Wednesday, July 24, 2024

No. 5 Washington survives second straight scare to stay undefeated and alive in College Football Playoff race

No. 5 Washington survived an upset scare for a second consecutive week, holding on for a 42-33 win at Stanford on Saturday to stay undefeated and remain in the hunt for a spot in the College Football Playoff. The Cardinal came within two points of the Huskies on three separate occasions in the second half before a pair of turnovers on downs combined with a Washington touchdown late in the game allowed coach Kalen DeBoer’s Huskies to win its 15th consecutive game, the second longest winning streak in the nation.

The Huskies and Cardinal were tied 7-7 early in the second quarter before Washington (8-0, 5-0 Pac-12) used back-to-back touchdown passes from quarterback Michael Penix Jr. to build a 21-7 edge. The Huskies never trailed beyond that point as Penix — a week removed from being held without a touchdown pass against Arizona State — went on to pass for 369 yards and four touchdowns, two of them to wide receiver Ja’Lynn Polk. However, the Cardinal refused to go down quietly. 

Stanford used two field goals late in the second quarter to make it 21-13 at halftime and then came within two points early in the third quarter when quarterback Ashton Daniels connected with receiver Elic Ayomanor on a 39-yard touchdown pass. The Cardinal attempted to tie the game on a two-point conversion after that touchdown, but were unsuccessful. 

Stanford (2-6, 1-5) would have more chances down the stretch — the Cardinal forced two Washington turnovers later in the half — but was unable to get over the hump. Any chance of an upset win ended when Stanford, trailing 35-33 with 3:20 to play, turned the ball over on downs. Not long after Washington took possession of the ball, Huskies running back Dillon Johnson recorded a 13-yard touchdown, putting the game out of reach. 

The Huskies’ victory was their second straight in the Pac-12 series between the schools, which is now set to go on hiatus as Washington and Stanford depart the league for other conferences in 2024. It also puts the Huskies one step closer to earning a Pac-12 Championship Game berth, though it’s clear Washington is far from a finished product after letting another unranked opponent hang around longer than it would have preferred. 

Close calls continue for Huskies

There was at least an argument to be had for Washington as the AP No. 1 team in the country after it recorded a signature 36-33 home win against a top-10 Oregon team in Week 7. The Huskies have done nothing in the two weeks since then to support that position, managing for a pair of unconvincing wins against Arizona State and Stanford teams who have combined for four wins total in 2023.

While the victories against the Sun Devils and Cardinal were different in nature — Washington was held without an offensive touchdown in a 15-7 defensive struggle against Arizona State before the offense came to life at Stanford — both leave Huskies fans asking serious questions entering a brutal stretch of the schedule. Washington begins the month of November with three consecutive ranked opponents. The Huskies go to No. 24 USC in Week 10, followed by a home game against No. 13 Utah and then a road trip to No. 11 Oregon State

Wrong time for a slump 

Washington’s lackluster two-week stretch also comes at a rather inopportune time with the first College Football Playoff Rankings to be released Tuesday. While the undefeated Huskies should land in the top 10, it remains to be seen how the selection committee views them after showing vulnerabilities against teams that rank at or near the bottom of the Pac-12 Conference. No team from the conference has made the playoff since Washington cracked college football’s Final Four back in 2016, but the Huskies are the league’s best hope at changing that this winter. 

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