The refs are back but the game is Cleveland Browns–Baltimore Ravens? Yuck. The real showdown on Thursday night isn’t in the city known for crab cakes but in the Pacific Northwest. So you can hold the Old Bay, I’ll have a latte.
Time: 9:00 PM EST
Where to Watch: ESPN
These are two teams that were expected to battle for the 2nd spot in the Pac 12 North behind the mighty Oregon Ducks but Stanford has already exceed expectations. They have the signature victory of this young 2012 season after knocking off the USC Trojans two Saturdays ago. In that game, their defense played outstanding, not allowing stud wide receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods to get free while keeping constant pressure on Matt Barkley. Stanford’s schedule doesn’t get any easier after tonight with an up and coming Arizona Wildcats team at home and then a visit to rival the #10 Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Meanwhile, Washington barely showed up in their biggest game so far at the LSU Tigers. Obviously it’s damn near impossible for any team to go into Death Valley and win but competing is another story. This game was over after the 1st quarter. Washington’s defensive line was completely mauled up front and gave the rest of the back 7 virtually no chance to do anything. The Huskies as they enter a brutal 3 game stretch starting tonight vs. #8 Stanford, then at #2 Oregon and home vs. #13 USC.
OFFENSE: Stanford has had to deal with the loss of perhaps the greatest quarterback in league history in Andrew Luck. Head coach David Shaw tabbed junior Josh Nunes the heir apparent during fall camp after he barely beat out sophomore Brett Nottingham for the job. It’s believed that Nunes won the job thanks to his knowledge of Shaw’s offense despite the fact Nottingham probably has more upside. Senior running back Stepfan Taylor has shot up draft boards this season after becoming the Cardinal “go to guy”. He torched USC and shows great vision and poise despite not having top end speed. The passing game is mostly going through the tight ends once again as junior Zach Ertz has emerged as the favorite target. He has good size at 6’6 and quickness to beat most linebackers. Sounds a bit similar, eh? Luck to Coby Fleener, Nunes to Ertz. It just rolls off the tongue.
Washington offense is back despite losing quite a bit of talent. The most notable loss was running back Chris Polk who bolted to the NFL as his stock was soaring. Junior quarterback Keith Price is now the focus for opposing defenses. He was tabbed as a preseason Heisman sleeper after throwing for over 3,000 yards last season but he didn’t show much of that promise in their only real test against LSU. While the Cardinal don’t have the Tigers speed on defense, they aren’t too far off, and Price will need to avoid mistakes to keep this one in reach.
DEFENSE: Stanford’s team speed was the one thing that really held them back last year. We saw them wear down against Oregon at home despite a slick field that should have helped to neutralized the Ducks finesse game. This year things appear to be different. Their big physical corners aren’t afraid to take a penalty early to set the tone. Junior Terrence Brown did in the 2nd quarter against USC and it changed the way USC would attack the Stanford ‘D’. They weren’t going to get the “free releases” they had seen in previous games. The Cardinal probably have the best duo of linebackers west of the Mississippi with seniors Shayne Skov and Chase Thomas. Both are relentless players who love to play downhill. If I’m Washington, I would try to attack them in space with a screen game because you won’t have success running at them.
Washington’s D was just awful last year. Head coach Steve Sarkisian realized that and made a change bringing in former Tennessee Vols defense coordinator Justin Wilcox. While the Huskies now show more 3-4 looks, unfortunately they have seen many of the same results. Last year’s sack leader sophomore Josh Shirley has only one sack so far. That’s putting a lot of pressure on guys like star corner senior Desmond Trufant to hold up in coverage. A bigger concern is their ability to stop the run. So far in only 3 games they’ve yielded 524 yards on the ground. Last year Stanford put up a school record 446 yards rushing.
PREDICTION: I think this will be a close one for a while but Stanford pulls away rather comfortably late behind their strong rushing attack. Stanford 28 – Washington 17.