Washington and Stanford need to keep pace with Oregon in the Pac-12 North Division, and Saturday’s showdown in Seattle should provide an early glimpse into which team could challenge the Ducks for the top spot in the North.
Despite a 4-0 start, Washington might be the biggest mystery in the Pac-12. The Huskies struggled to beat Hawaii and trailed at halftime against Georgia State but also hammered Illinois 44-19. Chris Petersen was one of the top hires of the offseason coach carousel, and it’s possible Petersen and his staff have been holding back a few tricks until Pac-12 play starts. Can Petersen deliver the big results at Washington like he did at Boise State? Saturday’s game against Stanford is a huge opportunity for Petersen in his first season.
Stanford lost its only Pac-12 matchup of the year – 13-10 against USC – but defeated UC Davis and Army by a combined score of 80-0. Saturday’s game against Washington headlines a tough upcoming road schedule for coach David Shaw’s team, as a trip to Notre Dame awaits next week, followed by games at Arizona State, Oregon and UCLA later this year.
Washington owns a 41-38-4 series edge over Stanford. The Huskies have won only one of the last six meetings in this series. Washington claimed a 17-13 victory over Stanford in 2012.
Stanford at Washington
Kickoff: 4:15 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Stanford -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Stanford OL vs. Washington DL
The strength of Stanford’s offense in recent years has been its offensive line. But coach David Shaw is dealing with transition up front, as four new starters are in place for 2014. This unit has a ton of potential and is headlined by future stars in left tackle Andrus Peat, guard Joshua Garnett and tackle Kyle Murphy. So far, it hasn’t been an easy transition for Stanford. The Cardinal averaged only 3.4 yards per carry against USC and has allowed six sacks in three games. In time, this unit will be a strength. But entering Saturday’s game against Washington, the Cardinal could have their hands full. The Huskies have a veteran front, featuring four senior starters and two potential All-America candidates in tackle Danny Shelton and end Hau’oli Kikaha. Shelton – almost unheard of from a defensive tackle – leads the team with 40 stops and has registered seven sacks. Washington leads the Pac-12 with 19 total sacks and ranks third in its conference against the run.
2. Stanford’s Passing Game
With the turnover in the trenches and at running back, Stanford needed to lean more on quarterback Kevin Hogan in 2014. The junior has been steady in his career, but his completion percentage dipped by 10 points from 2012 to 2013. Hogan has one of the Pac-12’s top receiving corps at his disposal, which should create a favorable matchup for the Cardinal with an inexperienced Washington defensive backfield. The Huskies have allowed 11 passing scores so far and two true freshmen – Sidney Jones and Budda Baker – will start on Saturday. Can Hogan take advantage of a struggling Washington secondary? Or will the Huskies’ pass rush neutralize some of the concerns on the back end?
3. Washington QB Cyler Miles
Miles was suspended for the opener due to an off-the-field incident in February, and the sophomore is just starting to get comfortable in the new offense. Through three games, Miles has passed for 525 yards and five scores and has added 114 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. While Miles still needs more snaps to get acclimated to coordinator Jonathan Smith’s offense, this is his biggest test of the season. Stanford’s defense returned seven starters from last year’s unit that limited opponents to just 19 points a game. Each level of the Cardinal defense can present problems for Washington’s offense, and Miles needs to have his best game of the season to lead the Huskies to a win. Stanford's rush defense has been vulnerable through the first three games, so Miles needs help from his ground attack to prevent a heavy pass approach against the Cardinal pass rush.
This game is full of mysteries and question marks. How far has Washington progressed under first-year coach Chris Petersen? Can the Cardinal bounce back after outplaying – but losing – to USC earlier this year? Winning on the road in the Pac-12 is never easy, and the Huskies should rise to the challenge and play their best game of 2014. Stanford’s offense does just enough, with receiver Ty Montgomery and running back Barry Sanders making a few plays in the fourth quarter to give the Cardinal a slight win over Washington.