aturday’s tilt in Stanford Stadium surely looks to be the toughest game the Card have faced thus far in 2011. The Washington Huskies will fly into California as a top 25 team and could give the Card their first real test of the fall.
After all, this isn’t the Husky team that couldn’t be bothered to even score in their own stadium last year against Stanford, when Washington fell 41-0. Has UW defeated a quality opponent this season? No. Did the team beat both Hawaii and Cal by just 8 points? Yes. Did Washington throw away a chance to beat then-#11 Nebraska in Lincoln by playing a disastrous 3rd quarter? Yes to that too. But the winners of our uniform bracket have also climbed to #22 in the AP poll this week (#25 in the BCS) and are clearly the best squad in the Pac-12 North after Stanford and Oregon. Heck, they just might be the third-best team in the whole conference.
Luckily for analysis, Washington took on Colorado in Seattle just one week after Stanford faced the Buffs on the Farm. At the most superficial level, Stanford did better against the common opponent by beating CU by 41 while Washington left a final margin of 28. But Washington might have had the more impressive overall outing. 14 of Colorado’s 24 points against UW came after halftime, when the result of the game was more or less certain. In the first halves–when Stanford and Washington had mostly starters on the field–Colorado performed similarly against the Huskies and the Card, and only fared better against Washington in the drawn-out garbage time of the last two weeks.
On the other side of the ball, though, Washington played a nearly flawless game. UW turned the ball over once but produced 562 yards of offense, converted 80% of its third down conversion attempts and split its offensive production 52-48 rush-pass. The Huskies had a star running performance (Chris Polk picked up 117 yards on the ground) and a 4-touchdown passer who completed 75% of his passes (Keith Price). Washington turned in its highest point total in over 10 years, and the team was bound to break into the national polls days later.
Colorado wasn’t just the one common opponent so far between Stanford and UW. Colorado was Washington’s most recent opponent.
The momentum of a big home win and growing acclaim from coast to coast should greatly aid a team that enters Saturday as a 20-point underdog. Scoring lots of points never hurts, but the Huskies have had to get on the board early and often this season in order to compensate for a defense that hasn’t held up its end of the bargain. Washington’s scoring defense ranks 77th in America, and even that standing is generous after mediocre showings from Colorado, Utah and California in the last 3 weeks. To begin the season, Washington allowed 27, 32 and 51 points to Eastern Washington, Hawaii and Nebraska (respectively). Cal put together 457 total yards against Washington in one of the Golden Bears’ most productive games of the year. Just imagine, then, what Andrew Luck, the Cardinal Tight End Corps, Stepfan Taylor and the rest of the Stanford offense might be able to do against the Husky defense.
Stanford ranks first in the conference in passing efficiency according to Pac-12 Stat Central, and it takes no genius to figure out that Andrew Luck can throw the football. But Stanford is the second-best Pac-12 team in points per game, offensive touchdowns per game, yards per game, rushing touchdowns per game and fewest interceptions per game, not to mention average scoring. All of this is bad news for Washington, which allows more yards in the air and has had to defend more passing attempts this season than any other team in the conference. Teams are throwing on the Huskies and those throws are throws are often completed: UW ranks 10th in the conference in allowed completions per game. Even teams without the greatest quarterback in the country are choosing to pass on the Husky secondary. Don’t expect Stanford head coach and former wide receiver David Shaw to do any differently.
Stanford isn’t shy about handing the ball off and pounding away at teams behind an increasingly excellent offensive line, but the Card will likely see more opportunities by letting Luck fire away. Washington is one of the best run defense teams in the west, and its 97 allowed rushing yards per game is 2nd-best in the North division. Stanford should be able to break the 100-yard rushing mark with ease, but the aerial attack ought to make up at least 60% of the Cardinal’s offensive production by game’s end. Nearly 3/4 of Stanford’s offense last week came in the passing game, and Washington is perhaps more vulnerable to big plays in the air than its rival in Pullman is.
Luck will have a chance to state his Heisman case in an ABC-televised game between top-25 teams as the Card score in the forties yet again. Washington, however, won’t be able to keep up. The Husky defense runs through Polk and the ground attack, which is exactly where Stanford has the most defensive talent. The Cardinal front 7 stop the run better than anyone else in the Pac-12 and is one of the best lane-clogging units in the country. While the secondary has struggled to make interceptions and keep down opposing passing gameplans, the defensive line and linebackers have effectively blown up pass protection and run blocking while forcing fumbles left and right. Washington accumulated 19 rushing yards in last year’s meeting–Polk had 13 of them–in a staggeringly futile offensive showing. Smart money bets that Washington will do better than that this season, but Polk would be lucky to break 90 yards rushing on Saturday. He’ll see red shirts in the box all night and won’t see much space to run.
It would take a strange sequence of events for Stanford to pull off another 41-point victory. But beating the 20-point spread? Don’t count it out.
Verdict: Stanford beats Washington, 46-24
How to Follow the Game
Stanford Stadium, Stanford, California
Live: Tickets at TiqIq
Radio: KZSU (90.1 FM or streaming online); KNBR (1050 AM)
Social Media: @DailyAxe on Twitter