Covering another Washington-Stanford game brings back memories of what remains the greatest individual performance I’ve seen on this beat — Marques Tuiasosopo’s 300-200 game against the Cardinal at Husky Stadium in 1999 (I wrote a little about that game last year).
I bring that up not just for nostalgia reasons, however, but because this feels like the type of game where UW may need another similar-type “performance for the record books” to get the win.
Husky fans are justifiably optimistic about the direction of the program in general, and this season in particular.
But Stanford doesn’t have a nation-leading 14-game winning streak by accident. Andrew Luck isn’t the consensus best quarterback in the nation by default. And while the 21-point spread seems too high (though as Bud Withers noted today, there are some largely unseen reasons for that), there are lots of legitimate reasons why the Cardinal is considered a sizeable favorite.
None of that is to try to quash the enthuasiasm but to be realistic about the task that Washington faces tomorrow at Stanford Stadium — this is a lot better team than Nebraska.
I haven’t been doing position-by-position breakdowns this year, but if I did, I’d probably give the Cardinal the edge everywhere but receiver and running back (as good as Keith Price is and has been, hard to give him the nod over Luck on the road, and as good as Austin Seferian-Jenkins has been, Stanford’s overall tight end spot would have to be regarded as better — and maybe I’d call the overall special teams a push). On paper, Stanford has the edge on UW in every defensive area, though the advantages aren’t quite as great now with the Cardinal playing without two of its best players — strong safety Delano Howell and linebacker Shayne Skov.
And for as much as the focus here is on how this game will be a proving ground for the Huskies, the same can be said for Stanford’s defense, which has a lot of gaudy numbers (59.5 yards per game allowed on the ground and 2.1 chief among them) but has yet to play a really top-flight offense. As much as Stanford is UW’s most significant test, so is UW the same for Stanford — a significant sign in itself of the progress Washington has made.
The Huskies have given every indication that they should be able to score more on Stanford than anyone else has this season — the Cardinal hasn’t allowed more than 19 points in any game this season.
The question is whether UW can stop Stanford often enough to give its offense a chance to stay in the game.
Washington’s statistical numbers have started to even out a bit the last few weeks. Still, UW remains near the bottom of the Pac-12 in many categories, allowing 400.7 yards per game and 28.5 points per game. UW’s best defensive facet is its rush defense, allowing 97 yards per game. But Stanford will be the best power running team the Huskies have faced (Nebraska was better overall, maybe, but challenged the Huskies in a different way with all of the running by quarterback Taylor Martinez — Luck can run well, as anyone who saw last year’s game can attest, but hasn’t been doing it this year with just 60 yards on 13 carries). We’ll see if UW’s rush defense is really as good as its numbers or if it may be a little misleading because of the teams Washington has played (in the same way it could be argued the other way that maybe the passing defense numbers are inflated for the same reason).
Realistically, it’s hard to see UW’s defense consistently stopping Stanford without some help — what they call unforced errors in the tennis world. That’s often how big upsets occur. Unfortunately for UW, Luck is pretty good at avoiding those, among the many traits that have him rated as highly as he is.
But you never know — maybe this is the one game where he stumbles, karmic payback for the Huskies losing their No. 1 ranking in an upset at Stanford in 1982. Maybe the special teams pulls off a touchdown return or a block, and the defense scores. I think it’ll take those kinds of things for UW to pull it off.
That lots of people think that if all goes right the Huskies could win this one speaks to how far UW has come in the last few years, and even just since the 41-0 debacle of a year ago in Seattle.
But I’m kind of an odds-player on these things. Most of the numbers favor the Cardinal, especially at home in front of a sold-out crowd. I expect UW to beat the spread but Stanford to ultimately prevail. Call it Stanford 38, Washington 27.