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Stanford Preview

In the pre-season you probably wouldn't have pointed to this game as being one of the decisive games in determining the Pac 10 championship. Washington's upset over USC last week and strong play through the season's first three games has changed that.

Washington and Stanford enter the game as co leaders in the conference race. If Washington can beat the Cardinal last week’s upset over USC will have a lot more national validity. Winning one game is great...proving you can continue to win on a week to week basis is how championships are won.

Washington and Stanford are in unfamiliar territory right now. The top of the conference has been dominated by USC, Cal, and Oregon over the past six to seven years. The Huskies and Tree's on the other hand are more used to facing off to avoid the conference basement.

Young coaches have made a significant difference for both programs. Jim Harbaugh knows what it is like to knock off USC for example. He got that one out of the way early in one of the most stunning upsets in college football history. What he has done since is recruit extremely well on a national basis. UW is having a strong 2010 recruiting class but Stanford is actually even doing better. The current Stanford class is rated #1 in the Pac 10 and #8 overall in the country according to Scout.

When you break down Stanford and Washington position by position you realize exactly how even these two teams are right now from an overall talent perspective. Even in areas where I gave UW the edge the Cardinal are very close.

What stands out for me right now the most  for me is Jake Locker. Jake is the best player in the conference and he can burn you in so many ways. Luck is very good and is probably the #2 guy in the conference right now despite being a RS frosh. That being said the level of experience and proficiency is on Locker's side. The thing that really separate Jake and Andrew is Jake's ability to simply make big plays when he has to. The final drive of the USC game is testament to his play making ability.

The odds makers favor Stanford by 9 points in this one and I think the smart money out there should be on Washington if the line holds. Stanford historically has a lot of problems with mobile QB' and Jake is the ultimate mobile QB on this side of the Mississippi.

Position Match Ups

Quarterback - Washington...Jake Locker has completed 60% of his passes so far this season and he is a threat to take the ball to the end zone every time he runs it. Locker just may have evolved into the best player in the Pac Jake was masterful last week against a tough USC defense. The win over USC is a huge confidence builder. Andrew Luck is going to be a real good QB. The Huskies face a player that is much better than Aaron Corp this week. He is mobile and throws the ball really well when he has to. This may be the match up of the two best QB's in the Pac 10.

Tailbacks - Even...Toby Gephart is one of the top power running backs in the country. You have to hit him behind the line, you have to hit him low, and wrap him up at the ankles, or he can really hurt you. Chris Polk may not have the size that Gephart has but as we saw against USC last week he knows how to move the pile forward against a couple of the best defenses in college football.

Fullback - Washington...Homer only touched the ball once last week but his true value is blocking for Locker and Polk. Add in Fogerson when he is at H-Back and UW gets the nod.

Wide Receivers - Washington...Chris Owusu and Doug Baldwin are big play threats, and Ryan Whalen is very consistent, but Washington has more depth here than Stanford. The Huskies are a passing team and Stanford is a running team that can actually pass pretty well when they have to. James Johnson and Jermain Kearse have evolved into UW's go to guys but the huskies actually do a pretty good job of spreading it around which is the sign of having a good QB.

Tight Ends - Even...Kavario Middleton is still learning. He had a couple of mistakes last week that probably took points off the scoreboard. His blocking can be termed a work in progress. He does have sticky hands and has the potential of having many big days this season. Jim Dray and Coby Fleener return for Stanford. Dray is still shaking off the rust from a knee injury last season. Stanford has and edge in blocking while Middleton is the better receiver.

Offensive Line - Even...Washington's offensive line has surprised in the early going playing some pretty tough defenses. Ben Ossai has resurrected his career and had a fine game against USC last week. David DeCastro a Seattle native has claimed a starting job for Stanford. Andrew Phillips is probably the best player on the Stanford line. Early injuries have forced the Cards to start two RS tackles.

Defensive Tackle...Even...This is a pretty tough call because Stanford is led by Ekon Udofia who is four year starter. Washington gets a slight edge because of the flexibility they attacked USC with last week. Washington can go with big or small lineups based on speed. The move of Everette Thompson to DT last week was brilliant. Expect UW to go large this weekend.

Defensive End...Even...Another tough call because Stanford has some talented DE's. Daniel Teo Nesheim is one of the conference’s best and the addition of Talia Crichton on the other side is giving UW some true speed on the pass rush. Stanford's Erik Lorig and Tom Keiser both earned Pac 10 honorable all star status last season.

Linebacker...Washington...I think it is pretty tough to find a better trio then Washington has in Foster, Savannah and Butler. Another impressive factor was how well the depth played last week. Stanford sports a pretty good trio in Snyder, Amajoyi, and Powers.

Cornerback...Washington...Going into the season the CB position was a big question mark. Things have worked out better than expected. Quinton Richardson is having an excellent season and Desmond Trufant is going to be a four year starter. Trufant looks like his older brother out there and he will keep improving every week. his potential is quite amazing. Vonzell McDowell has been solid as a starter, fifth back, and backup.

Safety...Washington...Nate Williams is having a great year and he found a good running mate last week in Justin Glenn. Glenn was a factor all over the field. He tackles and hits well. He has great coverage abilities too. Bo McNally is a pretty good player but he has too many holes to cover as the Stanford as the Card center fielder. Delano Howell whose brother played LB at UW and just needs experience after moving over from RB.

Special Teams...Stanford...Erik Folk was the hero last week and Will Mahan had some good punts. Washington isn't giving up big plays in coverage, but they haven't created any big plays in the return game. The Cards appear solid so far in every single area. The thing that gives the edge in this one going in is the return game. they have brought it back to the house three times so far on returns.

Game Match ups

Washington running game versus the Stanford defense

Stanford has an active front seven that is used to facing a power running game each day in practice. They held SJSU to only 26 yards on 28 carries last week. They didn't do so well against Wake Forest. They gave up 250 yards and that was the tale of the game. They just couldn't figure out the Demon Deacon offense which is pretty tricky.

Washington has been able to run against everyone this year. You would think that LSU and USC would have been able to hut them down but they didn't. The Huskies haven't had any big plays yet but they do pick up big yardage on first down which has helped the offense become one of the national leaders in third down conversions.

Chris Polk is the best looking Washington back in over a decade. He has all the tools. He can catch the ball, run with power, and he has the speed to break the long one. What has really set Chris apart this fall has been his ability to make yards after contact. Polk carried the USC line for valuable extra yards last Saturday.

The last time Jake played in Palo Alto he had a field day running the football. If the coaches decide to give 10-12 pre designed running plays he is very capable of picking up 70-100 rushing yards against the Tree's.

Washington Passing Game versus the Stanford defense

Jake Locker has the potential to light up the Stanford secondary this week. Stanford has been giving up over 200 yards per game this season and it won't change on Saturday. I look for Jake to have a big game and go over the 300 mark.

Stanford has the potential to put together a pretty good pass rush. Locker's speed and mobility on the other hand allow him to avoid problems in the backfield. While another QB may end up with a coverage sack Jake can turn that into a 20 yard run.

Washington's receivers have been excellent so far this season. We only counted two drops against USC last week. James Johnson is playing like a senior only three weeks into his first Husky campaign. Jermaine Kearse has been a proven big play guy converting big time on third down to keep drives moving.

What separates UW from Stanford is the multiple targets Jake has to choose from each game. I wouldn't be surprised to see nine players pick up receptions this Saturday.

Stanford rushing game versus the Washington defense

The Cardinal are a power running team. They fumbled three times last week and that will be a big problem if they continue the habit against Washington. Gephart is very hard to bring down if you don't hit him in the backfield. If he gets into the secondary he runs like a freight train and is almost impossible to bring down.

A big key for Washington in this one is taking advantage of the turnover prone Cardinal. If the Huskies can create and extend an early lead it puts the onus on Stanford QB Andrew Luck rather than Toby Gephart. If you can take Gephart out of the game plan you are probably going to win this game.

The Husky defensive line did a great job controlling a big back in the LSU game. They adjusted in the first quarter and were able to handle the USC rushing game after the Trojans got off to a fast start. I think Washington should be able to contain Gephart for the most part but a back like that usually finds a way to get his yards if he gets the ball.

Stanford passing game versus the Washington Defense

Andrew Luck is a great looking QB who will most likely be playing in the NFL some day. He has a lot more mobility than I thought and he is a very accurate passer. The key to Luck as with any young QB is to rattle him early and keep rattling him throughout the game.

The special teams battle

Stanford's Chris Owusu returned the opening kickoff last week 94 yards for a TD against SJSU. Stanford has returned three kicks so far for TD's this year. Washington needs to be careful in coverage and take away the Stanford return game. UW was very successful against LSU and USC in doing that. Mahan is an excellent touch punter but he had a couple of muffs last week. He needs to be on his game against Stanford. Erik Folk was the hero last week with three FG's. He has been very accurate this season during games but fans hold their breath every time he approaches the ball. Last spring it was doubtful if we could convert a PAT or FG. Right now his kicking has become a team strength.

Washington needs to eliminate the big play return in this game to win this segment of the game. They need to keep the ball out of the hands of Chris Owusu.

The intangibles

Crowd noise is a huge factor on the road. Just ask Aaron Corp, Pete Carroll, or Todd Marinovich. Stanford on the other hand has little crowd noise because the games are so poorly attended. UW fans could conceivably outnumber Cardinal fans. UW has a large alumni base in the Bay Area. Expected attendance will be in the 30,000 range.

Three of Stanford's four turnovers resulted in all 17 of San Jose State's points last week. If they do that against a much tougher Washington defense they are going to be in big trouble.

"That's the best quarterback we've played in nine years here," Pete Carroll said when told Washington has beaten only Idaho and USC the last two years. " Jake Locker has ridiculous talent, and had he remained healthy last year, Tyrone [Willingham] would still be coaching there."

Washington needs to avoid enjoying the win over USC for too long. I Washington didn't start focusing on Stanford by practice on Monday they could be in for a long day Saturday. Coach Steve Sarkisian echoed that thought with this statement:

"There aren’t enough hours in the day to be looking at what everybody else is saying, or how we’re going to do something, or what we should do or shouldn’t do," Steve Sarkisian said. "This is about us, and our preparation. We can’t waver from who we are."

Washington is a football team that has to work very hard for everything they get. They can't forget that. Washington doesn't win football games by having more talent. They win by having their talent work harder and smarter than the opposition. As a team they can't get away from that no matter how good Jake Locker is.

Game Notes

Stanford won 35-28 last season in Husky Stadium.

Washington leads the all-time series 40-35-4.

Stanford DE Tom Keiser had three sacks against San Jose State and he's tied for first in the conference with four sacks and ranks first with six tackles for a loss.

Jake Locker leads the conference so far with five TD passes.

Jake's season ended early in the game against Stanford last season when he broke his thumb throwing a block.

The Huskies are third in the nation in third-down conversion percentage at 60%.

USC went 0-10 in third down conversions against the Washington defense.

Chris Owusu ranks No. 1 in the nation in kickoff returns. He's averaging 52.8 yards per return and has taken two back for touchdowns.

Stanford Safety Delano Howell's brother was a starting LB at Washington.

The Cardinal was up 17-3 at the half against Wake Forest and lost 24-17.

Toby Gerhart is one of the top tailbacks in the Pac-10 and a finalist for the Doak Walker Award.

Jim Harbaugh (11-16), third season. He was also the coach at the University of San Diego, where he went 22-2 from 2004-06. Harbaugh played 15 seasons in the NFL as a quarterback (1987-2001).

Harbaugh and Sarkisian have held the same position on the Oakland Raiders’ staff – quarterbacks coach. Harbaugh was there in 2002; Sarkisian in 2004.

In 2007, Stanford knocked off No. 2 USC in Harbaugh’s first season en route to finishing 4-8.

Three in-state high school players are on the Stanford roster – OG David DeCastro, QB Tavita Pritchard and WR Marcus Rance. Pritchard is a Clover Park High graduate, and an off-and-on starter the past two seasons.

The facilities arms race took on ridiculous extremes at Stanford, where, in the off season, Coach Jim Harbaugh had a bathroom installed adjacent to his office for an estimated $50,000 to 70,000, booster-financed.