STANFORD, Calif. -- Don't call it chaos, but it's fair to say that Stanford's offense was in a rather agitated place entering the Cardinal's game-winning touchdown drive at UCLA last week. David Shaw doesn't even recall what he told quarterback Ryan Burns on the sideline.
"Somebody told me that I said, 'Go win the game,'" Shaw said. "But I really have no idea."
The Stanford coach was too busy scrambling to remember. The Bruins led 13-9, having bloodied Stanford over the first 58 minutes of play. They'd held the Cardinal out of the end zone and they'd knocked Francis Owusu -- who had taken all of Stanford's practice repetitions at a receiver position that was key in the team's two-minute offense -- out of the game.
"I had to make sure everyone knew where to be and what to do," Shaw said.
It turns out they did. Stanford passed its first do-or-die test of 2016 with flying colors, driving 70 yards with no timeouts to deliver that triumphant score.
"That's the stuff you dream about as a kid growing up," Burns said.
The Cardinal showered Burns with credit afterward. Rector said the new Stanford starter's composure was apparent the moment he stepped into the first huddle on that drive -- even though he had generally struggled in the game leading up to it.
"Burns was really calm, and it was good to see that," Rector said. "He said, 'Let's go punch it in,' and I feel that opened it up for us."
It was a game during which nothing seemed to go right for the Cardinal offense -- until it absolutely had to. And the fact that it did, in such adverse road conditions, has helped Stanford establish trust in its new quarterback in a way that wasn't possible until this test.
"There is no practice substitute to the environment that [Burns] was in," Shaw said.
Similar situations had tripped up the Cardinal numerous times in the past. In 2012, the team lost to both Washington and Notre Dame on the road during games in which they failed to score an offensive touchdown. In 2013, late-game troubles on the attack again derailed Stanford in the hostile road environments of Utah and USC. The 2015 season opener saw an offensive meltdown at Northwestern, and that loss likely ended up costing the Cardinal a College Football Playoff berth.
Although Stanford ended up recovering enough from all those aforementioned losses to win the Pac-12 championship, the Cardinal can relish the fact that they benefited from the best of both worlds this time: The UCLA win allows them to reap the rewards of experience from that gut-check of a drive while not sustaining a resume-damaging loss.
And if this program is ever going to play for all the marbles, that's a critical double-move to execute.
Now, Stanford's challenge lies in delivering a complete game of passing prowess -- not just two minutes of it. The No. 7 Cardinal enter No. 10 Washington's house as a slight underdog Friday night (ESPN & WatchESPN, 9 p.m. ET), so it's imperative that their success carry over if that resume is to remain unblemished.
"I think the passing game is going to take a step forward because we came through under pressure and performed," Rector said.
The Huskies' defense was the Pac-12's best last year, so the challenge in front of Burns & Co. is only expected to stiffen.
"You can't duplicate what we're going to face this week," Shaw said. "Top-10 opponent, in their house, it's going to be loud, and you're not going to be able to hear a thing. You're not going to know how well you can respond until you're in it."
Thanks to the late heroics at UCLA, though, the Cardinal have at least an initial gauge of how they can respond with their backs against the wall. And when the stakes are as high as they are now, the confidence that Burns and his receivers earned at the Rose Bowl last week is significant.
"It goes a long way," quarterbacks coach Tavita Pritchard said. "Trust absolutely comes from performing in game-time situations like that, but that trust is built out here [on the practice field] first. More than anything, you saw it applied there [in crunch time]. That was a manifestation of the trust that was built on the practice field. All the reps that went in spring ball, and training camp, and all the summer workouts, that's what showed up on game day."
Will it show up in Seattle? That may be the big question entering Friday's showdown.