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Hank Waddles of the "Go Mighty Card" blog was kind enough to spend some time with us this week previewing Thursday nights game from a Cardinal perspective.
John - Where do you feel the Stanford offense is now in comparison to last season?
Hank - Wow, you don't waste any time, do you? Last year's Stanford offense was a thing of perfection. Though some might've taken Andrew Luck for granted, I never did. I appreciated every single down, even in games like the Washington matchup last season when he did his best work before the ball was snapped and rarely threw the ball. This year things are obviously different. I'm sorry for changing your question on you, but it makes more sense to compare this team to the '09 squad. That was Andrew Luck's first year, and he developed slowly, much like first-year quarterback Josh Nunes has been. (Their numbers through three games are eerily similar.) Protecting Luck that year was a dominant offensive line led by three future All-Americas (Jonathan Martin, Chase Beeler, and David DeCastro), and this year Nunes shares the huddle with a line that could be just as talented, if not as experienced. In 2009, Luck's greatest asset was Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart in the backfield, just as Nunes enjoys the luxury of handing the ball to Stepfan Taylor, who will likely be Stanford's all-time leading rusher by the end of the season. But here's the biggest similarity -- that '09 offense didn't scare anybody until the game was over and they looked at the scoreboard as they limped back to the locker room on the short end of a physical beating. The same can be said for this year's squad. No one expects Josh Nunes to pile up points, but he doesn't really have to. The offensive line should be dominant, and Nunes just has to avoid big mistakes. The points will take care of themselves.
John - What challenges does a mobile QB like Keith Price give the Stanford defense?
The Stanford front seven battered Matt Barkley ten days ago, largely because he stood in the pocket like a statue all night long. Stanford has difficulty defending mobile quarterbacks, just as most college defenses do, but throughout the early part of this season the defensive players and coaches have been preaching the need to stay in their lanes, trust their teammates, and eliminate big plays. That idea worked to perfection against Robert Woods and Marqise Lee and the rest of the Trojans, but it remains to be seen how the Cardinal will respond to the improvisational skills of Price. The problem Price will face, though, is that he likely won't have a run game to fall back on. Stanford's front should negate any rushing threat, making even the unpredictable Price a bit predictable.
John - Who is your biggest threat on offense not named Stephan Taylor?
One interesting thing about Nunes is that he doesn't seem to have found a favorite receiver yet. Over the course of these first three games he's spread his passes around quite a lot. Sophomore wide receiver Ty Montgomery is far and away the most talented Stanford wideout, but the playbook hasn't opened up quite wide enough yet for him to make much of an impact thus far. Junior tight end Levine Toilolo, a 6'8" freak of nature, has developed into option #1 in the red zone, especially inside the ten, and Zach Ertz continues to play well.
John - If you were going to attack the Stanford defense where would you strike first?
As great as the front seven is -- I think that's the third time in four questions that I've mentioned that -- Stanford fans entered the season terribly worried about the secondary. Senior safeties Delano Howell and Michael Thomas left after last season, and defensive backs who remained hadn't done much to inspire any confidence. After the USC game, however, everything has changed. Even though this was the fourth straight win for the Cardinal over the Trojans, Barkley and the USC offense had played extremely well in each of the previous three losses. This year, however, David Shaw revealed that the plan going into the game was to force them to throw, and the secondary responded to the challenge, essentially shutting down the best wide receiver tandem of the past two or three decades. The Huskies really have no choice but to go directly at the secondary, but since their offensive line is in even greater disarray than the Trojans', since Keith Price isn't the passer that Barkley is, and since they have no receivers of the caliber of Woods or Lee, I doubt they'll find any success.
John - Do you think the crowd will have a negative effect on the Cardinal?
This is the great unknown. Nunes passed one test last week as he played adequately well on a big stage against a marquee opponent, but he still hasn't played a road game. Here's something to watch for. The Stanford offense has had an inordinate number of delay of game penalties during the first three games as Nunes has struggled a bit to get the plays from the sideline, relay them in the huddle, and finally call the right one at the line of scrimmage. If he has trouble in Palo Alto in front of friends and family, what will happen in Seattle? Will he get frustrated? Will he rush his way into the wrong play call? It will certainly be interesting to see how he handles this hostile environment.
Finally, even though you didn't ask, I'll give you a final score: Stanford 31, Washington 10.