Saturday, October 22, 2011
Washington needs to be (almost) perfect
By Ted Miller
STANFORD, Calif. -- Washington can beat Stanford.
Only the No. 25 Huskies will have to be at their absolute best, and No. 8 Stanford will have to slip at least slightly below its optimum level. And, by the way, that exact scenario plays out many times a year in college football.
Last year in Seattle, Stanford played well, the Huskies did not, and the result was a 41-0 stomping that wasn't as close as the final score indicates. But that loss seems to have served as a critical moment for the Huskies.
They've gone 8-2 since, while playing a more physical brand of football on both sides of the ball. That meant relying on running back Chris Polk more than the passing game during a 4-0 run to conclude the 2010 season, including an impressive Holiday Bowl win over Nebraska.
Then Keith Price arrived this fall -- literally and figuratively. The sophomore has given the Huskies passing game a significant upgrade -- see 21 touchdown passes, more than Jake Locker threw all of last year -- and that has translated to an offense that has scored 30 or more points in every game this season.
Price has Polk, a solid offensive line, a deep crew of receivers and a dangerous tight end. These guys can move the ball on just about anyone.
Defense? Well, giving up 401 yards and 28.5 points per game is nothing to celebrate, but the Huskies rank 17th in the nation in run defense, giving up just 97 yards per game.
And stopping the run is the first thing a team must do against Stanford. Yes, Andrew Luck is the best quarterback in college football. But he's unstoppable when the Cardinal running game is gaining yards in four, five and 10-yard chunks.
The Huskies have the size on their interior D-line to at least force Stanford to the perimeter. Alameda Ta'amu, Semisi Tokolahi and Danny Shelton all tip the scales at more than 330 pounds. While Stanford guard David DeCastro is one of the best, mauling run blockers, center Sam Schwartzstein and guard David Yankey are first-year starters. This will be their biggest test thus far.
The Huskies need to create second- and third-and-long situations and then hope they can mute Luck and perhaps force a mistake or two. Sacking Luck almost never happens -- just twice this year -- but perhaps the UW pass rush can get just enough pressure to disrupt his timing.
On the other side of the ball, Price and his strong supporting cast of skill guys won't be able to do much if the offensive line gets whipped. The Cardinal leads the Pac-12 with 23 sacks and ranks No. 2 in the nation in run defense (59.5 yards per game).
Stanford is not only riding a 14-game winning streak -- longest in FBS -- it's on the cusp of being historically dominant.
It has won each of its past nine games by at least 25 points, becoming the first FBS team to do so since Boise State in 2002. In the poll era (since 1936), no team has won 10 consecutive games by at least 25 points. To put that in perspective, there have been 370 winning streaks of at least 10 games since 1936, and nobody has won 10 straight by 25+ points.
During that nine-game streak, Stanford’s scoring margin is +34.2 PPG. Overall in their 14-game win streak, Stanford’s scoring margin is +27.9 PPG.
So there are a lot of reasons not to believe the Huskies can win.
But there is never certainty in college football.