Judgment day is upon the Huskies as the have arrived at the murderer's row of their 2012 schedule, getting started against a team that has played them better than any other team during the Steve Sarkisian era. Though not much was learned during the Huskies uneven non-conference schedule, optimism seems to be a little bit lower among Husky fans than it was going into the season due to injuries and the beating the Huskies took from LSU.
There are a ton of questions going into Thursday's game, and with this being the first game against a team that many feel the Huskies should be able to stack up against, this game has long been viewed as the game where we find out where the Huskies stand. However, with Stanford looking just as good as they were with Andrew Luck at quarterback, that might not end up being true and many now believe that the Cardinal should leave Seattle with an easy win. Regardless of any expectations, Thursday's game is a great chance for Sarkisian to show just how far he has taken the program and spark a breakout season.
What most Washington Fans Think Will Happen
The Huskies will be energized by a home crowd in CenturyLink Field that will be fired up for the first time this year and the Washington passing offense will be able to get it going early on, scoring a touchdown and a field goal against a Stanford defense that has a little bit of a hangover after their nearly flawless performance against USC. Meanwhile, the Huskies defense will be able to frustrate Josh Nunes and make the Cardinal one dimensional, keeping it a low scoring game with the Huskies holding a narrow lead at halftime.
The Cardinal commit to the run in the second half and the offensive line starts to wear on the Husky defense as they rack up yards on the ground and the Cardinal defense starts to lock down on the Huskies passing game and blitzing Price, much like they did USC and Matt Barkley. The second half goes very quickly with all of the running and sacks and the Cardinal have the lead late, but a turnover from Nunes gives the Huskies one last drive to take the game.
In a defining moment for Sarkisian and Price, the Huskies go down the field and score a late go-head touchdown to seal a close win.
Washington 20 Stanford 17
What most Stanford fans think will happen
The Cardinal pick up right where they left off last year against Washington and pound the ball on the ground repeatedly to pull out ahead of the Huskies early with a few rushing touchdowns. The Huskies are really just a less talented version of USC and CenturyLink Field doesn't provide much of a home-field advantage and the Cardinal's size on the lines provides a huge advantage for them that is evident right away.
The Cardinal hold a comfortable lead at halftime and then pack it in during the second half as they blitz Keith Price to oblivion and the game ends up looking a lot like the Huskies game against LSU where they were outclassed in every aspect of the game.
Stanford 52 Washington 10
What will probably happen
The Huskies will get a little bit of a shot in the arm from the home crowd and a week and a half of preparation mixed with a little bit of thirst for revenge against the Cardinal. The Cardinal won't be able to blitz Price as much as they did Barkley without the home crowd behind them, and loud crowd in CenturyLink Field will allow the Huskies quick defense to get after Nunes in his first start on the road. The Huskies get out to an early lead, but it always seems temporary as the Cardinal consistently show the ability to gash the Huskies smaller defense for big gains on the ground whenever they want.
The Cardinal will adjust in the second half though and take control of the game, getting to Price and getting him out of his comfort zone while running for 10 yards a crack when they have the ball. The Cardinal won't blow the Huskies out, but they will dominate the fourth quarter and bore the home crowd.
Stanford 31 Washington 14
The factors that will make or break the game
Price point - Keith Price needs to finally have a great game against a top team with a good defense if the Huskies want to stay competitive. Price has wilted horribly thus far in his career against elite teams with solid defenses (2011: Stanford, USC & Oregon 2012: LSU) in his two years as a starter throwing for less than 700 yards total along with 4 interceptions to only 3 touchdowns while getting sacked 16 times in those four games.
Josh Nunes' nerves - Nunes has looked solid this season, but this will be his first start on the road and CenturyLink Field has the chance to be a very tough place to play if the Huskies can keep it close and the hometown fans show up.
Stopping the run - The Huskies quick and small defense doesn't match up well against Stanford's big and strong offensive line and the Cardinal have used this to their advantage for three-straight years now, smashing the Huskies on the ground. The Huskies will have to find a way to use their quickness as an advantage against the Cardinal offense or they could be in for a long night.
Another lopsided loss to Stanford and the daunting schedule immediately ahead swirls some serious dark clouds over Sarkisian in Seattle. Fans recognize that Stanford is a very good team, but they also expect to be more competitive than this is the fourth year of Sarkisian's tenure and the rumblings will begin to start. Is Sarkisian more or less a Mike Stoops? A guy who can get the program out of the gutter and to respectability, but not any further? They may or may not be justified, but these questions will start to get asked.
This was the most winnable of the three-straight nightmare games for the Huskies, and it is unlikely that they will fare any better against Oregon or USC, which will put them at 2-4 with games against two teams that suddenly look a lot better than expected, Arizona and Oregon State waiting after that. Fans will be confident that Sarkisian can win enough games by the end of the season to keep things afloat, but the mid-season passage looks like a very rough one.