Stanford is preparing to head up to Seattle for its first road test of the young 2012 season. Washington has historically been a tough opponent (Stanford is 8-21 since 1977), but the Cardinal has owned the Huskies in recent years winning six of the last seven and outscoring them 140-35 in the last three seasons.
Last year Stanford racked up 446 yards on the ground in 65-21 blowout at Stanford Stadium and sent the Huskies into a tailspin, losing four out of their last five games. Enter new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox who was brought in from the University of Tennessee to fix a unit that was badly broken and gave up over 30 points in five of their last six games. Results have been mixed the first few weeks as UW eked out a win against SDSU, got blown out at LSU, and then had their way with Portland St.
What hasn’t been mixed is Coach Steve Sarkisian’s laser focus on Stanford and making this a game a statement win, so much so that he decided to go with the all black uniforms and encouraged fans to wear all black when they make their way to Century Link field Thursday night. He knows that in order to win the Pac 12 north (media picked them 3rd in the preseason) that the Huskies need to start off with an upset over the Cardinal.
Stanford will have to overcome Washington's focus and a number of other obstacles if they are to make it a 4-0 start for the third straight year.Here are a few keys:
- Get out to a quick start. Josh Nunes is making his first road start and will be tested by the atmosphere of a pro stadium packed by one of the more intense fan bases in the Pac 12. The best way to quiet the crowd is to score early, avoid sacks or big defensive plays, and don’t give the 60,000 in attendance a reason to cheer. That includes eliminating false starts and keeping audibles to a low number. I am sure there will be a heavy dose of Stepfan Taylor early and often to set the tone, but Josh Nunes has to come out of the gates sharp and focused because a crowd like this one can overwhelm a young player if he allows it to become a factor. Stanford’s defense can also play a big role in this area by not allowing any big plays from Keith Price an company. Speak of the devil...
- Contain QB Keith Price. Price looked unstoppable in the Alamo Bowl against Baylor last year making plays with his arm and his legs. However, he has gotten off to slow start in 2012 and that is partially due to the offense’s inability to replace leading rusher Chris Polk. RB Bishop Sankey is averaging only 61 ypg so teams are able to key on Price and force him to make plays. Price is at his most dangerous when he gets outside the pocket, buys more time, and hits the big pass down the field. If Stanford’s front 7 can keep him in the pocket, they should be able to collapse the interior and either get the sack or force the bad thrown. UW surrendered seven sacks during the first two weeks of the season, so the OL which has experienced some injuries, is vulnerable. Stanford has certainly shown the ability to make teams pay if they can't protect the QB.
- Cover Austin Sefarian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams. 6’6 270lb TE Sefarian Jenkins emerged as a major weapon last season as a true freshman and he continues to show that he can hurt defenses. He has great speed for a man his size and knows how to create separation, providing Price with a big target. WR Kasen Williams, also a true sophomore, has become the threat on the outside and is the one big play threat at WR for the Huskies. Sefarian-Jenkins and Williams have combined for 35 of the team’s 59 catches and almost 66% of the teams receiving yards. Stanford’s defense is outstanding in many areas, but the linebackers have had trouble covering athletic TEs in the past and Sefarian-Jenkins had a big game last season with 5 catches for 77 yards. Skov, Vaughters, Tarpley, and Lancaster will need to be aware of the big target over the middle and cannot get sucked up on play action fakes in the backfield. Safeties Jordan Richards and Ed Reynolds will also have to key on him running down the middle.
Stanford still has some other areas of concern, such as the kicking game and eliminating turnovers. K Jordan Williamson has missed four FG attempts in a row, including three against the USC Trojans a couple of weeks ago. Head Coach David Shaw has said Jordan had a great two weeks of practice and is looking more like the kid who was on his way to All American consideration last season before he got hurt. Josh Nunes finished the first half against USC with interceptions on back to back throws. Doing that up in Seattle will not only fire the crowd up, but will give the Huskies extra possessions and confidence that they can pull off the big upset. He needs to be sharp with his decisions and accurate with his throws.
There is no question UW will be ready to show a boisterous home crowd and national TV audience that they are back from the LSU loss and ready for the bright lights again. The question is will Stanford allow them to prove it?