The essence of Stanford football can be summed up in its favorite Twitter hashtag, #partyinthebackfield, and the Cardinal linebackers were having one enormous shindig in Saturday's 31-28 win over the Washington Huskies.
Outside linebackers Trent Murphy and James Vaughters and inside linebacker Shayne Skov and A.J. Tarpley combined for seven tackles for loss with four sacks against the Huskies, while Tarpley added an interception of quarterback Keith Price at the goal line late in the fourth quarter that ultimately proved to be the difference in the game.
Murphy evaded a feeble attempt at a block and tipped the pass up in the air, allowing Tarpley to corral it at the Stanford 5-yard line to snuff out an 18-play, 73-yard drive when UW was poised to make it a one-possession game.
That play, extending Stanford's streak of games with at least one takeaway to 29, proved to be enough to overcome 350 passing yards and two touchdowns by Price and 125 rushing yards and two touchdowns from running back Bishop Sankey.
"It wasn't a great performance today defensively, but we did what we have to do," said Skov, who had a game-high 14 tackles, with 1.5 sacks. "The interception, there was a moment where we've got to take the field and feed off each other, and we were able to do that and we're going to improve. When guys have the opportunity to make plays, we have to step up and we have faith in one another."
Murphy was mostly unblockable, delivering 2.5 tackles for loss with two sacks. Murphy's bookend, the junior Vaughters, added another sack. It was only through Price's mobility and relentlessness that Stanford only racked up five sacks instead of 10.
But Stanford struggled when UW was able to get its tempo going, leading to some raised eyebrows when Skov and defensive end Ben Gardner went down with injuries in the fourth quarter, only to quickly return.
"I guess that's how we play here at Stanford, so we'll have to prepare for that next time," UW head coach Steve Sarkisian said in a postgame radio interview. "At some point, we'll get repaid for it. That never serves a purpose for us, and we'll never do that."
Both Skov and Gardner denied the insinuations.
The real test, however, will come on Nov. 7 when Oregon and its dynamic up-tempo spread-option offense come to town in the Pac-12 game of the year.