In an effort that was at times valiant, boneheaded, jaw-dropping, and controversial, the #15 Huskies were defeated 31-28 in Palo Alto. Washington began the game by surrendering a 99-yard kickoff return touchdown to Ty Montgomery. They ended it at the mercy of the refs, who overturned a called catch by Kevin Smith on 4th down that would have given the Huskies a fresh set of downs in Stanford territory with a minute on the clock and a three point deficit.
The dozens of plays that took place in between those two crucial bookends involved wild momentum swings in either direction. Starting off down by a score, Washington struggled to click on both offense and defense, instead staying within two scores throughout the game through an alternating series of defensive stops and offensive touchdowns. Price, Sankey and Co would manage a score, but then the Husky defense or special teams would surrender a quick touchdown. Next the offense would go three and out but the defense would step up and give them another shot.
That trend held true all the way until the end, as Keith Price and the offense had a chance to secure the lead (for the first time in the contest) with perhaps a minute left. That final sequence mirrored the game as a whole almost exactly. Washington played well enough to keep hope alive against a top-flight adversary, but in the end they were undone by a combination of player errors (drops by Kasen and ASJ) and, to end it, a tough decision from the refs.
It is perhaps even more fitting that the refs were not necessarily wrong. To my eyes, the ball did appear to hit the ground a bit. It’s just that overturning the call was largely unexpected given that the play was originally ruled a complete pass. It’s the same with Washington’s penalty issues during the season as a whole and in this game in particular. The Huskies were flagged 10 times for 89 yards. Some were questionable calls, but if Washington had simply played better, they wouldn’t have been in a position to have their fate decided in the review booth.
Fix the special teams coverage and you take at least one and possibly two touchdowns off of the board. Take away the half dozen or so drops and Keith Price’s game (33/48 for 350 yards, two TDs and one INT) isn’t great, it’s legendary and likely game-securing. Yet, take away Sankey’s 125 yards and 2 TDs and Stanford wins by a mile, and the same goes for a rugged pass defense that held Kevin Hogan to 100 yards passing, with most of his production coming on a single, beautiful touchdown strike to end the first half.
The point in all this back and forth waffling? Washington sent mixed signals out to the nation. The Huskies proved they can play with anyone, but they also proved that they are their own greatest obstacle in changing playing with anyone to beating anyone. At home next week against #2 Oregon, they will have a chance to send a much clearer message, but to do so they will have to best a far different and, dare I say, more talented rival.