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Our weekly position previews of Washington's opponent. Today, we examine the defense of the Stanford Cardinal.
Honestly, I can't even think about the Stanford defense right now, because I'm still trying to comprehend what has to be one of the absolute worst calls I've ever seen on Monday Night Football that decided the game in the Seahawks' favor. As Will Ferrell's Alex Trebek once said on Celebrity Jeopardy, "Simply stunning."
While we're on the topic of last night's game, it's worthwhile to note that the Seahawks absolutely dominated Green Bay on the defensive side of the ball in the first half, sacking Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers eight times(!) in the game's first 30 minutes. If Century Link is host to a similar spectacle Thursday night on the part of the Tree D (is that a saying? If not, I'm absolutely taking credit for it right now), Washington's players will find themselves doing some serious soul-searching come Friday morning.
And unfortunately for the Washington faithful, that kind of performance is exactly what Stanford has delivered against the Huskies in the Steve Sarkisian era. In the three UW/Stanford games since 2009, UW has been outscored 35-140, including a 41-0 beatdown in 2010 that marked the first time that the Huskies were held scoreless at home since 1976. Turning those fortunes around will be the difference between Thursday night's nationally televised game being competitive and it being another curb stomping similar to what Husky fans have become accustomed to experiencing at the hands of the Cardinal in recent years.
Defensive Line: While I hold it to be an immutable truth that there is little use in putting much stock into national rankings this early in the season (see Arkansas, University of), there's a reason that Stanford currently has the nation's No. 1 rushing defense through three weeks: They know how to stuff their opponents ground attacks and dare opposing quarterbacks to beat them with their arms. What's more, Stanford's success hasn't relied on a single standout player on their three-man defensive front, as five of their linemen have accounted for at least a portion of the Cardinal's 26 tackles for loss through the year's first three games. Perhaps most intimidating among the group is Ben Gardner, who has tallied 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss through the season thus far.
Linebacker: This is where the Cardinal's defense really shines, thanks to the star power of playmakers like Shayne Skov, Chase Thomas, Trent Murphy and Jarek Lancaster. Skov and Thomas in particular are arguably the biggest reason that Stanford is 3-0 with a top-10 ranking after taking down USC, as they were both responsible for clutch sacks on Matt Barkley during USC's final drive that resulted in a feeble attempt to convert a fourth-and-40 (no, that's not a typo) in the game's waning moments. The entire front seven played a key role in shutting down both of SC's 1,000-yard rushers in Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd, who combined for 54 rushing yards, and completed the Herculean task of keeping Barkley from getting into a rhythym with either of his All American-caliber wide receivers, Marqise Lee and Robert Woods.
Cornerback: Show me a man who says that a defense needs long, rangy cornerbacks to compete in the Pac-12, and I'll show you a man who has never met Usua Amanam. The physically unimposing corner, who checks in at just 5'10" and 176 lbs., leads the Cardinal's potent defense in tackles (17), sacks (2.0, along with Muphy) and tackles for loss (4.5). Amanam doesn't have the stature of an elite collegiate cornerback, but plays with a tenacity that's not unlike that of Tyrann Mathieu, the Honey Badger himself. Keith Price could have a long day if Washington is unable to contain Amanam, who is the destructive equivalent of an F5 tornado when he makes it into an opponent's backfield on one of his blitzes from the dime package.
Safety: Like many true sophomores, Jordan Richards has two career interceptions. Unlike most sophomores, one of those picks came against Barkley, which began one of the young season's craziest swings in which Barkley and Josh Nunes combined to throw three interceptions on consecutive plays. Richards is accompanied in the backfield by redshirt sophomore Ed Reynolds, who has already collected three INTs, including a 70-yard pick-six against Duke in week 2.
In summation, the Huskies' potential for offensive success can be described as such: They need a running attack that is missing two of its top three halfbacks (Jesse Callier and Deontae Cooper), and three of its top five offensive linemen (Colin Tanigawa, Erik Kohler and Ben Riva), to find success against the nation's top run defense in order to open up a passing game against a squad that rendered Matt Barkley, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee impotent just 12 days prior.
Ain't optimism grand?