Photo Credit: Ted S. Warren/Associated Press
On Saturday night, the Washington Huskies will invade Stanford territory to take on the Cardinal in Palo Alto. After a deflating loss against the Huskies last year at CenturyLink Field, Stanford will have a bitter taste in their mouth. Don’t think for one second that the Cardinal will let Washington walk into their own house and steam roll them just like the Huskies did last year.
Josh Nunes started at quarterback for Stanford last year and there is a reason he won’t be there again this time around. A much more skilled and smarter Kevin Hogan, who is the top ranked passer in the Pac-12, will face the Huskies. An already threatening offense, due to the power run game, just got even more dangerous with Hogan. He adds an element to the offense that Nunes did not: speed and mobility. He also is a far better passer than Nunes was so the Huskies can’t load eight men in the box against the Cardinal this year as they try to stop the run. If they choose to do so, Hogan will burn the Huskies over the top and will try and find elite targets in Devon Cajuste and Ty Montgomery.
The passing game is not the identity of this Stanford team however. Tyler Gaffney heads the powerful Cardinal rushing attack that even have some formations in their playbook that call for nine offensive linemen to be in on one play. Gaffney is more of an elusive back than Stephon Taylor was, but is less powerful.
Junior middle linebacker John Timu leads the talented linebacker core for the Huskies and is aided by former 5-star Shaq Thompson and hard-hitter Princeton Fuimaono. This group is arguably the most skilled on the Huskies team and they have proven thus far into the season that they will be staunch against the opposing teams running game. Thompson is coming off the best game of his career and seems to be finding his groove early in the season.
This linebacking core has help, as Washington’s defensive secondary is one of the best in the Pac-12 and safety Sean Parker already has three interceptions on the season. Add in sophomore cornerback Marcus Peters and you have a scary duo that opposing quarterbacks will have to worry about all game.
If the Huskies want to upset the Cardinal and win this big-time matchup, the key will be getting to the quarterback. Washington has been able to do this well in their past two games this season as Josh Shirley, Cory Littleton and converted tight end Evan Hudson have all gotten pressure on the quarterback. Speed will be the key here, as they need to contain an elusive Kevin Hogan.
Even though the Huskies boast an impressive defensive line, the Cardinal counter with what might be one of the best defensive lines in the country. Outside and rushing linebacker Trent Murphy is a huge body on the line for the Cardinal and is quicker than you would think a 6’7” 270-pound human being would be. On the other side of the line, defensive end Aziz ****** provides a constant pass rush. He is one of the top young players in the nation today. Defensive end Ben Gardner rounds out the impressive Cardinal line and is a skilled player within his own right.
If you know anything about this Stanford team, you know they have arguably the best front seven in the nation. Shayne Skov is a fifth-year senior at the middle linebacker position and is the unquestionable leader of this defense. He shows great pursuit to the ball and is often in on nearly every play. As mentioned before, OLB Trent Murphy adds another element to this Cardinal front seven and is very stout against the run. The front seven is not where it ends though. To back up the group, the Cardinal start an impressive secondary.
Ed Reynolds is the best defensive back in the Pac-12 and he shows this on a week-to-week basis with his impressive interceptions and bone shattering hits. The junior will likely be gone after this year and drafted in the early rounds of the NFL Draft. However, Reynolds is not all this secondary has. Safety Jordan Richards is another key piece.
Fifth-year senior Keith Price is off to a fast start in 2013. He is the second ranked passer in the Pac-12, only behind Kevin Hogan, and comes in with his confidence level at an all-time high. He has all the weapons he needs to be successful with receivers Kevin Smith and Kasen Williams, plus All-American tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. With the Huskies move to the up-tempo no huddle offense this year, Price has been forced to think on the run, which has led to more instinctual passes from him. If the Huskies want to have a successful day on offense, it will all start with Keith Price. But there is another weapon on this offense that Stanford fans know all too well: Bishop Sankey.
Sankey leads the nation in rushing yards per game and comes into the game fresh off a school record 40-carry 161-yard performance against Arizona. The Cardinal will be looking to stop Sankey from the opening kickoff and with their front seven, they very well could be successful in doing so. That’s why Keith Price will have to perform at a high level if the Huskies want any chance at winning this game.
If you’re a fan of high scoring, offensive type games, this one will not be for you. It should be a defensive battle in the Bay Area as the two best defenses in the Pac-12 square off against one another in a battle for Pac-12 North supremacy.