Stanford's Hidden Strength Is Capitalizing on Limited Opportunities
Knocking off fifth-ranked Stanford required No. 15 Washington to play a perfect game, and the Huskies were only near-perfect.
Washington outplayed the defending Pac-12 Conference champions in several key areas. The Husky offense successfully moved the ball on the stout Cardinal defense, gaining 489 total yards.
Senior quarterback Keith Price had one of the best outings of his career, completing 33-of-48 pass attempts for 350 yards, and junior running back Bishop Sankey ran for a pair of touchdowns.
Washington converted 30 first downs to Stanford’s 14.
The Husky defense also had an outstanding night. Stanford's primary ball-carriers, quarterback Kevin Hogan and running back Tyler Gaffney, were held below four yards per rush. Hogan was also limited to just 100 yards passing.
So much went right for Washington. The Huskies beat the Cardinal by almost every statistical metric, save the one that matters most.
Stanford is unlikely to be outperformed in as many phases again as it was Saturday—and it still won.
"A team that's maybe not as good, you make some mistakes and they don't hurt you as bad," Stanford head coach David Shaw said in his postgame press conference, per GoStanford.com. "But you have to play extremely well against this defense."
Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian has his team playing at a high level. The Huskies proved worthy of their No. 15 ranking by going toe-to-toe with Stanford, even having a shot to win in the waning moments.
But what separates a very good team like Washington and a BCS championship-contending team like Stanford is the latter's ability to capitalize on the narrowest of opportunities.
No one did more to attack the few openings the Huskies provided than wide receiver Ty Montgomery.
His 99-yard return of the opening kickoff took advantage of an unmanned seam along the right hashes, with no Huskies left deep.
That score set a fitting tone as the first of three windows Washington opened through which Montgomery burst.
Washington's defense limited big plays all night, but Montgomery exploited man coverage against Husky defensive back Marcus Peters.
Montgomery got a single step on the sophomore cornerback along the sideline, which was all the space Hogan needed to drop in his only touchdown pass.
Montgomery summed up the significance of each individual play nicely in the postgame press conference.
"We won by three points, so you take away seven, and that's a loss," he said. "So it was big."
The one step Peters lost to Montgomery was one of the few misses he had all night. Peters' open-field tackle of Hogan on a fourth-down rush gave Washington’s offense an opportunity to force overtime or win.
Washington only trailed at that juncture because of the playmaking of Montgomery. His third-quarter special teams play set up what proved to be the decisive score.
Montgomery found a hole in the Husky coverage much like the one he broke through to open the night. Though he was chased down deep in Washington territory, the damage was done.
Gaffney capitalized on the Huskies’ second major special teams error with a touchdown rush that put Stanford ahead 10.
The Cardinal rode that 10-point advantage through a scoreless fourth quarter, while Washington kept the heat on. Price nearly cut into the Cardinal lead on a 18-play drive that instead ended on linebacker A.J. Tarpley's interception.
For 17 plays, the Huskies pounded the ball on Stanford's celebrated defense. Ultimately, all the Cardinal needed to neutralize the attack was one.
"We talked about being finishers," Shaw said. "We talk about training for games like this, because that's our conference. This is the way it's going to be from here on out."
Such efficiency is why Stanford is the conference's reigning champion, and why the Cardinal will be difficult to dethrone this season.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer for B/R. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.
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