The Huskies squeaked by Arizona last week by winning in overtime 35-28. The Dawgs did not look particularly bad in this duel in the desert. However, their inability to contain the run in the first half was remarkably worse than previous outings. Between the quarterback Dawkins and the small but explosive J.J. Taylor, Arizona racked up nearly 200 yards rushing in the first half. Offensively, the Huskies saw one bright spot, the run game. And it was not the phenom Myles Gaskin who sparked the 350+ yard outing it was Lavon Coleman. The one prediction I nailed from last week was Lavon Coleman would see more playing time this against Arizona. Not only did he see more snaps, he ran for 188 yards including a 56 yard sprint to the end zone. He also setup the Huskies for the win by running 24 yards to setup 1st and goal in overtime. Browning did not have lofty numbers in this game but was efficient going 14 for 21.
Washington’s notorious reputation for losing in the desert was finally overcome this past Saturday. The kicking game became a concern in Arizona. Cameron Van Winkle missed both field goal attempts. Luckily, it did not matter this time. Though UW did not look like a top ten team against Arizona, there were flashes of brilliance. The bold 4th and goal call by Rich Rodriguez was thwarted by Elijah Qualls who took the runner down in the backfield and gave some momentum back to Washington when they needed it. Jake Browning looked like an offensive lineman on one play throwing a block down on 280 pound defensive end, Calvin Allen, to open up John Ross for a 32-yard touchdown run.
Now the moment has arrived. The Huskies may have dropped a spot in the polls but they are still sitting at number 10. Stanford is ranked 7th. The stakes for the game this Friday are the highest in twenty years. Last time UW played in a top ten matchup was a 27-14 loss to Nebraska in 1997. The entire country will be watching. If there were any game to prove that UW is the real deal and the Husky Hype Highway is a straight shot to Pasadena or Tampa for the national championship it is this game versus Stanford. Let’s first break down what the Cardinals are bringing to Seattle for this epic matchup.
Stanford has the All-American can do everything and more player in Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey is the teams leading rusher with 436 yards for the year thus far. McCaffrey is also the leading receiver with 119 yards. McCaffrey is the keystone in Stanford’s offense. If Stanford is to win McCaffrey will have to perform up to his Heisman chasing standards. The QB situation for Stanford is stable though hardly ideal. Ryan Burns is a get it done quarterback who has contributed to Stanford winning its first three games. He is nothing to write home about though and only has 3 touchdowns against 2 interceptions through his first three games. Michael Rector should have some contributions as well in the passing game. Starting receiver Francis Owusu suffered a concussion during a play against UCLA involving helmet to helmet contact and starting fullback Daniel Marx also suffered an injury against UCLA leaving the offense without two of their key players. Backup left guard Brandon Fanaika and second tight end Greg Taboada are both questionable for the game this Friday as well. Luckily, the Cardinals have an offensive line that can bully most opponents with their size. So Stanford will likely stick to the script and keep pounding the ball on the ground. So far, Stanford has yet to break the 30 point mark this season. If Stanford wants to win in Seattle they will likely need to surpass the 30 point margin against the Huskies.
On the defensive side things are not looking good for Stanford. Though the defensive efforts this season are the reason Stanford has yet to lose, the Cardinals lost both starting cornerbacks against UCLA. This is a huge blow for Stanford if they hope to stop the fast Husky receivers and precise arm of Jake Browning. Stanford will rely more heavily on Peter Kalambayi, their senior linebacker, to disrupt the run and Solomon Thomas at defensive end to go after Browning. If the defensive line can get pressure on Browning it will limit his time to throw down field. If the Huskies offensive line hold strong on enough plays, the injuries in the secondary may lead to big plays down field through the air. Stanford is relying on the defense to get it done on Friday. Even if McCaffrey can get loose, the Cardinals absolutely need to continue the trend of low scoring opponents if they want to remain undefeated.
On special teams again we see a familiar name, McCaffrey. The jack-of-all-trades will line up for both kick and punt return duties and always provides dangerous speed and agility that can burn special teams. McCaffrey racked up 79 return yards last year against Washington. The Huskies will keep a close eye on him during every kick. Conrad Ukropina is an ace kicker who has hit 6 for 6 field goals this season including 1 over 50 yards. He is also perfect on PATs. Stanford’s secret weapon that could make the difference is their high level special teams play.
Now it’s time to talk about what we expect from the Huskies in the most important game this decade.
First, Husky stadium will be rocking. A sellout crowd will be loud and ready to make Ryan Burns life hard. It’s bad enough guys like Elijah Qualls and Greg Gaines are going to try to drag him back to Palo Alto, the roar in the stadium will be unlike anything he has heard this year.
On the offense, UW is likely to take to the air whenever they get the opportunity. Chris Petersen is a brilliant coach. Expect Jake Browning to take some deep pass shots to John Ross, Chico McClatcher and Dante Pettis. With both starting cornerbacks on the sidelines for Stanford, the Huskies should be able to take advantage of the less experienced backups. Petersen will keep the tempo up and force Stanford’s defense to make mistakes. The dangerous Husky receiver corps will be complemented by the increasingly efficient backfield. Lavon Coleman had more yards in one game against Arizona than in all of 2015. Myles Gaskin has not seen the touches yet to explode on the ground, but is still listed as as starter and could break out against Stanford. The key to the offense functioning will be the offensive line. Stanford’s defensive front is one of the best in the country and they will come after the quarterback. The young offensive line will need to step up to give Browning enough time to make the big plays. The offensive line have to prevent the sack as best they can. If the defensive line of Stanford penetrates the Washington o-line there is a good possibility we will see some fumbles or hurried throws that lead to interceptions. Stanford loves to use their tight ends to get first down yardage and UW may need to fight fire with fire and get tight end Darrell Daniels involved in converting third downs for Washington. If Browning gets the protection he needs one can expect him to light up the sky with deep throws. Currently Jake Browning is third in NCAA efficiency this season with a 195 rating completing over 70% of his passes. It’s likely his rating might dip a bit but not before he throws a few more touchdowns.
Defensively, UW really has one main goal and that is to stop Christian McCaffrey. Last year McCaffrey embarrassed the UW defense with 300 all-purpose yards for the game. Shutting McCaffrey down will take a multi-prong attack of stuffing the run, tight coverage when McCaffrey goes out as a receiver split out wide or in the slot, and of course limiting his yardage as a kick returner. This is no easy task and none of the halfway decent defenses have been up to the challenge in shutting McCaffrey down. The two top Stanford targets UW needs to shut down are Michael Rector, an NFL level talent who decided to come back for one more year, and Trent Irwin, a high level athlete that is an emerging force on the Stanford receiver corps. Sidney Jones and Budda Baker will lead the Washington secondary in trying to shut these talented Stanford receivers down. Stanford’s starting tight end Dalton Schultz was a preseason All-American and is another thorn in the side of UW. Linebacker, Joe Mathis will need to slow Schultz down with some help in the secondary from JoJo Mcintosh at strong safety.
On specials teams the goal is the same as the goal on defense, stop Christian McCaffrey. Chris Petersen may need to make some adjustments in the kicking game to give McCaffrey as few return attempts as possible. When short yardage situations occur on fourth down, the Huskies may opt to go for it in territory they normally would kick to prevent McCaffrey from even touching the ball. The Huskies need to get consistent on field goal kicking as Stanford is likely to make life difficult in the red zone. This game may come down to a field goal and the Huskies will not want to lose this one based on poor kicking. That’s a lot of pressure on Cameron Van Winkle but he needs to step up when the time comes and nail those kicks.
Overall, one can expect a competitive matchup. The Huskies are in a fortunate position to play a Stanford team that is not at full capacity due to injury. They need to take advantage of the less experienced players and keep the turnover margin in their favor like they have been doing all this year. The team that turns over the ball the fewest times is likely the winner of this top ten matchup.
So let’s make some Husky Hype Highway predictions for this clash of titans.
-Huskies intercept Ryan Burns twice
-Huskies put up 250 yards through the air
-John Ross has another 100+ yard day
-Huskies force a fumble deep in Stanford territory that leads to points
-Huskies hold Christian McCaffrey to under 150 all-purpose yards
-At least one Stanford penalty will be due to noise in Husky Stadium
-David Shaw will angrily dispute a call in the 4th quarter
-Stanford is held to under 25 points
Final Score Prediction: Huskies beat Stanford 31-24