Analysis: Washington announces its arrival with dismantling of Stanford

There are statement wins that announce a team’s arrival at the top of the Pacific-12 Conference – recall Chip Kelly’s Halloween night slaughter of USC, or Jim Harbaugh asking “What’s your deal?” at the L.A. Coliseum.

Washington‘s 44-6 undressing of No. 7 Stanford on Friday night marks the moment Chris Petersen took the Huskies to the top.

This was an utter demolition of the team that’s won three of the last four conference titles. The Huskies took advantage of a shaky Cardinal passing offense and injuries on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Jake Browning was poised and efficient, protected by a maturing offensive line and backed by a deep collection of running backs and wide receivers. Washington’s no-name defense had eight sacks and held running back Christian McCaffrey to 49 yards rushing.

But what really stood out was how mundane it was. Those other two Pac-12 statement games were memorable partly because of what they said about a particular style of football. Kelly used tempo in innovative ways, wearing down defenses and forcing them to tackle in space once fatigued. Oregon had a simple collection of plays that it dressed up in interesting ways, used overlooked athletes that fit a system, and benefited from Kelly’s interest in sports science. Harbaugh took the anti-spread approach to revive Stanford, with fullbacks, tight ends, and tight splits on the offensive line to bludgeon defenses built to deal with wide-open offenses.

There is nothing revolutionary about Washington. Sure, Petersen mixes in a trick play every now and them, but there is nothing special about what they do. The Huskies just play solid, fundamentally sound football.

And now they are in position to do what no program in the conference has managed: end Stanford and Oregon’s Pac-12 hegemony. Kelly, Mark Helfrich, and David Shaw have claimed all five Pac-12 North titles, and the North emerged victorious in all five Pac-12 title games. Washington has the tiebreaker over Stanford, and considering the weaknesses in the rest of the division, no other team is capable of mounting a serious challenge.

The question now is how high can Washington climb? Youth could make the team vulnerable to an unexpected slipup, perhaps at rival Oregon next week or in either of back-to-back road games at No. 18 Utah and California. Based on recruiting, the Huskies don’t exactly fit the profile of College Football Playoff contenders.

But Washington’s rise under Petersen has been surprisingly quiet. No wild uniforms. No bold proclamations. No signing day splashes. If any team could make an under-the-radar run to a berth in the CFP, it would be this year’s Washington.

Kelly made his statement in a way that reflected Oregon’s ambitions, flashy and fast. Harbaugh made his statement in a way that reflected his own personality, brash and controversial.

Petersen’s big win reflected him and his program, too: a steady and subtle statement that’s put Washington back where it wants to be.

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Source: The Score

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