In 2011 Andrew Luck led the Cardinal to a 6-0 start, but there were those in the media who believed they hadn't shown enough to warrant their #8 ranking. None of their first six opponents were ranked in the top 25, so some felt the Washington Huskies, barely on that list at #25, would pose a threat. With USC waiting the following week, some felt the Cardinal might overlook the Huskies and fall victim to the upset.
It didn't work out that way, as Stanford steamrolled Washington 65-21, setting a school record in the process by rushing for 446 yards. In short, they passed the test.
Today the Cardinal face a similar test, and again that test comes in the form of the Dawgs from the Northwest. Even though Stanford dispatched #23 Arizona State two weeks ago and throttled an improved Washington State squad last week, the Huskies represent the stiffest challenge the Cardinal have seen to date.
Washington opened the season with a stunning 38-6 win over Boise State, followed that up with a road win in Big Ten country as they topped Illinois, 34-24, picked up an easy win over FCS foe Idaho State, then cruised past Arizona, 31-13. If they continue that string on Saturday night, it will be because of the resurgence of quarterback Keith Price, the continued brilliance of running back Bishop Sankey, and the strength of one of the top defenses in the conference.
Stanford got a taste of the Huskies improving defense last year when the Cardinal offense failed to score a touchdown in a 17-13 loss, but Washington seems to be even better on that side of the ball this year, as they've yielded only 10.8 points per game, good for fourth in the nation.
The thing is, though, it doesn't make sense to consider last year's matchup when analyzing this year's, because Kevin Hogan's name wasn't even on the Stanford depth chart at this time last year. In fact, few Stanford fans even knew who he was. Stanford's offense has averaged 41.3 points per game, but it still hasn't reached its full potential. On the other side of the ball, the defense is amongst the nation's elite.
As good as Washington has been, Stanford is much better, and not only do I expect the Cardinal to win, I expect it to be much easier than most have predicted. My prediction: Stanford 41, Washington 13. A big spread, I know, but that's how I see it.
But what do people on the other side of the fence think? To find out, I looked up Anthony Cassino from the UW Dawg Pound and asked him a few questions about the Huskies and today's game. Read on...
Go Mighty Card:
Since the first question has nothing to do with this weekend's game, I thought we'd get it out of the way first. How much concern is there in Husky Nation that Steve Sarkisian might be interested in the vacant USC job? Would he be missed?
UW Dawg Pound:
I don't think that Sark is really a threat to take the USC job. It just seems like it'd be too tough a sell to USC fans getting another Pete Carroll disciple, offensive minded, and young head coach. A lot of people might view him as Lane Kiffin 2.0. He might be interested if they contacted him, but he has turned down the NFL at least a couple times since becoming UW's coach so it doesn't seem like he's in any hurry to leave Montlake. At this point, I'm not sure that USC is a more attractive position to him than the one he has now with all his players in place, the newly renovated facilities and expectations that are slightly more reasonable.
Back to more pressing concerns. Things couldn't have gone better for the Huskies thus far, as they've gotten off to a 4-0 start which includes an impressive opening day win over Boise State. Stanford is also 4-0, and Stanford fans are looking towards the Oregon game next month and thinking about an appearance in the national championship game. What do Husky fans dream about? The Rose Bowl? A national championship? What's the ceiling for this team?
It's not a stretch to see this team in the Rose Bowl. With as good as the Pac-12 is -- especially the North -- it's going to be really hard for anybody to go undefeated, and if the Huskies can take one from either Stanford or Oregon, they're going to be right in the thick of things.
I know that we're only four games into the season and the Huskies still haven't gotten into the meat of their schedule, but it's hard not to be impressed by Keith Price. His quarterback rating and total QBR numbers have improved tremendously over last season's numbers, and his interceptions are down. What's been the key to this resurgence? What can we expect to see from him on Saturday night?
The biggest key to Keith's improved play has been his offensive line. Last season his offensive line was banged up and started a bunch of guys who were too young and just weren't ready yet. This year those young guys look pretty ready, and the guys who were injured last year are back at full force. He's also been the beneficiary of the talent around him really blossoming. The Huskies lost just one starter from last year's offense, and the guys on the perimeter like Jaydon Mickens, Kevin Smith, and Kasen Williams are really helping Price by getting open when things break down, making plays after the catch, and not dropping balls.
And what about running back Bishop Sankey? He's already over 600 yards in these four games, and that includes the Idaho State game in which he only touched the ball four times. As great as he is, he'll going up against what could be the best front seven in America. How do you predict this will turn out? Give your best guess at Sankey's numbers for the game.
I think Bishop is going to have a pretty nice game. Maybe not like he's been doing this season, but he did have a really nice game against Stanford last year, and he looks like an even better back now in 2013. The problem the Huskies will present Stanford is that they're going to run a lot of plays where Price will have the option to give to Sankey or out to the perimeter on quick passes. If Stanford loads the box and takes Sankey away, he might have a bit of a quiet day. If they take away the behind the line of scrimmage passing game, they'll do so at the expense of their run defense, and Sankey may continue his trend of putting up big numbers.
Stanford just put up 55 points against Washington State, a team that was actually feeling good about its defense. How will Washington's defense attack Kevin Hogan and the Stanford offense? Who are some of the stars on that side of the ball, and what type of scheme are they running?
I think the Huskies will get aggressive in run defense and let their secondary -- which has been giving opposing QB's fits all year -- see if they can make plays. That was the formula that was used last season when UW kept Stanford out of the endzone, and I think that's at least how the Dawgs will start the game to see if Kevin Hogan can do a better job against it than Josh Nunes did.
Finally, give me your final score and explain how you expect the game to go.
My concern is this game being on the road, where it's been a really long time since UW beat anybody of consequence, much less one of the top teams in the nation. If it were in Seattle I'd like the Huskies to win, but in Palo Alto I think Stanford wins a close game 31-24.