They filled Husky Stadium to capacity for the first time this season — for the first time in three years — thirsting for the kind of victory that might indicate, at last, that this Washington Huskies football team is trending toward greatness.
There were 72,027 of them, UW’s largest home crowd since this building’s renovation in 2013, and they stood witness to a victory so shockingly dominant that now, it must be said: the Huskies, irrelevant for so long, are the best team in the Pac-12.
Or, at least they looked like it on Friday night. All night.
It would be difficult to argue the contrary after what the Huskies did to the seventh-ranked Stanford Cardinal, the reigning Pac-12 champion Stanford Cardinal, the class of this league since it expanded to 12 teams five years ago.
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Washington didn’t just win. It embarrassed a top-10 team on national television, throttling the overwhelmed Cardinal by a final score of 44-6, burying Stanford quarterback Ryan Burns beneath a relentless pass rush, pulling away from a highly-ranked opponent like it was Portland State.
The Huskies are now 5-0 (2-0 Pac-12) for the first time since 1992, a season that ended with a Rose Bowl appearance. Such an achievement suddenly feels as possible as it has at any time since UW’s last postseason trip to Pasadena in 2001.
The first-half numbers were staggering. Washington sacked Stanford quarterbacks Burns and Keller Chryst six times, including on consecutive plays on the Cardinal’s final possession of the first half. They added another sack in the third quarter — they finished with eight — when Burns dropped to pass on a 4th-and-2 from UW’s 8-yard line and was consumed for the third time by Huskies linebacker Psalm Wooching.
Joe Mathis had two sacks. Azeem Victor had 11 tackles. Keishawn Bierria had eight tackles. Connor O’Brien had a sack and two tackles for loss.
The Cardinal managed only 16 yards rushing on 21 attempts in the first half, only 83 yards of total offense, only 2.8 yards per play. Stanford star tailback Christian McCaffrey found little room to run; he managed just 34 yards on 10 first-half carries. Four Cardinal possessions ended with punts. The other was a turnover on downs after Chryst took a shotgun snap on 4th-and-2 — he didn’t look ready for it — and was smothered for a three-yard loss.
Washington’s offense offered a jarring contrast. Sophomore quarterback Jake Browning was as sharp as ever, firing a pair of first-half touchdown passes — one to Dante Pettis, another to John Ross — and commanding an offense that averaged 8.3 yards per play and scored on each of its first-half possessions.
Against a Stanford defense missing its top two cornerbacks, the Huskies went 64 yards in seven plays for a touchdown on their opening possession. They went 55 yards in five plays for a touchdown on their next possession. They capped an 11-play, 61-yard drive with a field goal. They scored another touchdown on a five-play, 70-yard drive that was aided by two Stanford penalties — pass interference and hands to the face — and ended with Browning finding Ross over the middle for a 19-yard touchdown.
UW’s next touchdown, the one that made it 30-0 in the third quarter, the one that officially signaled this contest a rout, came after Stanford had finally forced a Huskies punt.
But Tristan Vizcaino’s kick hit a Stanford player in the back, UW tailback Lavon Coleman fell on the ball, and the Huskies had a first down at Stanford’s 40-yard line. They scored five snaps later on Myles Gaskin’s 8-yard run, his second touchdown of the game. The sophomore tailback finished with a season-best 100 yards on 18 carries.
Browning finished with 210 passing yards and three touchdowns, the final touchdown coming late in the fourth quarter on a 3-yard toss to freshman receiver Aaron Fuller to finish a 16-play, 75-yard drive that chewed nearly 10 minutes off the clock.
During halftime, the Huskies honored the 1991 Washington team that finished with a 12-0 record and won a share of the national championship. Several members of that team were in attendance for the ceremony. The UW marching band lined up in a formation that spelled C-H-A-M-P-S.
They were reminiscing, not prognosticating.
But after the way the Huskies rag-dolled the Pac-12 preseason favorite, maybe the latter would have been appropriate, too.