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Stanford vs. Washington: The importance of Friday

This Friday Stanford may play their toughest opponent of the year in a battle for the Pac-12 North

Pac-12 Championship - Stanford v USC Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

The Cardinal are rumbling into Alaska Airlines field hot off a close win in the Rose Bowl. But waiting for them are the Washington Huskies, who have started out strong behind quarterback Jake Browning and a dependable defense.

But to really get the full weight of this game we first have to go back in time to 2011 when Stanford gave Washington a 65-21 shellacking, the worst beatdown Stanford has given the Huskies in the two schools’ histories. After that game, Steve Sarkisian decided to make a change in game plan and stack the box forcing Stanford to win over the top. Washington won 17-13 in 2012.

Then Steve went off to USC and not only did they lose the system but also the recruiting he brought in which has led to a three game win streak from 2013-2015 by the Cardinal. However of those three wins, two have been one possession games.

Now these teams face off yet again, tied at 41 wins a piece against each other along with 15 conference championships for each program. Both stand in the way of the others chance at winning the conference this year. Oregon is in free fall and Washington State is still a work in progress. For both programs this is their biggest conference game and it will decide who gets to play for the conference crown. Buckle up everyone, because it all goes down this Friday in Huskies territory.

Who has to stand out:

While this is obviously going to be a team effort their are a few players and positions that really need to play at an elite level to win this game.

The defensive line needs to play like they did against UCLA. They need to get after quarterback Jake Browning and keep him from having a clean pocket. They also need to constantly force the running game inside to make this an easy clean up job for the linebackers. Solomon Thomas and Harrison Phillips need to show up big again.

The secondary did a good job against both UCLA and USC of sitting back and giving up the short throw to keep from getting burned by the long one. While those two teams want to take more shots than Washington, this will be important with both Meeks and Holder out. This will keep the defense simpler for the new corners and easier on the safeties who will have to do a lot of work. They also played really well against USC in the running game by making big tackles in the open field on shifty running backs. Doing that here will make all the difference.

Christian McCaffrey had a solid performance against UCLA. But they need McCaffrey to be better than solid, they need him to be elite like he was last season. He needs to have a great game, he needs to tear through this defense and go on a run as they head to Notre Dame, Oregon and Cal throughout the back end of this schedule. He needs to get really hot and be phenomenal for this offense.