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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

October 16, 2011 at 9:51 AM

Stanford: A tall (and very thick) order for the Huskies

After watching Washington State’s Jeff Tuel being engulfed by Stanford’s defensive front on a pass rush Saturday night, I had a recollection:

It was Jake Locker getting engulfed by Stanford’s defensive front in 2010, in the 41-0 shutout the Cardinal administered to the Huskies in Seattle.

There were similarities: After that game, the Huskies sat Locker down for a couple of weeks, because he was playing with a cracked rib. Tuel, meanwhile, was healthy but hampered by the rustiness caused by not having played in six weeks.

The common thread was that Stanford defense, like a SWAT team on a murder suspect.

So, you ask, how good is this Stanford team the Huskies will test Saturday night in Palo Alto?

How about: Terrific. I think it’s in the same league, and perhaps even a tick better, than the one-loss team that shamed Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl last year.

Sure, it’s a different team. Last year’s Cardinal had cornerback Richard Sherman and wide receiver Doug Baldwin, each of whom landed with the Seahawks. It’s also missing for the season an All-American-caliber linebacker in Shayne Skov, who would have made containing Chris Polk his personal mission.
While this club doesn’t seem to have the dynamism at wideout (and Chris Owusu left the WSU game with a slight concussion), it’s got the best corps of tight ends in the nation with Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo.
So your safeties better come ready to bring it.
“Those are the biggest tight ends I’ve seen,” said WSU safety Deone Bucannon, referring to a trio that goes from 6-5 to 6-8 and from 250 to 265 pounds.
On the offensive line, the Cardinal isn’t as good as last year, and the Cougars at times contained the run respectably. Even though Stepfan Taylor runs very hard, the Huskies are better equipped than WSU up front to hold that element in check.
So now, all you have to do is pressure Andrew Luck. Between the Stanford line and Luck’s savvy and mobility, the Cardinal has allowed just two sacks this year, best in the nation.
“In the first half, Andrew Luck looked like a good football player,” said WSU coach Paul Wulff. “In the second half, he looked like a great football player.”
I don’t give Washington much of a shot at holding down the Stanford offense. If you’re trying to see a scenario for a UW victory, the most likely path to that would be a shootout. No great revelation there; offense is clearly the Huskies’ better side of the ball.
Stanford played WSU with a lot of soft zone coverage, not especially respecting the run. It can’t do that against Washington, which can batter you with Polk and also do damage with tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. So there may be one-on-one opportunities for the capable UW wideouts against the Cardinal corners, and the Huskies could hurt them.
Like last year, the Cardinal plays defense with excellent discipline. It always seems to have a player in the right gap. It doesn’t bust assignments. So I’d imagine UW coach Steve Sarkisian will be up late this week, trying to devise ways to bring that about.
Stanford is every bit as physical, probably more so, than Pete Carroll’s best USC teams. It’s big-boy football.
“They’re as physical as anybody in the West,” said Wulff.
In that respect, I’d guess they’re in the same ballpark as Wisconsin and the best in the SEC.
If there’s a single, predominant key to the UW-Stanford game, I’d say it’s how well the Huskies can protect Keith Price – and whether Price is now ready to resume making more plays with his feet.
Is Stanford beatable? Mmm, well . . . maybe. But it would take a supreme performance, and given that the Cardinal has faced a heavy dose of weak opposition to date, Stanford figures to be primed to show what it can do against a good team.



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