No. 8 Stanford at Washington
Thursday, 9:00 p.m. EST, ESPN
Line: Stanford -7
So Stanford fans, we hope you had fun. Because just two weeks after pulling off the biggest upset of the season (not to mention biggest win of David Shaw’s short tenure at your school) and getting a week off to celebrate, it’s back to work. This weekend, the toughest challenge of your season awaits.
That challenge (should you choose to accept it) will come when Stanford heads to Seattle, for a Thursday night showdown with Washington. The matchup with the Huskies will also double as Stanford’s first road game of the season.
So, can a young, inexperienced team handle the road against a hungry Washington club? Let’s take a look.
For Stanford to Win: Their best bet is to try to take the crowd out of the game early, and their best chance at doing that is to simply execute the exact same offensive plan they did against USC. That game-plan is to essentially to get Josh Nunes going early with easy throws, move the chains with Stepfan Taylor and keep the other offense off the field. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt to crush the opposing quarterback at every opportunity too, like the Cardinal did against USC.
Sounds simple enough, right? And at least on defense it should be.
We’ll get to Nunes and the offense in a second, but on the other side of the ball, Stanford should be able to have similar success against Washington that they did against USC. Remember, the Cardinal had the benefit of playing the Trojans when center Khaled Holmes was banged up, and heading into this game it looks to be much the same. The Huskies announced on Monday guard Colin Tanigawa is out for the year, making him the fourth projected preseason starter on the offensive line that Washington has lost to this point in the season.
It should be another big day for Stanford’s front seven on Saturday.
For Washington to Win: It’s actually pretty simple. If they can hold Taylor in check- yes, the same guy who rushed for 153 yards against USC- they will win this game.
The question now becomes whether they’ll actually be able to do it or not.
Remember this is the same Washington team that two weeks ago went down to LSU and not only got crushed by the Tigers (the final score was 41-3), but were literally overwhelmed by their run game as well. LSU finished that night with 242 yards on the ground, with three backs (Alfred Blue, Michael Ford and Spencer Ware) all averaging at least 4.8 yards per carry. And the scary thing is that with less injury and less attrition on the offensive line (not to mention an extra week off to rest) there’s a real chance that Stanford might actually have a better running game than LSU.
That’s bad news for Huskies fans.
Key Player, Stanford: Clearly, Washington’s game-plan will be to take Taylor out of the game, which means all the pressure falls squarely on the shoulders of Nunes. The question now, is whether or not he’s ready.
Looking at the stats, Nunes has been efficient but not spectacular this year, with 53 percent completion percentage, six touchdowns and three picks. Not great, no, but to his credit he played “well enough” against USC to get the win.
Then again, he wasn’t on the road, on a Thursday night either.
Key Player, Washington: It’s no secret that for Washington to put up points they’re going to have keep the pressure off of quarterback Keith Price. That’s something that won’t be easy with the injuries on the line we mentioned above.
That’s also why tight end Austin Serefain-Jenkins is so important. Not only is Serefain-Jenkins the Huskies best pass-catcher (he leads the team with 20 catches for 211 yards), but he also provides a safety valve for Price to get rid of the ball quickly and get out of harm’s way.
The Huskies don’t have much of a run game (ranking just 106th nationally this season), so getting the ball to their tight end quickly and often will be key Thursday.
Key Stat: 111th, which is where Washington ranks amongst 124 Division I teams in total offense. It is last in the Pac-12, and fourth worst amongst all BCS conference teams. Most importantly, it’s also a bit misleading, given that more than half those yards (429 of 790) came against FCS school Portland State.
It also raises the simple question: Will Washington be able to score enough points to keep up?
That’s what everyone will want to know Thursday night.
For all his insight, articles and analysis on college football, follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.