The Huskies, with a secondary full of sophomores, didn’t allow a Stanford first down until they were already ahead 21-0. But then they almost let that lead slip away.
How about this for shutting a team down early?
And then making a final stand at the end?
The Washington defense was dominant early, then after faltering in the second half, stopped Stanford’s final drive on junior safety Taylor Rapp’s interception in the end zone, preserving the Huskies’ 27-23 win over Stanford on Saturday night at Husky Stadium.
It could not have started better for the Washington defense. When it finally gave up a first down to Stanford, with 11:50 remaining in the second quarter, the Huskies were ahead 21-0.
Through the first 18 minutes of the game, the Cardinal had more turnovers (one) than first downs.
It didn’t matter that the Huskies were playing three second-year sophomores at cornerback, or that senior safety JoJo McIntosh was ejected for targeting and replaced by another second-year sophomore, Brandon McKinney. The Husky defense still dominated in the first half, enough so that there was enough cushion to withstand Stanford’s second-half rally.
Washington sophomore cornerback Byron Murphy’s intercepted a pass from K.J. Costello on the first play of the second quarter, setting up the Huskies’ third touchdown. It was Murphy’s first interception of the season.
And when Stanford, which had 36 yards in the first quarter, threatened to score in the second quarter after getting its initial first down, the Huskies stopped the drive on the first career interception for defensive tackle Greg Gaines, who had a celebration worthy of the feat.
Stanford had no points and 153 yards in the first half, with 55 of those coming on the final two plays in the half when they mattered little.
Sophomore Keith Taylor started at cornerback for UW in place of the injured Jordan Miller and sophomore Elijah Molden got his first career start at cornerback ahead of junior Myles Bryant.
“I am so proud of all those guys,” said Washington defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake of his sophomore defensive backs. “It’s really no surprise because they do it in practice. I tell these guys all the time, that these three guys — Brandon McKinney, Elijah Molden and Keith Taylor — could start in any other secondary.”
They held up reasonably well against a Stanford team that has uncharacteristically relied on passing this year. And when Stanford tried to run, it didn’t have great success. Senior Bryce Love, the Stanford running back who was second in the Heisman Trophy voting last year, finished with 71 rushing yards on 18 carries.
“We turned the dial up (at the start), and we kind of got away from that in the second half,” Taylor said.
After the Huskies extended the lead to 27-17 midway through the fourth quarter, Stanford responded with a touchdown to close to 27-23, then got the ball back at its 15 with 2:o5 left and no timeouts. And, when it really mattered, Rapp and the Huskies made the big play at the end to win it.
“It was a nail-biter,” Taylor said. “But at the end of the day, you still have to come through.”
And on this night, the UW defense did.