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Top 10 Defensive Players in Washington Huskies vs Stanford Cardinal

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Top 10 Defensive Players in Washington Huskies vs Stanford Cardinal

mauro, murphy
Danny Wild - USA TODAY Sports

The Pac 12 will be on center stage this weekend when a pair of national heavyweights square off in Palo Alto. The No. 15 Washington Huskies will take their shot at upsetting the No. 5 Stanford Cardinal for a second year in a row and stake their claim as a legitimate contender for the Pac 12 title. Stanford is on track to make a run at a BCS National Championship and you can bet that they will be focused on avoiding another letdown this season against UW.

Both sides bring exciting playmakers into the contest, particularly on offense. Washington has turned plenty of heads this season with a new up-tempo, no-huddle attack led by quarterback Keith Price with the assistance of the nation’s leading rusher, Bishop Sankey. David Shaw has opened up the Cardinal playbook this season, allowing Kevin Hogan to attack down the field in the passing game more to an emerging group of wide receivers. That doesn’t mean their running game still isn’t as physical and effective as ever, however.

But the biggest playmakers may be on the defensive side of the ball this Saturday. Both programs have fielded physical and athletic defenses that can dominate a game. When these two teams met last season, it was a defensive struggle with the first offensive touchdown coming on the last play of the third quarter. The defensive units this season may be even better than last year, meaning that both offenses have their work cut out for them if they want to put points up on the board.

When UW and Stanford face off Saturday night, there will be some serious defensive star-power roaming the field, many of them bound to be highly productive members of the NFL someday. With that said, let’s count down the top 10 defensive players in the Washington vs Stanford battle for Pac 12 supremacy.

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Join Kris Hughes and Tyler Brett for even more analysis of the Washington/Stanford matchup live on the Google + College Football Pregame Rant this Saturday at 10 am Pacific time live online! We’ll be picking two fans — one from each team — to tell us why their team will win and add to a lively discussion on what we see as each team’s keys to victory. Join us!

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10. Josh Mauro

josh mauro
Steven Bisig - USA TODAY Sports

Josh Mauro started the season as a rotational player in the Stanford defensive line but was pushed up to the starting rotation when Henry Anderson went down with an injury. The senior hasn’t missed a beat since getting called up in the game against the Arizona State Sun Devils and leads the team with 3.0 sacks. Shaw has praised Mauro’s ability to step in and contribute whenever he’s called on and says his non-stop motor will get him onto an NFL roster next year.

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9. Josh Shirley

josh shirley
Joe Nicholson - USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest aspects of the defense that Washington wanted to improve in 2013 was their ability to rush the passer. Josh Shirley has stepped up to lead the UW pass rush this season, tying for the team lead with 3.0 sacks on the season. Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox relies on Shirley to set the edge of the UW defense and create pressure on the line, freeing up the talented linebackers to roam the field and make plays at every level.

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8. Marcus Peters

marcus peters
Joe Nicholson - USA TODAY Sports

It isn’t easy stepping in for one of the best cornerbacks in the country, but that’s the position sophomore Marcus Peters found himself in following the graduation of Desmond Trufant following the 2012 season. Peters has looked up to the task so far this year, providing tight coverage in man-to-man situations and locking down against the offense’s best receiving threats. Already this season, he has 17 tackles with a pair of pass breakups and an interception, showing that he’s more than capable of growing into another elite No. 1 cornerback for the Huskies.

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7. A.J. Tarpley

a.j. tarpley
Kelley L. Cox - USA TODAY Sports

Often overlooked in Stanford’s talented linebacker group, senior A.J. Tarpley has been excellent for Shaw this season. He’s making plays sideline to sideline, chasing down ball carriers and providing a physical presence in the front seven. He’s tallied 21 tackles already this year with 1.0 tackle for loss. He’s a perfect fit for this defense to clean up anything that might get up to the second level with athleticism, speed and a knack for bringing a ball-carrier to the ground.

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6. Princeton Fuimaono

princeton fuimaono
Mike Dinovo - USA TODAY Sports

The Huskies boast one of the more underrated linebacker groups in college football this season and so far Princeton Fuimaono has been the best among them. He leads the team with 30 tackles through four games with a tackle for loss, a quarterback pressure and a forced fumble. He is allowed to play a bit under the radar thanks to the exploits of some of his fellow linebackers and has taken advantage by putting together a strong start to the 2013 season.

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5. Trent Murphy

trent murphy
Kelley L. Cox - USA TODAY Sports

Some football players are so good it’s scary. Trent Murphy, at a whopping 6-foot-6, is a scary good football player. He’s made quite a collegiate career at Stanford coming off the edge and getting after the quarterback and he’s not letting up in his senior season. So far this year, he’s got 12 tackles, with 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception that he snatched out of the air and ran back for a touchdown. He arguably had the hit of the night against the Washington State Cougars when he flattened Connor Halliday and forced a bad throw that resulted in a pick-six for Stanford. He’s a violent pass-rusher and is going to make a lot of money at the next level with his ability to disrupt offenses in their backfield.

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4. Sean Parker

sean parker
Joe Nicholson - USA TODAY Sports

A big part of every defense is creating turnovers and nobody has been as good at forcing turnovers for Washington as Sean Parker in the secondary. He leads the team with three interceptions (tied for second in the Pac 12) to go along with 17 tackles. He’s been a hard-nosed defender with the ability to flip a game on its head with an interception. His strong play gives Wilcox faith in using some of his linebackers in blitz packages, knowing that he can send extra bodies at the quarterback with a solid secondary, led by Parker, holding things down deep.

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3. Ed Reynolds

ed reynolds
Danny Wild - USA TODAY Sports

Ed Reynolds was one of the best ball-hawks in the country last season. While he’s only been able to get his hands on one interception so far this season, he’s still making a major impact from his safety position. Reynolds is the second-leading tackler on the team with 25 tackles through four games and is a constant threat to snag a pick and take it the other way for six. With the biggest game of the season so far in town this Saturday, perhaps now is Reynolds’ time to shine?

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2. Shaq Thompson

shaq thompson
Joe Nicholson - USA TODAY Sports

Last year, Shaq Thompson was one of the most dynamic true freshman football players in the entire country at safety. This season, he’s been able to bulk up and move down to linebacker where he continues to be a dynamic playmaker. Thompson sits at No. 2 on the Huskies in tackles with 26 takedowns and can be seen making plays sideline to sideline. He remains a little undersized for the linebacker position at 225 pounds, but makes for it with his athleticism and playmaking ability. Wilcox is still finding ways to use all of Thompson’s tools and could unleash him in Palo Alto this weekend.

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1. Shayne Skov

shayne skov
Robert Stanton - USA TODAY Sports

Few linebackers have been doing it as well for as long as Shayne Skov has for the Stanford defense. The fifth-year senior is a tremendous leader for this team and did Shaw a huge favor when he decided to return for another year on The Farm. Last season, Skov led the team in tackles despite admittedly playing at less than 100 percent as he continued to rehab from a knee injury that cost him his 2011 season. This year, he’s back and better than ever, making plays sideline to sideline and leading the team in tackles once again (with 28 through the first four games). He seems to be everywhere on the field and is perfect leader for the Cardinal defense and the biggest defensive star in Saturday’s contest.