By Christian Caple The News Tribune
STANFORD, Calif. — Washington showed a national audience Saturday night just how far it has come under fifth-year coach Steve Sarkisian and just how close the program might be from contending for a Pac-12 title again.
For now, that’s at least one bounce short.
Or, depending on one’s perspective, maybe just one replay short.
Keith Price threw for 350 yards and two touchdowns on an injured thumb before officials ruled his final pass incomplete after a video review, and the No. 15 Huskies lost 31-28 at fifth-ranked Stanford in a matchup of unbeaten Pac-12 North teams.
“There’s no awards for losing,” Sarkisian said. “We’re a proud football team and we’re proud of the way we played, but we came here to win the game and, unfortunately, we didn’t do that. So we have to show the ability to handle the adversity of a tough loss like this against a tough football team and learn from some of the mistakes we had.”
The Huskies outgained Stanford 489-284 in total yards but had no answer for Ty Montgomery any time the Cardinal’s rejuvenated junior wide receiver touched the ball.
Montgomery finished with 290 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. He returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a TD and caught a 34-yard pass for another score to put the Cardinal (5-0, 3-0) in control from the start and keep them there.
“I would say Ty was the difference in the ballgame,” Stanford coach David Shaw.
Stanford led from wire-to-wire while winning its 13th straight game and 12th in a row at home. But no matter the score, Washington never went away.
Price completed 33 of 48 passes with one interception, and Bishop Sankey ran for 125 yards and two scores in an impressive — though, at times, mistake-filled — performance for the Huskies (4-1, 1-1) against the defending conference and Rose Bowl champions.
In the end, officials ruled Washington needed at least one more clean catch to have a chance.
On fourth-and-10 from the Stanford 49, Price rolled to his right and stiff-armed a defender before throwing a 16-yard pass near the sideline to a diving Kevin Smith. But after reviewing TV replays, officials said the ball hit the ground.
“I should’ve (thrown) a better ball,” Price said. “I thought it was complete at first. Turns out, it wasn’t.”
Sarkisian said the video he saw on the scoreboard from the sideline looked inconclusive.
“It’s unfortunate the game had to come down to a judgment call like that,” he said. “That part was unfortunate because it was two good football teams battling and competing with one another and I wish the game would have got won on the field and not in the booth upstairs with some guy that didn’t get to feel the emotion in the hard-fought football game that game was.”
The Huskies haven’t started 5-0 since 1992 and need to regroup fast to avoid a second straight loss with No. 2 Oregon coming to Seattle next week.
The Cardinal sacked Price five times, tallied 11 tackles for loss and forced the Huskies into some big-time blunders. Washington committed 10 penalties for 89 yards.
Stanford overcame some sloppy offense of its own but still looked nothing like the team that was handed its only conference loss by Washington in a 17-13 setback in Seattle last season. This time, the Cardinal offense — led by Kevin Hogan, who improved to 10-0 as the starter — did just enough, and a do-it-all showing from Montgomery made the difference.
Montgomery sprinted up the middle untouched to return the opening kickoff for his second career return for a score. It also was the first on an opening kickoff for Stanford since Chris Owusu in 2009 against Washington.
After Sankey’s short TD run capped Washington’s impressive 88-yard drive late in the second quarter, Montgomery seized the momentum for Stanford again. He caught a 39-yard TD pass from Hogan down the sideline to give the Cardinal a 17-7 lead with 11 seconds remaining before halftime.
“We were not perfect. We’ll learn from it and move forward,” Huskies defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said.
The teams twice traded scores to start the third quarter with an outpouring of offense more typical of the Washington-Stanford days of old.
After Washington’s second straight touchdown drive, the Cardinal turned to Montgomery once more. He juked a pair of defenders during a 68-yard kickoff return to the Washington 19 that set up Tyler Gaffney’s TD run and put Stanford up 31-21.
Washington’s best chance to come back ended when Trent Murphy tipped Price’s pass near the goal line and A.J. Tarpley grabbed the interception and ran 15 yards to the Stanford 20 with 6:11 remaining.
But the Huskies came back again, with Price throwing a 1-yard TD pass to Jaydon Mickens with 2:38 to play. Washington stopped Stanford three-and-out to get the ball back on its own 33 with 1:51 remaining before the Cardinal made one final stop.
“I think the thing that we proved to ourselves is we can beat anybody in the country,” Sarkisian said. “That to the point of where you prepare really well and you have good game plans and execute, you can do that.”