The Stanford-Washington game on Saturday will pit two teams who have gone through similar seasons. Neither team is where it hoped to be or where they were projected to be at this point of the season.
"Somewhat like with us, at times you watch them play for a quarter, a quarter and a half and you say, that's a top 10 football team,'' Stanford coach David Shaw said. "There have been times when other teams have made more plays than they have. That's another reason why they're like us. We're two teams who haven't had the season we wanted.''
Both teams are coming off tough losses that dimmed their Pac-12 North and post-season aspirations. Stanford (5-3, 3-2) lost an offensive battle to Washington State, 41-38, while Washington (6-3, 4-2) lost a defensive slugfest to Cal, 12-10.
Despite the loss, Shaw was pleased with his team's effort against WSU.
"I love the way my team played,'' Shaw said. "I'm excited about getting the same effort up at Washington.''
K.J. Costello has continued to progress at quarterback and Stanford's passing game has thrived. JJ Arcega-Whiteside is second in the nation with 11 receptions for touchdowns. He has also induced 13 penalties, 11 on pass-interference calls and two on holding.
"He's All-Conference and All-America,'' Shaw said. "He's big and fast and what he understands better than anything else is body positioning.''
It's also been a disappointing year for Jake Browning and Bryce Love, the teams' marquee players heading into the season. Love has been slowed by injuries and inconsistent run blocking from Stanford's offensive line. Browning was benched briefly in the Cal game, but when his backup threw an interception on his first pass Browning was rushed back into the game.
"Quarterback is the most dependent position on the team,'' Shaw said. "A quarterback needs a run game and blocking and everyone doing their job. (Browning) has always been one of my favorite players to watch. I like guys with moxie. He's a tough son of a gun who's won a lot of games.''
Washington's defense is led by senior linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven, who leads the Pac-12 and is second nationally in tackles per game (13.6). Burr-Kirven went to high school just a few miles down El Camino from Stanford at Sacred Heart Prep.
"We didn't go all the way down the recruiting process with him,'' Shaw said. "He was injured the end of his junior year and couldn't come to our camp. It seemed like he was halfway between a safety or linebacker, but all he does is tackle everybody. A great football player, he finds a way to get to the ball, doesn't stay blocked. He plays the game the way it is supposed to be played.''
Injuries are a significant issue for any team that plays football, but they have hurt Stanford plenty this season. The most publicized example is Love, who has had his Heisman Trophy candidacy dashed by injuries. He is day to day this week, as is backup running back Trevor Speights, standout offensive lineman Nate Herbig. wide receiver Connor Wedington and linebacker Curtis Robinson.
Starting outside linebackers Joey Alfieri and Casey Toohill are both out, but Shaw praised the play of their replacements, Jordan Fox and Gabe Reid.
"We're beating people on the edge but not beating people inside,'' Shaw said.
Cornerback Alijah Holder is still not all the way back from a knee injury.
"Alijah is probably 80 to 90 percent,'' Shaw said. "He's not in pain. You go through a whole progression in rehab and the last thing to come back is that explosiveness, that last burst. He doesn't quite have that, but hopefully by the end of the year he'll be closer to 100 percent. Every week he's gotten a little bit better.''
As far as the atmosphere at Washington:
"It's going to be loud and wet,'' Shaw said. "It's not just loud to your ears. You feel it all over your body. You can't hear anything, lots of energy and passion. It's going to be fun.''