea sacked K.J. Costello on third-and-18 for what appeared to be a key stop. Except, Vea pulled down the quarterback by the facemask, resulting a first down. On the next play, Love ran for a 13-yard TD to give Stanford its first lead at 17-14.

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