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Entering the 2013 season, the Pac-12 North was considered a two-team race: Oregon and Stanford.
After five weeks, the Ducks and Cardinal are still considered the frontrunners for the Pac-12 title.
But is it time to move Washington into the contender category? Saturday’s game against Stanford is a huge barometer test for the Huskies and should provide some insight into how the North Division will stack up this season.
Washington opened the year with an impressive win over Boise State and defeated Illinois, Idaho State and Arizona to run its record to 4-0. Although the Broncos and Wildcats were good tests, Stanford is one of the nation’s top-five teams and is a better gauge for coach Steve Sarkisian.
Stanford has quietly rolled to a 4-0 start, winning all of its games by at least 14 points. The Cardinal is 2-0 in Pac-12 games, which includes a 55-17 dismantling of Washington State in Seattle last Saturday.
Washington holds a slight 41-38-4 edge in the overall series. The Huskies upset the Cardinal 17-13 in Seattle last year but lost the four prior meetings. From 2010-11, Stanford dominated Washington by a combined score of 106-21.
Washington vs. Stanford
Kickoff: 10:30 ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Stanford -7.5
Three Things to Watch
Washington OL vs. Stanford’s front seven
Washington’s offensive line was a major culprit in the team’s 7-6 record last season. Injuries played a role in the unit’s struggles, but inconsistency and overall poor play marred the Huskies’ front line. Washington allowed 2.9 sacks per game in 2012, including 26 in conference play. So far, this season has been a different story. Quarterback Keith Price is getting rid of the ball quicker, but the line has allowed just three sacks in four games. Saturday’s matchup against Stanford will be this unit’s toughest test of 2013, as the Cardinal boast one of the best front sevens in the nation. In addition to protecting Price, the Huskies’ line needs to open holes for running back Bishop Sankey, who is averaging 151.8 yards per game. Stanford has 26 tackles for a loss and nine sacks this year, with linebackers Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov representing the strength of the defense. If the Huskies give quarterback Keith Price time to throw, they have the receivers to make big plays in the passing game.
Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan
Considering Hogan plays in the same conference as Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly, Washington’s Keith Price and Oregon State’s Sean Mannion, perhaps he has been lost in the shuffle nationally. The sophomore has made significant strides as a passer this year, completing 63.2 percent of his throws and 10 touchdown passes in four games. Last season, Hogan didn’t start the full season, but he finished with just nine passing scores and averaged only 10 yards per completion. The sophomore is averaging nearly 15 yards per completion this season and also provides another threat on the ground (111 yards). In addition to Hogan’s improvement, Stanford also has more weapons at receiver, starting with Ty Montgomery (16.4 ypc), and Devon Cajuste and Michael Rector. Washington leads the Pac-12 in pass defense, and opposing quarterbacks are completing just 48.3 percent of their passes. No passer has managed more than 156 yards in a game against the Huskies this season. Of course, it certainly helps to have a strong pass rush (13 sacks). Can Hogan have success against this defense?
Stanford’s OL vs. Washington’s front seven
Our preview has focused heavily on the trenches, but it’s a crucial part of Saturday’s game. Stanford’s starting five on the offensive line averages a sturdy 305 pounds, with right tackle Cameron Fleming tipping the scales at 318. This unit is arguably the best offensive line in the nation, paving the way for Stanford rushers to average 5.3 yards per carry, and allowing only three sacks in four games. Washington’s front seven ranks fifth in the Pac-12 in rush defense and has generated 13 sacks. The Cardinal has an advantage in the trenches, but the Huskies held Stanford to just 65 rushing yards last year. Even though Stanford’s passing attack is improved this season, Washington needs to make the Cardinal one-dimensional by stopping the run on early downs.
Key Player: Keith Price, QB, Washington
Price didn’t play particularly well in last year’s matchup (19 of 37, 177 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT), but he connected with Kasen Williams on the game-winning score with less than five minutes to go. Price has a deep group of receivers at his disposal, including tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and receiver Jaydon Mickens (21 catches). The senior quarterback is completing 72.3 percent of his throws, which is significantly better than last year (60.9). Stanford’s defense is one of the best in the nation, and this matchup is Price’s biggest test so far this year. If Washington is going to win in Palo Alto, the senior has to play a mistake-free game.
Washington has closed the gap in the Pac-12 North, but Stanford is still the better team. The Huskies will have some success moving the ball and should trade punches with the Cardinal in the first half. However, Stanford’s offensive line and rushing attack will take control in the fourth quarter to earn the victory.
Prediction: Stanford 30, Washington 20