Stanford conquered its CenturyLink Field demons a week ago in dramatic fashion. Now the Cardinal has a chance to complete the exorcism with a victory on Saturday against Washington at Stanford Stadium.
Unlike Washington State last Saturday, however, the Huskies are a top-15 team with a strong offense and defense. And while the most improved unit for Washington may be its defense, when talking about the Huskies you still have to start with their explosive offense.
In 2012, the Stanford defense was able to mostly shut down that strong offensive attack. One big play — a 61-yard touchdown run by star running back Bishop Sankey on fourth-and-1 — and one long scoring drive were all that the Huskies could manage, but thanks to Stanford’s poor offensive performance, Washington was able to prevail 17-13.
So while Stanford can take solace in a strong defensive performance, there is a twist; the Huskies are better on offense in 2013. Price is healthy, his offensive line is finally healthy and Sankey has turned into the nation’s leading rusher. Add three explosive receivers on the outside and suddenly Washington’s offense starts to sound a lot like Stanford’s, but with perhaps the best tight end in the nation in Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
From what I’ve heard through the grapevine, Sankey and Seferian-Jenkins may be a bit overrated. Sankey is a solid back, but much of his production can be credited to poor defense and good blocking. Seferian-Jenkins, while a stud in years past, looks hobbled by nagging injuries and has been anything but a superstar. If the Cardinal can continue playing good fundamental defense and tackle well, neither should be a problem. I would expect Stanford to have its pass rushers chip Seferian-Jenkins, though, so that might slow down the “Party in the backfield,” a tad.
Washington’s defense is much more of an unknown. Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox turned around the Huskies defense in his first season (2012), and early indications are that Washington will be stout again.
The trickiest part about analyzing the matchup between the Cardinal offense and Washington’s defense is that the Huskies are likely to change their style fairly dramatically for this contest. In last season’s matchup, Wilcox shifted his lineup around the get a lot more size on the field than usual, a smart strategy against Stanford’s power offense. Don’t be surprised if you see six-foot, 334-pound backup nose tackle Lawrence Lagafuaina playing a lot more than he has in the first four games.
The big question, however, is how closely Wilcox will try to follow that 2012 blueprint. Last weekend, Washington State seemed to be trying everything that the Huskies used in 2012, and it failed miserably. Was that because of a lack of execution, a lack of talent or a flawed game plan? That will be up for Wilcox to decide and evaluate throughout the game. I will say that if Wilcox thinks he can stuff the box with nine or 10 guys like he did last year, he will watch junior quarterback Kevin Hogan find his three speedsters over the top all night long and Stanford will win easily. I bet Wilcox has something very different up his sleeve, and we’ll find out tomorrow night.
Contact Sam Fisher at safisher ‘at’ stanford.edu and follow him on Twitter @SamFisher908.