Washington visits Stanford on Saturday in matchup of ranked Pac-12 teams, but what the Huskies and Cardinal most notably share -- other than quarterbacks putting up big numbers -- is a lack of quality wins.
One team will get one this weekend.
So seeing that the Pac-12 and Stanford blogs will be crossing paths on Saturday, it seems like a great time to visit and chat about this Pac-12 North Division matchup.
Kevin, give me the lay of the land at Stanford. What are the folks on the Farm happy with so far during six blowout wins? And is there anything that isn’t working well?
Kevin Gemmell: I think that any conversation regarding Stanford and their happiness has to start with quarterback Andrew Luck. His evolution in the pro-style/West Coast offense has been fun to watch. He really has a handle on it. The offensive line is progressing, the tight ends are scary good and Stepfan Taylor is running the ball hard and efficiently. Defensively, you can't ask for much more. The Cardinal have held their last 12 opponents under 20 points.
Now, the not so good. Notice I didn't mention the wide receivers when giving the offensive fly-over? I will say that Griff Whalen has stepped up his game significantly in the past two weeks. But Chris Owusu isn't having the season head coach David Shaw anticipated. And with Owusu's recent concussion, we're not sure how much of a contributor he'll be for the next couple of weeks. Outside of those two, none of the other wide receivers have stepped up. Luck leans heavily on his three tight ends and his backs. But I guess when you have three guys like Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo, you can get by without a big-time wide receiver.
Stanford's pass rush is ridiculous -- averaging almost four sacks per game. Tell me about the Washington offense. Are they going to be able to keep Keith Price upright?
Ted Miller: The midseason story with the Washington offense has been the meteoric maturation of Price, whom you might notice is nipping on Luck’s heels as the conference’s most efficient quarterbacks. Oh, and Price has more touchdown passes -- 21 to 18 -- so pffffft!
Price also has a good crew of receivers and an up-and-coming star at tight end in Austin Seferian-Jenkins, not to mention an A-list running back in Chris Polk, who makes his living after contact. The Huskies are averaging 37 points per game and have scored more than 30 points in each game this season. There’s good pass-run balance with an average of 246 yards passing and 174 yards rushing.
In fact, you might say that the Huskies want to play like Stanford: balanced and physical.
Ah, but that matchup up front is key. The Huskies' offensive line has been solid this year but it’s certainly not dominant. It yields two sacks per game, which is OK but not great. And the Cardinal will be coming hard for Price. In fact, the Huskies badly lost the battle up front in last year’s 41-0 defeat in Husky Stadium. The question is how much difference can one year make?
You know this Stanford defense -- you've noted the pass rush -- what should the Huskies do to attack it? And while we’re getting deep, is there any way to contain Luck and his tight ends?
Kevin Gemmell: If there is one thing Stanford coach David Shaw knows -- it's quarterbacks. He also knows how to exploit their weaknesses. This is a program that doesn't gauge its pass rush success by how many sacks it gets, but rather how many times pass-rushers put a hit on the quarterback -- regardless of the play's outcome. The Cardinal believe if they are getting a body on the quarterback, that will eventually wear him down over the course of the game. So to answer your question of what the Huskies need to do: play fast.
Price can't afford to sit back in the pocket too long because the Cardinal front will collapse it. They set edges very well -- almost like they are creating their own pocket for the defense -- and then Chase Thomas & Co. mop up.
Now, containing the tight ends. Sure, you can probably contain one of them. But what happens when they put all three on the field at the same time? And then motion fullback Ryan Hewitt (a former tight end) out of the backfield and into the slot. Now you've got four receivers taller than 6-foot-5 who are just as fast a wide receivers and a lot stronger. I've said this before, Stanford is running some of the most innovative offensive schemes I've ever seen in football with those tight ends.
Let's get down to it, Ted. We're both going to be in Palo Alto for this one. How do you see this game playing out?
Ted Miller: It’s hard to get past 41-0, the butt-kicking delivered last year by the Cardinal in Seattle. Yet I think this is a much better Huskies team. And I’m not sure that Stanford is as good as last year.
That said, Stanford at home with Andrew Luck -- that’s just too difficult to pick against, particularly with Stanford's clear defensive superiority. I think this game plays out like a lot of Stanford games this year: close for a half, then Luck and the Cardinal pump on the gas. So I’m saying 42-24, Stanford.
What about you?
Kevin Gemmell: As it is in most Stanford games, the pass rush is going to be the key. One team can get to the quarterback, the other one probably won't. Stanford leads the nation in sacks allowed (two) while having one of the best pass rushes in the country. That's going to make the difference. Plus it's homecoming and the official word is Stanford Stadium was sold out by Tuesday morning and rumor is the rest of the season has been sold out. Folks in Palo Alto are excited. I don't see the Cardinal letting them down.
Stanford wins 42-17.