Jim Harbaugh has done a marvelous job rebuilding a football program that was down even more than Washington was when he arrived. Many speculated the year before he arrived that Stanford may have just been the worst team in Pac 10 conference history. That myth was dispelled when they beat Washington in Seattle after Ty Willingham had demotivated his team by announcing Suddenly Senior Day.
Stanford was picked by most experts to go bowling this season and climb into the conferences first division. The Tree likes to run the ball and they have the conferences best big back in Sr. Toby Gephart. Stanford ran the ball down Washington's throat last year in Husky Stadium and they will try to do the same thing this Saturday on the Farm.
Andrew Luck is a real good looking QB with great mobility. He doesn't have Locker like speed but he can run a good 4.6 which can help keep him out of trouble. The Cards prefer to run a power offense and try to keep Luck under 20 throws per game. Luck only threw the ball 12 times last week. He had 9 completions for 170 yards, one TD, and one interception.
One area of concern for Stanford had been on the offensive line. The Cards are starting two RS frosh at tackles. Washington has played against two of the best offensive lines in college football over the past couple weeks and done well. Even Idaho had a surprisingly good OL with an NFL candidate or two. Our DE's could be able to exploit the Cardinal inexperience out on the edge. DTN going up against a RS frosh is a big mismatch.
Harbaugh likes to run the ball and Washington has proven itself to be very tough against the run despite giving up 250 yards to USC last Saturday. 114 of those yards were generated by the Trojans in the first quarter. Once the Huskies settled down and made adjustments they kept the Trojan RB's in check and out of the end zone the rest of the day.
I think Stanford is too one dimensional and that is why they lost on the road at Wake Forest. If you contain Gephart, and Washington has that ability, you can force them into making mistakes. Turnovers were a problem even in a convincing win over SJSU. The Tree fumbled three times and were intercepted once. It won't bode well for Stanford if they are minus four in the turnover ratio against UW on Saturday night.
The Tree returns eight starters on a defense that is definitely on the upswing. Linebacker Clinton Snyder has all league potential and is the leader of the defense, but the strength should be up front. Defensive ends Tom Keiser and Erik Lorig are capable of wreaking havoc in the backfield and tackles Brian Bulcke and Ekom Udofia are both good looking upperclassmen. They held SJSU to only 24 rushing yards on 28 carries last week which is a big improvement over the 251 they gave up the previous week against Wake Forest. They sacked the Spartans 6 times for a total loss of 57 yards. Washington's offensive line has gone up against two top ten defense in the past three weeks. I don't think what Stanford is going to throw at them is going to be intimidating.
The Cards needed to improve their pass defense. This season they have given up 200 yards through the air to SJSU, 207 to Wake Forest, and 247 to WSU. Bo McNally is a capable centerfielder but he needs more help back there. The Cardinal yielded 18 touchdown passes and picked off just seven in 2008, despite getting plenty of help from a healthy pass rush.
The last time a healthy Jake Locker played Stanford was on the road in Palo Alto two years ago. Locker dominated the Cardinal on the ground and through the air. He arrives this time a more polished player with better and more experienced tools surrounding him. I don't think Stanford can stop the Washington passing attack. I also don't think they can contain him on the run when Washington decides to use him that way.
Washington is among the top in the Pac 10 in passing offense but they also have the ability to run the ball well. The tandem of Chris Polk and Johri Fogerson have been effective for three straight games. Theoretically they should have an easier time running the ball against Stanford than they did USC.
The key to the game for Washington is to adapt to playing on the road, avoid all the distractions following the USC upset, eliminate mistakes, and methodically pound the Cardinal into submission by wearing out their depth. Locker should have a big day against the Stanford DB's. Polk should be able to find all the holes he needs to keep the offense in balance.
Defensively the Huskies need to tackle well, aim low, and wrap up because Gephart is a real load to bring down once he gets a head of steam going. Andrew Luck is a better QB than Aaron Corp so the Washington defensive backfield will be tested more this weekend. If Washington controls the run and builds a lead the Tree will have to turn to the pass. Luck throws a very good ball and because of his mobility is hard to sack. UW needs a good game out of their secondary.
The Cards are well coached, motivated, and are playing at home. They have the ability to win this game if they outplay Washington. Even if it isn't a big crowd there is always a home field advatage. They have talent and are capable of making some big plays which can put the opposition on its heals. Chris Owusu returned the opening kickoff 94 yards for a TD against SJSU which put the Spartans into a hole they never recovered from. Washington needs to eliminate big plays like that.
Overall I like the Huskies chances in this game even though the oddsmakers opened with Stanford as a nine point favorite. Kickoff is currently scheduled for 6:00 PM and the game will be broadcast live on Fox College Sports.