Originally posted on The Duck Stops Here  |  Last updated 10/3/13
Washington travels to Stanford Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN, a clash of #15 versus #5. The 4-0 Huskies beat the The Cardinal last year in Seattle, handing them their only PAC-12 loss in a 12-2 conference championship season. Muzzle to muzzle fo'shizzle: Keith Price and the Washington Huskies are looking more Duck-like with a 4-0 record, a new up-tempo offense and gleaming silver lids. They get their first serious test Saturday in Palo Alto. (ESPN image, from video).   This year Stanford has even bigger ambitions after a 4-0 start. They may have the toughest, meanest front seven in football this season, led by defensive end Ben Gardner and linebackers Shane Skov, A.J. Tarpley, Trent "the Yeti" Murphy and James Vaughter. Already this year they have 26 tackles for loss and 9 sacks on their way to a 2-0 record in conference play. Quarterback Kevin Hogan leads a more explosive Stanford offense. They've had the power running game all through the Harbaugh and Shaw years, but this season Hogan's not just throwing to the tight ends: wide receivers Ty Montgomery has 20 catches, 327 yards and 4 tds, while junior Devon Cajuste has emerged as a deep threat. He's gotten loose for just 10 receptions and 3 touchdowns, but he's averaging an impressive 24.4 yards per catch. Hogan's added a vertical threat to go along with the running attack, a big reason why the team in 22nd in the nation in scoring at 41.3 points a game.  So far it looks like this is the best team Stanford's had. They still have their physical edginess but now they've coupled that with more speed, explosiveness and athletic ability. Disciplined, aggressive and smart, they average just 38.5 yards in penalties a game. They've converted 57% of their 3rd downs while holding opponents to 31%. They're converting 93% of their red zone opportunities. Stanford struggled early before putting away San Jose State and Army by lopsided scores. They manhandled a decent Arizona State team in the first half but gave up four touchdowns in the second in a 42-28 home win in their conference opener. Last week they drubbed Washington State 55-17, breaking out to a 38-3 lead by the end of the third quarter. The offense erupted for 560 yards. Hogan threw for 286 yards and 3 tds,  Cajuste on the receiving end of td tosses of 57 and 33 yards, sophomore Michael Rector hauling in another one for 48. The defense picked off two passes and returned both for scores. For the Huskies hopes are running high this year after records of 5-7, 7-6, 7-6 and 7-6 under Steve Sarkisian. The 4-0 start has Seattle sports talk radio buzzing that this could be the breakout year in which Washington makes a serious run in the PAC-12 North and ends 9 years of humiliation by the Oregon Ducks. Quarterback Keith Price is a senior. After throwing 14 interceptions last year he's responded to Sarkisian's new up-tempo, no huddle offense with improved rhythm and accuracy, completing 72% of his passes for 1044 yards, 9 touchdowns and just 2 picks. His touchdowns have gone to seven different receivers, and wideouts Kasen Williams, Kevin Smith and Jaydon Mickens all have 15 or more receptions. Bishop Sankey is one of the best workhorse running backs in the nation; already he has 104 carries, for 607 yards and 5 scores, 5.8 yards a carry with a long of 36. But the most surprising thing in the Husky resurgence is Justin Wilcox's improved defense. So far in the four wins, which included a 38-6 pasting of #19 Boise State in the home opener, the Dawgs are holding opponents to just 10.8 points per game, tied with the Ducks for fourth in the nation. They're holding opponents to 288 yards a game and 3.8 yards per play. They've intercepted six passes and sacked the quarterback 13 times.  So far the 2013 team just seems to have more talent, resilience and determination. They're converting an exceptional 62% on third down while holding opponents to 38%, scoring touchdowns 74% of the time in the red zone as they've kept opponents to 40%. Improved linebacker play is the key: Princeton Fuimano, Shaq Thompson and John Timu have combined for 79 tackles. Defensive ends Josh Shirley and Hau'oli Kikaha have three sacks each. The Huskies weren't seriously tested in wins over Illinois and Idaho State. Last week they dumped Arizona at Husky Stadium, 31-13. Bishop Sankey outdueled Kadeem Carey with a school-record 40 carries for 161 yards. The defense forced three and outs on the Wildcat's first five possessions, stifling and tenacious. Rich Rodriguez's new quarterback B.J. Denker, bothered by heavy rains and swirling winds, completed just 15-35 passes for 119 yards. He was intercepted twice. The team was trying to pull within five when he threw the second one midway through the fourth quarter. Rodriguez angrily slammed his headset to the ground, Price and the Washington offense driving 59 yards in 10 plays for a clinching score. Saturday's game at Stanford potentially represents the first serious test for any of the contenders in the PAC-12. In the coming weeks the conference will continue to eat their young as all the ranked teams start facing each other, beginning the process of separating the good, the bad and the ugly. Washington faces Stanford now, Oregon next week, Arizona State October 19th, UCLA the middle of November. Stanford hosts the Huskies, squares off against UCLA in the Rose Bowl October 19th, plays Oregon in Palo Alto in an ESPN Thursday night game on November 7th. Already in the PAC-12 South every team but UCLA has a conference loss; the Bruins open conference play at Utah tonight on ESPN in the Thursday 10:00 p.m. slot. They not only play traditionally great football in the SEC they do so with a caution approaching cowardice. In the conference of multiple BCS champions they replace one of those ranked-versus-ranked epic clashes with a nice November home game against Furman or The Citadel. Everybody looks better in the end, and plays in better bowls. 
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