There’s been sort of an interesting phenomenon on the blog this week. For the first time that I can recall, there’s been almost an overwhelming sentiment among those who have commented here or e-mailed/Tweeted me that the line favoring Stanford in this game is too low.
Usually it goes the other way. I post what the spread is and people — as is their right, if not their duty, as fans — rush to say why they think the spread should be more in favor of the Huskies.
But not this week. Almost everything I’ve gotten is people wondering why the spread favoring Stanford isn’t higher, especially considering that what began as an 8-point line is down to 6.5 as I type this.
So does Vegas know something about this game that UW fans filled with trepidation don’t?
Maybe. Maybe not (how’s that for great analysis?)
I’m reminded that the line for the 2010 home game against Nebraska was Cornhuskers by only three, and that by game time it seemed like just about everyone was picking the Huskies.
Just about everyone obviously turned out to be drastically wrong — just as they were a few months later when everyone assumed Nebraska would easily beat UW in the Holiday Bowl rematch.
It’s a good reminder that the line is there mostly to draw even betting on each side (and I think part of the deal on the spread in this game is that people wonder about Josh Nunes and his ability to lead a big win on the road, something he has obviously never done having never started a road game before. The status of a QB is historically a big determiner of the line).
Still, the results of the last three years, the manner in which Stanford has dominated UW up front and the fact that — on paper, at least — the Cardinal would still seem to have significant edges in the battle of the trenches is surely why so many Husky fans are looking at this game with a little (or a lot) of foreboding.
If there is a recent UW game that may provide a reason for hope, though, it might be the contest that remains one of the biggest upsets in school history — the 2009 win over USC.
The Huskies were 19-point underdogs that day against a USC team that was somewhat rebuilding and was coming off a big win at Ohio State. USC also had a QB making his first career road start (which turned out to be Aaron Corp rather than Matt Barkley — the spread surely would have been lower had it been known all week that Barkley wouldn’t play. If you recall, it wasn’t known until basically kickoff that Corp would get the start. I wrote a story that week on Barkley based on a phone interview with him in which he insisted he would play. Oh well.)
Not wanting to put the game in Corp’s hands, USC went with about as conservative an offensive game plan as possible, and for a lot of the day it worked okay — the Trojans rushed for 250 yards in that game. UW, meanwhile, rushed for just 56.
The Huskies, though, hung around thanks in large part to a 3-0 edge in turnovers, some gutty defense and keeping USC out of the end zone all but one time, and some opportunistic offense.
I’m reminded, as I look through the stats, that the last time UW rushed for fewer yards in a game since that 2009 win over USC and won was when it got 49 against UCLA in 2006 and beat the Bruins 29-19 in what was probably the high point of the Tyrone Willingham era (and not that there’s a lot of candidates there). That’s another game that serves as a template for how Washington could win tomorrow. UCLA also had a new QB starting his first game on the road (Ben Olson) who was a little erratic (two interceptions) and also played gutty defense to often force field goals (four) instead of touchdowns (one).
Stanford is allowing just 41.3 yards rushing per game, and while two of the opponents aren’t great (San Jose State, Duke) UW obviously also doesn’t have a proven running game. So simply running the ball all over the place doesn’t seem in the offing for UW. Instead, the Huskies probably have to win it the way it the way they did those USC and UCLA games — by forcing turnovers and lots of field goals and converting offensively when they have the chance.
This game has also prompted questions about a couple of other stats that could come into play:
— 1, UW’s record after byes under Sarkisian. The school’s official site notes UW is 6-2 when having eight or more days of in-season preparation under Sarkisian. It could be reasonably argued that a few of those are games UW should have won regardless (WSU, Colorado, a battered UCLA team at home in 2010). But maybe that’s a hopeful omen.
— 2, UW’s record against the spread under Sarkisian. One reader said it feels like UW has done well under Sarkisian as an underdog. To recap the record, UW is now 21-20 under Sarkisian against the spread — or exactly the same as his record straight up. He’s 4-4 as a home underdog, which is what UW is tomorrow, but 0-3 since 2009, when he was 4-1 and UW was probably a little undervalued against the spread due to the 2008 0-12 record. The games since then when UW has been a home underdog aren’t as promising — the aforementioned 2010 Nebraska game, the 2010 Stanford game (a 41-0 loss as a seven-point underdog) and a 34-17 loss last year to Oregon as a 16-point underdog.
Parse the numbers all you want, football more than often than not comes down to who wins the battle up front. On paper, those edges go to Stanford. So call it STANFORD 24, WASHINGTON 13.