No. 15 Washington Faces Biggest Test Thus Far Versus No. 5 Stanford
It was one of the worst performances of the season for Washington quarterback Keith Price when the Huskies pulled off an upset over then eighth-ranked Stanford 17-13 at CenturyLink Field last September.
Price finished the game 19-of-37 for 177 yards with one touchdown and one interception which was returned for a touchdown by junior linebacker Trent Murphy. Despite his inefficient game, the Huskies were able to pull out the victory behind a defensive performance that held Stanford to just 235 total yards and, perhaps more importantly, 5-of-18 on third downs.
Flash forward to 2013 where both teams are 4-0 and ranked in the top 15 in the country. What can we learn from last year’s matchup to portend an outcome in a game that could go a long way to deciding the Pac-12 North division champion?
Overall, not much has changed in 12 months for either squad personnel wise. Digging deeper, a couple of coaching decisions have vastly improved each team.
Last year, the Cardinal started Josh Nunes at quarterback. Nunes was replaced by current stater Kevin Hogan after posting a pedestrian 52.7 completion percentage. The change has spurred Stanford. The 6-foot, 4-inch 220 pound Hogan brings more athleticism and better accuracy to the table than what Nunes offered a season ago. The junior leads the Pac-12 with a 174.6 QB rating and has helped make Stanford a more explosive passing offense from the intermediate, tight-end passing game it was the last couple of seasons. The team is 9-0 since Hogan took over as QB.
Meanwhile Washington has increased its offensive production in 2013 thanks to the switch to an up-tempo scheme, a resurgence in Price and a more experienced offensive line. Bishop Sankey is back running the football with an attitude (607 yards, five touchdowns on 104 carries) and the receiving corps behind a healthy Kevin Smith, the progression of sophomore Jaydon Mickens and newcomers like John Ross, has stepped up.
With all that said about improved offenses, this matchup should once again be about two physical teams imposing their will on one another behind a strong defense and running game. It is the beginning of a critical three-game stretch for Washington against ranked foes which should determine where it falls in the Pac-12 race.
Key Matchup when Stanford has the football:
Junior wide receiver Devon Cajuste had a huge game for Stanford in the 55-17 beatdown of WSU, finishing with four catches for 114 yards and two scores. Cajuste has a big frame at 6-foot, 4-inches tall and 232 pounds but it is his speed that makes him such a tough matchup. Look for Stanford to work the middle of the field with him, trying to get him matched up on of the Husky linebackers, and if they do so, the coverage responsibility could fall on sophomore Shaq Thompson who has the speed and size to do as good of a job on Cajuste as anyone.
Key Matchup when Washington has the football:
Washington has yet to have a huge passing game offensively, with the 342-yard passing effort from Price against Illinois being its biggest output thus far. That could change Saturday with Stanford keying on stopping Sankey and the Washington run game. Look for UW to look to throw more than it has this season and when it does, All-American tight end Austin Sefarian-Jenkins is as big of a mismatch as any target in the country. ASJ has yet to have the type of big game this year that he has become accustomed to and hoping to keep it that way will be Cardinal linebacker Shayne Skov and safeties Devon Carrington and Zach Hoffpauir.
This could be the most closely contested Husky game of the season, as I think both teams are very evenly matched. Stanford has the massive offensive line and physical defense, while the Huskies will showcase speed on both sides of the ball that Stanford may not be able to match up with. At the end of the day, it’s going to be about which quarterback makes more plays and if Price can continue his solid play of ’13, we could see an upset in Palo Alto.
Washington 24, Stanford 20
– Anthony Dion, 1090 The Fan
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