SEATTLE — Reverent tones seem a requirement for Washington coaches and players asked to evaluate Stanford’s defense, a veteran group that elicits effusive praise from opposing Pac-12 Conference offenses.
Apparently, even from the Huskies, who rank fifth in the nation at 574 yards per game.
Stanford’s defensive front seven isn’t just good. It’s “probably the best we’ll see all year,” UW coach Steve Sarkisian said.
Stanford safety Ed Reynolds isn’t just good. He’s “one of the best safeties I’ll probably see this season,” UW quarterback Keith Price said.
So if No. 15 Washington fails to move the ball as well against the No. 5 Cardinal (4-0 overall, 2-0 Pac-12) as it has against its first four opponents, it won’t be for lack of respect.
At least some level of failure is expected. And the Huskies (4-0, 1-0) can’t let that impact their psyche.
“We understand that they’re
probably going to win plays,” Price said after Wednesday’s practice, in between a phone interview with Sports Illustrated and a video segment for Saturday’s ESPN broadcast. “That’s what good teams do – they win their fair share of battles, just like we are. It’s just a matter of who can have more explosive plays and eliminate the turnovers.”
That’s how the Huskies beat the Cardinal last season. A depleted offensive line had trouble protecting Price, who spent much of that night running for his life. But two big plays – a 61-yard touchdown run by Bishop Sankey on a 4th-and-1 play, and a 35-yard touchdown pass from Price to receiver Kasen Williams down the sideline – provided the Huskies necessary separation in a 17-13 victory.
Those two plays also accounted for nearly 31 percent of UW’s total offense that day. But even prolific offenses found themselves stymied by the Cardinal a year ago. Oregon was limited to two touchdowns in a 17-14 overtime loss later in the season, the first time the Ducks had been held to such a low point total since a 19-8 loss to Boise State in the 2009 season-opener.
So yes, Sarkisian said, the Huskies have been studying film of that Stanford-Oregon game, trying to get an idea of just how exactly the Cardinal stymied the Ducks’ explosive, up-tempo offense in an effort to avoid a similar fate on Saturday.
“They had some shootouts, but last year was a little bit different,” Sarkisian said of those two teams, noting Stanford’s ability to “minimize the big play” against the Ducks last season. “We have looked at that film, and we continue to look at it just so we’re aware of the defensive schemes they like to play.”
That should be an effective strategy, because the Huskies are also looking at much the same personnel; Stanford’s depth chart on defense features one sophomore, three juniors and seven seniors, including fifth-year linebacker Trent Murphy, who returned a Price interception for a touchdown in last year’s game.
Because of that experience, UW running back Sankey said, “I think they stick to what they do really well. They’re just a really good defense. Disciplined. They’ll come down and try to hit you.”
In UW’s favor is that its offensive line has not experienced the same difficulties of a year ago. The starting lineup has remained unchanged all season, part of the reason Price has been sacked just three times.
“Coach (Dan) Cozetto’s been doing an awesome job in the offseason of getting their minds right and getting their bodies physically ready for the up-tempo offense,” Price said. “But they understand that they have a huge challenge, and these guys (Stanford) are … to be reckoned with, so they understand they have to perform at an all-time high in order for us to be successful.”firstname.lastname@example.org