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University of Washington Huskies Football

No. 5 Huskies survive upset scare by Stanford, stay undefeated

Devin Culp (83) of the Washington Huskies runs upfield after catching a pass against the Stanford Cardinal during the second quarter at Stanford Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023, in Stanford, California.  (Tribune News Service)
By Mike Vorel Seattle Times

STANFORD, Calif. – In football, time is a funny thing. Stanford dominated time of possession in the first half on Saturday, 21 minutes, 3 seconds to 8:57. The Cardinal offense ran 50 plays in the first two quarters, double Washington’s 25. Five of Stanford’s seven first-half drives lasted eight plays or more, while the Huskies surrendered three three-and-outs.

But there is a caveat: In a 42-33 win, the Huskies made specific seconds count.

With 5:23 left in the first half, UW quarterback Michael Penix Jr. took a shotgun snap, faked a handoff to running back Dillon Johnson and tossed a floating rainbow from the edge of his end zone. Stanford cornerback Collin Wright ran into UW wide receiver Ja’Lynn Polk and tumbled to the turf, leaving Polk to collect a fly ball at the 50-yard line and coast untouched for a 92-yard touchdown.

It was the second-longest reception in Husky history, behind only a 98-yard touchdown strike from Jake Locker to Marcel Reese against Arizona in 2007.

It was, in many ways, an offensive outlier – 12 seconds of transcendence.

Otherwise, Penix and UW’s previously prolific passing game was uncharacteristically inconsistent for a second consecutive week. The Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback went 1 for 4 for 10 yards in the entire first quarter, failing to connect with a wide receiver. Junior wideout Jalen McMillan returned from a leg injury, only to aggravate it and leave in the second quarter without making a catch. UW’s running game similarly stalled, managing 26 rushing yards and 2.9 yards per carry in an unappetizing first half.

Leading 35-26 with 11:37 left, the Huskies had an opportunity to put the game away – but wide receiver Rome Odunze fumbled at the Cardinal 10-yard line. It was the first fumble Stanford has successfully recovered this season.

Later in the fourth quarter, UW squandered another game-ending opportunity – as a pass from Penix to Odunze was tipped up and intercepted by cornerback Zahran Manley with one arm in the end zone.

On the ensuing drive, Stanford went for it on fourth-and-2 from its 28-yard line. With 3:20 left, Cardinal quarterback Ashton Daniels tossed to wide receiver Tiger Bachmeier, who threw a trick-play pass to wideout Jayson Raines.

Raines dropped the pass, and running back Dillon Johnson dived in for a 13-yard score four plays later to extend a 42-33 lead and essentially end the game.

For UW, it was an unconvincing effort for a second consecutive week.

But the flickering outliers made an impact.

UW capped a six-play, 50-yard opening drive with a 1-yard Jack Westover touchdown plunge (the senior tight end’s first career rushing score). Penix found the end zone with 9:20 left in the second quarter, hitting Odunze on a fade route for a soaring 7-yard score. In the third quarter, Penix repeated the feat, serving up a 10-yard fade touchdown to Polk.

For much of the day, Washington’s offense was boom or bust.

Case in point: Devin Culp (Gonzaga Prep).

UW’s senior tight end snagged just two catches but made both count – barreling down the sideline for a 29-yard catch-and-run in the second quarter, before hauling in a 24-yard score early in the fourth.

Stanford was almost equally explosive – and more meticulous. Sophomore quarterback Ashton Daniels was productive, throwing for 351 yards and a touchdown while adding 88 rushing yards and two more scores. Standout wide receiver Elic Ayomanor had his way, logging nine catches for 146 yards and a 39-yard touchdown. Rushing quarterback Justin Lamson added a 2-yard touchdown to narrow the deficit to 35-33, while kicker Joshua Karty contributed a pair of field goals.

But for Washington, the offensive outbursts were enough.