What to watch on Stanford's side of things:
1. Finding some fireworks. The Cardinal struck for three touchdown passes from 30+ yards last week, and Kevin Hogan put up a career-high passing total against a shabby Wazzu secondary. The Huskies' secondary is more talented than the Cougars' defensive backs, so the big play will be at more of a premium this week. The question for Stanford is how to create a few big plays to give itself some separation against an uptempo team that's capable of breaking off a big touchdown run at any moment. So far, Devon Cajuste has been the downfield big-play threat, and I imagine that David Shaw has once again cooked up a play designed to target him down the middle at some point this week. Also be on the lookout for Kelsey Young, who always touches the ball more frequently in big games, and is averaging 13.4 yards per play when he touches the ball.
2. Ground and pound. The Stanford rushing attack was only so-so a week ago, and it was pretty bad last year against Washington. Part of that was due to the fact that Josh Nunes didn't present a credible passing threat, part of that was due to a Huskies defense that was relentlessly attacking the gaps. I have much more confidence that the Huskies can't just stack the box this year, but finding a better pace in the running game will be integral to the Cardinal's game plan. I expect heavy doses of Tyler Gaffney early in the proceedings to try and establish the run.
3. Red Zone readiness. Against a talented opponent like Washington, Stanford can't afford to miss out on points when it gets into the red zone. The Cardinal missed a couple of chances last week, settling for field goals and turning the ball over once. I have to imagine that this has been a point of emphasis this week - and I bet Stanford gets the ball in Ryan Hewitt's hands down in the red zone this Saturday. He's been quiet these last few weeks, but he may be due for his first touchdown of the season.
What to watch on Washington's side of things:
1. Who is Keith Price? Quite simply, the Huskies need Keith Price to be "Good Keith Price" for them to win. The Cardinal have teed off on Price in back-to-back years, making him look like only half the quarterback he is capable of being. Lost in the fact that Josh Nunes went 18/37 for 170 yards and an interception last year was that Keith Price went 19/37 for 177 yards with a TD and an INT. (That's a QB rating of 16.6 for Stanford and 12.6 for Washington.) If the Cardinal defense is able to keep Price moving backward while he's flinging the ball around, it should be able to force a few turnovers and give Stanford the edge it needs to win the game. If Price is able to get into a rhythm, connect with massive tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and finally have a good game against Stanford, the Huskies will have a chance to win.
2. Capturing their Bishop. Bishop Sankey has proved to be one of the better backs in America over the last two seasons, and a year ago, he torched Stanford for 144 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. However, the majority of that output came on one 61-yard touchdown run. For Washington, that's great - it means they can hit a home run at any time, and they've hit two 61-yard TD runs and a 46-yard TD run against Stanford the last two years. However, if Stanford's run defense is able to protect itself against a big play, the Washington run game becomes only okay - not deadly like it was a year ago. Sankey's output on the ground in this game may be the single biggest determining factor in who wins this Saturday.
3. Hype. At some point during every season, a team on the rise has to step up and answer if it's ready for the big stage. This week is definitely that moment for Washington, and it's also a similar moment for Stanford. We all know that hype does have a tangible effect on a team. Based on the outcome of last year's game, I fully expect the Huskies to come out keyed up and ready to roll, but Stanford's made a living of winning these games over the past few seasons. Both teams are eminently capable of punching each other in the mouth, but the question - for both teams - is if you can take a punch and come up smiling.