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Opponent Defense Preview: Stanford

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The Cardinal’s versatile defense makes their way to Montlake.

NCAA Football: Stanford at UCLA Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Stanford. Stanford Stanford Stanford. I remember in 2006 when 12 year-old me watched them get their only win of the season at Husky Stadium while right next to me my mom groaned about how ridiculous this was, since Stanford was garbage and had been consistently so for a long time.

And then they got good, because why not.

Personnel

In order to refresh myself on Stanford’s defensive tendencies, I first reviewed some footage of them versus UCLA last Saturday. What I saw was simple enough: they lined up frequently (almost exclusively, in fact) in a 3-4 Bear/Eagle/Whatever that allowed for the outside linebackers to either bring in more pressure from the edge or drop into coverage while the two inside linebackers hung back behind the A or B gaps. I naively thought to myself, “Great, so now I’ll go write about what we can take away from that,” but right before I did that I then thought to myself, “Well, just to be thorough let’s watch a bit from the USC game. I’m sure it’ll be more of the same.”

That made everything way more complicated.

The first thing I saw was Stanford in UW’s own favorite, 2-4-5, followed by some 3-3-5s, a bit of 4-3, then 4-2-5, then 3-4. I even saw a casual dime package (3-2-6, I think?) thrown in against Kansas State out of nowhere just for shiz and giggles. It didn’t even make sense circumstantially. It was just thrown in there like “Oh hey K-State, whatchu gonna do about it?”

In other words, they’re adaptable as [expletive redacted].

So that’s gonna be a [expletive redacted] to deal with.

Assuming they execute cleanly - which we have all the evidence to say they will - Washington is going to be going up against a defense with which it will be incredibly hard to find mismatches seeing as how Stanford can switch their fronts around all the time to best fit what UW’s showing.

Right now their depth chart for Friday implies a base 3-4, but they clearly aren’t restricted to that.

In the position groups, their defensive line last year was seriously lacking in depth and, still, they played fine. (Credit the Randy Hart regime?) This year, in spite of Hart’s retirement, they should be getting better with an increase in depth and experience. Solomon Thomas is only a redshirt sophomore and already a well-known name for good reason. Opposite him is Dylan Jackson, a redshirt freshman who’s fought his way into the starting role, while Harrison Phillips returns at tackle from a year-long injury that kept him out last season.

On to the linebackers, Bill Connelly has this to say:

Of the 10 linebackers to record at least 9.5 tackles last year, eight are back, including a potentially awesome trio of OLBs in Peter Kalambayi, Joey Alfieri, and all-or-nothing Mike Tyler (13 tackles, 6.5 for loss). There's not even a guaranteed spot in the rotation for incoming all-world freshman OLB Curtis Robinson.

So that’ll be fun to go up against. Also, factoid of the day, Alfieri is a northwest native out of Portland powerhouse Jesuit High School, which is a main source of D1 talent in Oregon. Among their alumni include Oregon players Doug Brenner and Henry Mondeaux, former Oregon receiver and current 49ers assistant Keanon Lowe, and current Washington players Andrew Kirkland and Mike Petroff. Their current students include Oregon commit Demetrius Douglas and UCLA commit Jaxson Kirkland. You get the picture.

The one unit that could be a relative weakness Friday is Stanford’s secondary, and that’s 1) relative, and 2) mostly due to bad luck, since both starting cornerbacks, Quenton Meeks and Alijah Holder, have been ruled out due to injuries. If they were healthy, however, we would be looking at a situation not unlike UW last year - a bunch of young guys who were forced into playing the previous season, got their growing pains out of the way, and now are thriving. And if you look at Meeks and Holder last year, they more than held their own despite their youth.

Also in the secondary, their depth is improved by the return of safety Zach Hoffpauir, who left for a year to play minor league baseball and then decided to return to football. Imagine being so versatile an athlete that you can casually do that sort of thing.

Bottom Line

Based on Stanford listing a 3-4 depth chart and their tendency to show Okie/Eagle, Washington will likely find itself in the constraining position of having to avoid the clogged gaps in the middle and off-tackle runs, given the added pressure of the outside linebackers. And even then, the Cardinal has a stable of linebackers on the inside too who can stay fresh with the depth at that position and keep any Husky rushing attack from gaining too much steam if Gaskin or Coleman breaks free from the line.

The circumstances that really seem to favor the Dawgs is in the secondary due to Stanford’s bad timing where injuries are concerned. Luckily for UW, our receivers are overperforming based on what a lot of us were predicting just a month ago and that could make a big difference.

With all that in mind, the Huskies still have to adapt successfully to the different looks the Cardinal will show. Staying mentally engaged every snap could be a make-or-break point in this game more than usual, especially on Jake Browning’s end as his fabled film-study and ability to read defenses will be put to the test.

Do good things, don’t do bad things, and bow down to Washington.