(8) Stanford (3-0) vs. Washington (2-1)
Thursday, September 27, 9:00 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Phil Neuffer, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: In its first game since upsetting USC, the No. 8 Stanford Cardinal make a trip to Seattle to take on the Washington Huskies in a Pac-12 conference clash at CenturyLink Field.
Stanford had an extra week off after it downed the Trojans 21-14, giving the Cardinal four consecutive wins against USC. The victory catapulted the Cardinal up the national rankings from No. 21 to No. 8 as the team has opened the season 3-0 for the third straight season. It was the conference opener for the Cardinal, who went 8-1 and tied for the top spot in the Pac-12 North Division last season.
"Whether people say we should or shouldn't win, we have to go into games expecting to win," head coach David Shaw said. "We expect to play at a high level, no matter who our competition is."
Like Stanford, Washington also had a bye last weekend after routing FCS opponent Portland State 52-13. The win was the second of the season for the Huskies who are now 2-1 on the young campaign. In the game the Huskies scored 45 points in the first half which tied a record for points in a half and was the most since 1999. Washington has yet to play a conference contest this season but will be looking to improve on the squad's 5-4 record in league play from last season.
This has been one of the more tightly contested rivalries in the Pac-12 with Washington holding a slim 40-38-4 edge. Last season was a win for Stanford though as the Cardinal posted a 65-21 win behind a school record 446 rushing yards. Stanford has won the last four matchups with the Huskies.
Since taking over for Andrew Luck as the Cardinal starter this season Josh Nunes has done a respectable job under center. The junior has thrown for 615 yards and six scores on the season although his completion percentage (53.4 and three interceptions are less than stellar. Nunes is coming off a tough game against USC where he completed just 15-of-32 passes for 215 yards and two scores but also two interceptions.
Nunes' efforts have been enough though thanks to the Cardinal's strong ground attack led by senior running back Stepfan Taylor. In the win over USC, Taylor rushed for 153 yards on 27 caries, while scoring the winning touchdown on a 23-yard run at the end of the third quarter. Taylor is ranked fifth in the conference in rushing this season (338 yards) despite playing a game less than the top four rushers. Taylor is also the teams leader in receptions with 10 on the season while Zach Ertz (146 yards) is the top pass-catcher in terms of yardage.
"That is our game. In a tight game in the fourth quarter we are going to run the ball," Shaw said while stressing the need to finish games like the Cardinal did against USC, "Our guys have to play four quarters."
Overall though Stanford's offense has not been one of the top units in the conference, with the team ranked ninth in the league in total offense (356.7 ypg).
That offensive production has been enough thanks to an impressive defense this season. In a conference filled with high-powered offenses, Stanford is currently ranked second in total defense (317.7 ypg). The Cardinal are especially stingy against the run, allowing just 125 yards on the ground through the first three games of the season.
Against USC and its talented roster the Cardinal allowed only 280 yards of total offense and brought down Heisman hopeful Matt Barkley four times for sacks. The Cardinal were especially tough to move the ball on third down, with the Trojans going 0-for-12 on conversion attempts.
On the season outside linebacker Chase Thomas has been the leader in tackles (19) while Ben Gardner has done a good job on the edge with a team high five tackles for loss. Ed Reynolds has snagged three interceptions, while Jordan Richards has six pass breakups and eight passes defended.
Washington struggled to score in its first two games of the season with just 24 points in the two matchups, but the Huskies got back on track with the 52 points it put up in the win over Portland State. The Huskies 429 yards of total offense in the game accounted for almost half of the team's total offense production all season (940).
Quarterback Keith Price looked more like the 2011 version in the win over Portland State, throwing for 181 yards on 14-for-19 passing including three touchdowns. Price threw for over 3,000 yards and 32 touchdowns last season and completed 66.9 percent of his passes last season. So far in 2012 his numbers have been slightly down with a 62.2 completion percentage and 560 yards passing with four touchdowns.
Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins have been the top two pass catchers for the Huskies. Seferian-Jenkins is one of the better tight ends in the conference with a team-high 20 receptions for 211 yards and a touchdown. Williams has 15 catches for 163 yards and two scores. The tandem's 35 combined receptions is more than half of the teams total (59).
The Huskies' run game has been less successful running the ball this season with only 436 yards and a 3.3 yards per carry as a team. Erich Wilson (5.7 yards per carry) has been the most explosive rusher although Bishop Sankey leads the team in carries (44) and yards (200).
Opponents have out-gained the Huskies by a 1,025-to-940 margin in total offense although against Portland State, Washington allowed only 261 yards of offense. That production has been spread evenly on the run (524 yards) and the pass (501).
The team's strength so far has been in the linebacking corps with Thomas Tutogi (19) and John Timu (18). Cornerback Desmond Trufant leads the team in tackles for loss with 3.5.
Shaw has clearly proven that Andrew Luck was not the only reason for Stanford's success the past few seasons. Shaw's squad is a a team that relies on a strong run game and an even stronger defense. The Huskies won't be a pushover though with proven skill on offense, but as long as Nunes can make plays in the passing game when needed the Cardinal will be tough to beat.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Stanford 23, Washington 14
09/26 10:36:38 ET