SEATTLE (AP) — Somewhere along the line, Washington and Stanford’s anticipated showdown for the Pac-12 North title got sidetracked. Or better yet, sideswiped.
For the Cardinal, it was a pair of unexpected home losses to Utah and Washington State. For the Huskies, it was road stumbles at Oregon and, shockingly, at California.
Now Saturday’s matchup in Seattle has become an elimination game instead of the premiere matchup it was supposed to be. The loser will be saddled with three conference losses and will need a lot of help to catch No. 10 Washington State by the end of the regular season.
The Cardinal (5-3, 3-2 Pac-12) are already in the position of needing extra help after losing to Washington State last week. A third conference loss would essentially eliminate any hopes of a division title.
Washington’s situation isn’t as precarious but a loss would be a huge blow. The Huskies (6-3, 4-2) still have a matchup with Washington State in the regular-season finale. A win Saturday plus a win over Oregon State in two weeks could mean the Apple Cup rivalry game will be a winner-take-all affair for the second time in three seasons.
But it’s still a huge disappointment for Stanford and Washington to be in this position. In a sign of how much luster has come off what was supposed to be one of the biggest Pac-12 North games of the season, the Huskies and Cardinal are being relegated to the Pac-12 Network.
Washington’s biggest question will be how it reacts after last week’s offensive slog in a 12-10 loss to California that included the benching of starting quarterback Jake Browning in the second half. The Huskies have been regressing offensively in recent weeks, but should be getting a boost with the possible return of running back Myles Gaskin after he missed the past two games with a shoulder injury. Washington might also see the season debut of talented tight end Hunter Bryant, who has yet to play due to an offseason knee injury.
“We’re sitting in there every week figuring out how do we make this a little bit better. We will make progress,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said.
Stanford’s biggest question will be the status of running back Bryce Love, who has rushed for only 413 yards and three touchdowns while dealing with a lingering ankle problem. Love had 71 yards rushing last week against Washington State, but carried just six times.
Here are other things to watch as the Huskies and Cardinal meet with both teams unranked for the first time since 2008:
MORE TACKLES: Washington LB Ben Burr-Kirven continues to lead the country in tackles with 122, 38 more than he had all last season in 13 games. Burr-Kirven has recorded at least 13 tackles in six of Washington’s nine games. Burr-Kirven had 14 last week against California.
“When I watch tapes of his high school games, all he does is tackle everybody. Since he’s been at Washington, all he’s done is tackle everybody. Call him a tweener or call him a safety-linebacker, the guy is a great football player,” Stanford coach David Shaw said.
THROW IT UP: With Love’s lingering injury, the Cardinal have put more of the offense in the hands of quarterback K.J. Costello and his assortment of big wide receivers and tight ends. Costello is averaging 270.6 yards per game passing and ranks in the top 20 nationally in yards passing, touchdowns and completion percentage.
He may get a chance to challenge a Washington secondary that’s had very few quarterbacks throw downfield on it this season. The Huskies are allowing just 171.7 yards passing per game and only three teams — Auburn, UCLA, Oregon — have thrown for more than 200 yards against Washington.
ESTABLISH THE RUN: Washington was held under 100 yards rushing last week for the first time since it lost at Arizona State last season. The Huskies had 91 yards rushing against California; they had 91 yards rushing a year ago against Arizona State.
Getting Gaskin back would be a big boost, as would finding ways to get speedy Salvon Ahmed going. Ahmed had eight carries for (minus)-2 yards against California.
TURNOVER TIME: When Stanford forces turnovers, it wins. When the Cardinal don’t, they lose. It’s not often that simple, but that’s been the case for Stanford this season. In their five wins, the Cardinal have forced 12 turnovers. In their three losses, they’ve forced zero.
Stanford has committed six turnovers in the three losses.