SEATTLE — Chris Petersen would like this to be all about what David Shaw has done in building Stanford into the class of the Pac-12 Conference.
“Stanford’s an awesome program. I’ll start with that — program,” Washington’s coach said this week. “This isn’t just an awesome team. They’ve had an awesome program for a while now. They know how to do it.”
In reality, this is all about No. 10 Washington when the Huskies (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) face No. 7 Stanford on Friday night. Now in his third season in charge at Washington, is Petersen ready to have the Huskies enter the national conversation the same way his Boise State teams did when they were at their peak?
Because if the Huskies knock off Stanford (3-0, 2-0) and take command of the Pac-12 North race, they won’t just be in contention for a conference crown. Washington would immediately join a loftier conversation.
This is a rare opportunity for Washington. It’s just the fourth matchup of AP Top 10 teams ever at Husky Stadium and the first since the second-ranked Huskies were taken down by No. 7 Nebraska 19 years ago.
It comes with all the trappings of a big game that have become standard for Stanford: prime-time national television audience; sellout crowd; star players all over the field.
“Obviously, it would be kind of ignorant to say they’re not the team to beat a little bit right now in the Pac-12,” Washington quarterback Jake Browning said.
No player is likely to shine brighter than Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, who was “held” to only 109 yards rushing by Washington last year, but made up for the lack of running production by catching five passes for 112 yards and a touchdown, and having 79 yards in kick returns to finish with exactly 300 all-purpose yards in the 31-14 win.
McCaffrey is coming off a relatively quiet performance in last week’s comeback win over UCLA, rushing for 138 yards but only catching two passes for 13 yards.
“We are unbelievably spoiled that when this kid doesn’t get 300 yards of total offense we say he got bottled up,” Shaw said. “He was phenomenal. He was phenomenal. Those 2-yard runs became 7-yard runs. Those 8-yard runs became 12-yard runs.”
The bigger concern for Stanford is who will be missing. The Cardinal will be without starting cornerbacks Quenton Meeks and Alijah Holder, starting wide receiver Francis Owusu and starting fullback Daniel Marx.
Here are other things to watch as the Huskies and Cardinal meet for the 87th time with the series tied 41-41-4:
MR. BURNS: Which Ryan Burns will show up for Stanford? The quarterback who was 5 of 8 for 66 yards passing on Stanford’s final offensive drive as the Cardinal took the lead over UCLA, or the one who was 8 of 17 for 71 yards and an interception for the first 3 ½ quarters? Washington’s secondary is among the best in the country, led by safety Budda Baker, and will likely challenge Burns to beat them through the air with all the attention McCaffrey will receive.
MONTLAKE JAKE: Browning can write his own little piece of history with a win over the Cardinal. In the past 20 seasons, Washington is 8-28 when facing Top 10 opponents. The Huskies’ last win over a Top 10 team came in a 2012 upset of then-No. 7 Oregon State.
Browning leads the Pac-12 and is third-best in the country in pass efficiency. He’s thrown 14 touchdowns — after throwing 16 all of last season — and is completing nearly 71 percent of his passes. And now Browning gets to face a depleted Stanford secondary with Alameen Murphy and Terrence Alexander the likely starters in place of Meeks and Holder.
GETTING DEFENSIVE: The top two scoring defenses in the Pac-12 reside at Washington and Stanford. The Cardinal are allowing just 12 points per game, the Huskies giving up 14.5 per game. But Washington showed a potential weakness against Arizona, giving up 308 yards rushing to the Wildcats last weekend.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN: While Stanford has left the comforts of the Bay Area a number of times in the past year, this will be the first game outside the state of California for the Cardinal since Nov. 7, 2015, at Colorado. They’ll also be trying to get McCaffrey in the end zone for the first time on the road. In 12 career road games, McCaffrey has not scored a touchdown running or receiving.
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