David Shaw (US PRESSWIRE)
It's been a long time since the Washington Huskies have been ranked at all, and much, much longer still when they have been ranked in the BCS - yet one is hard-pressed to think of a time where a ranked UW team has gone into a game as a three-touchdown Dawg. But that is exactly the case as they travel to meet up with No. 7 Stanford in prime time Saturday night on national television.
KICKOFF: Saturday, 8 ET
SITE: Stanford Stadium, Stanford, Calif.
SERIES: Washington leads 40-37-4 (last meeting, 2010, Stanford 34-14)
RECORDS: Washington 5-1, 3-0 Pac-12; Stanford 6-0, 4-0 Pac-12
POLLS: Washington (No. 22 AP, No. 24 USA Today); Stanford No. 7 AP, No. 5 USA Today)
PREDICTION: Stanford 38-28
KEYS TO THE GAME:
-- For Washington: At least play to a draw up front. The Cardinal simply dominated the Huskies on both lines last year in beating Washington 41-0 in Seattle. Stanford doesn't appear to run the ball as well this season, so the Huskies may be able to plug up the Cardinal a little bit up front.
-- For Stanford: Get pressure on Washington QB Keith Price. When Price is allowed to move around in the pocket or scramble outside, he effectively finds receivers for big gains. Offensively, Stanford just needs to have a typical game with run-pass balance and no turnovers.
SCOUTING THE TEAMS:
Washington continues to be efficient, productive and balanced on offense, easily dissecting a struggling Colorado team last week for 52 points -- UW's most in 10 years. The Huskies are up to fourth in rushing offense at 173 per game and although they are ninth in passing yards, they are second in pass efficiency, with Keith Price throwing for 21 touchdowns against just four interceptions in only 173 attempts. The line has been steadily improving, in part due to being able to start the same five throughout, and the skill position players are proven and healthy.
Washington's defense has been steadily improving, especially against the run. The Huskies are now third in the conference allowing just 97 yards per game. That will get a stiff test this week against a Stanford offensive line known for its physicality -- the Cardinal is averaging 5.1 yards per rushing attempt. The addition of DT Semisi Tokolahi to the starting lineup the last two games has helped greatly. He has paired with Alameda Ta'amu to give UW about 670 pounds right up the middle. UW, though, needs to get more pass rush from the edges. And a really big key in this one will be how well its back seven can defend Stanford's tight ends.
Stanford has scored at least 37 points in every game this season, and no team has been able to effectively slow Stanford's ground game or its passing attack. QB Andrew Luck is the centerpiece of the offense, ranking third nationally in pass efficiency, although he had just a so-so outing against Washington State in his previous game. His best receivers are his three tight ends: Levine Toilolo, Zach Ertz and Coby Fleener. They are often in the game simultaneously, giving Stanford the option to run power football or pass effectively with the same personnel. All three have more than enough speed to get deep. RB Stepfan Taylor is the top rusher, and despite its passing weapons, Stanford's offensive identity is as a power-running team.
Stanford's defense has outstanding numbers against the run, ranking second nationally in run defense, yielding 59.5 rushing yards a game and just 2.08 yards an attempt. The loss of LB Shayne Skov has not hurt the Stanford defense yet, but Washington may be the first team that might be able to expose that weakness over the middle. LB Chase Thomas gets the bulk of the publicity, because he has 7.5 tackles for losses and 5.5 sacks, but the biggest reason for the Cardinal's defensive success is the work of the front three -- Ben Gardner, Matt Masifilo and Terrence Stephens. The Cardinal started the game against Washington State with just two defensive linemen, four linebackers and five defensive backs.
Huskies: Washington is 5-1 overall for the first time since 2001 and 3-0 in conference play for the first time since 1997. ... Washington's eight-game winning streak from 1959-1966 and the 10-game losing skid from 1967-76 were Washington's longest streaks in the series with Stanford. ... Washington's pass defense remains ranked 116th in the nation, allowing 303.7 yards per game. UW has gotten steadier play of late from sophomore CB Greg Ducre, who has taken over for senior Quinton Richardson. But Ducre and fellow cornerback Desmond Trufant will need to come up big this week ... Washington has outscored its opponents 77-41 in the first quarter this year. ... UW's 52 points against Colorado were its most since a 53-3 win over Idaho in 2001. ... QB Keith Price is now second in the nation in touchdown passes with 21, one behind Baylor's Robert Griffin III, who has 22. The 21 TD passes are already tied as the fourth-best ever in school history.
Cardinal: Stanford has won 14 straight games, which is the nation's longest winning streak and the longest winning streak in school history. ... By moving into the polls for the first time this season, Washington becomes Stanford's first ranked opponent of the year. None of the Cardinal's six victims has a winning record. ... Stanford's 41-0 win over Washington last season in Seattle was the Huskies' first shutout loss at home since 1976. ... Stanford has outscored its foes 50-0 in the first quarter this year and 78-6 in the third. ... The Cardinal has converted 31-of-31 red zone opportunities with 25 of the scores being touchdowns. UW is third in the red zone at 23-26 and has played well on defense in the red zone, limiting teams to just 16 touchdowns in 28 trips inside the 20-yard line.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
RB Chris Polk -- Polk had a workmanlike 117 yards against Colorado and now is up to 3,289 for his career, getting within reach of Napoleon Kaufman's school career record of 4,106. Polk remains somewhat unnoticed nationally but can make a real case this weekend against a Stanford defense ranked No. 2 in the nation against the rush, allowing just 59.5 per game -- Polk is rushing for 121.3 on his own.
DT Alameda Ta'amu -- The senior appears to be rounding into form after overcoming a broken hand earlier in the season. But he will be needed to play his best game of the season this week against Stanford's physical offensive line.
LB Cort Dennison -- The senior is tied for second in the Pac-12 in tackles with 50 and will have a key role this week in defending Stanford's running game.
QB Andrew Luck -- Lucks ranks third in the nation in pass efficiency, and although he did not have a particularly good game against Washington State, he still earned Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors. He should have a big game against Washington's suspect pass defense.
TEs Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo -- Stanford's offense took off in the second half against Washington State when these three became involved in the passing game. Fleener has six touchdown receptions and is particularly effective in the red zone. All three may be in the game at the same time, which gives the Cardinal all kinds of play-calling options.
TB Stepfan Taylor -- A good runner (93.2 yards a game) and good receiver (11 catches), Taylor's best asset may be his pass-blocking. He's a big reason Stanford has yielded just two sacks, the fewest in the country. He's not as spectacular as some backs, but he's as well-rounded a back as you'll find.
WR Kasen Williams (ankle, probable), S Taz Stevenson (knee, out).
S Delano Howell (hand, out), WR Chris Owusu (head/upper body, questionable), TE Tyler Gaffney (side, questionable).