FROM STANFORD – This will be the second consecutive week I’ll watch Stanford play live. Leading up to the first game — the Cardinal’s visit to Washington State at CenturyField last week — I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the defending Pac-12 champions.
Knew they were good, of course. But a “meh” win over San Jose State and a relatively unimpressive victory over Army were still stuck in my mind despite Stanford’s pretty convincing knockaround of what I think is a pretty decent Arizona State team.
Washington State was playing well, especially defensively. David Yankey was out. The game was in Seattle. And so I made a prediction that looks so incredibly stupid in hindsight that I wonder if some kind of other being took over my brain as I filed my picks.
Yes, I predicted WSU would win. No, WSU did not win. In fact, it lost 55-17.
Here’s the thing, though: that score had a lot more to do with Stanford than it did with WSU. If you weren’t sold on the Cardinal as a top 5 team before last weekend, their performance against the Cougars at least had to make you consider them more seriously, if it didn’t sell you entirely.
Bottom line: Stanford is every bit the team it was when it won 12 games and the Rose Bowl championship last season. Except now, the Cardinal are all-in with a competent quarterback, Kevin Hogan, who looks better than he did after taking over the starting job late last season.
So what does this mean for the Huskies? It means a more complex challenge for a defense that stacked the box against Stanford a year ago and dared quarterback Josh Nunes to throw the ball. Fortunately for the Huskies, he did — 37 times, for some reason — and the 17-13 UW victory stood as its most impressive of the season. But the Cardinal are a more dynamic offensive team this season, and have shown more of a willingness to throw the ball downfield to receivers like Ty Montgomery.
I still think this game will be won in the trenches, because Stanford’s offensive line is just as nasty as its defensive line — maybe nastier, even — and that’s saying something, considering the Cardinal’s front seven only starts one player who isn’t a senior or fifth-year senior.
It’s up to Washington’s offensive line to give Keith Price time to throw, and, more importantly, to open up holes for Bishop Sankey to establish the run early. Will he get 40 carries this week? Probably not. But he’s still the Huskies’ best offensive weapon, and if he doesn’t get going, it’s hard to see the Huskies winning this game.
Stanford has also earned a reputation as a disciplined team that doesn’t make many mistakes, and capitalizes off its opponents’ errors. Price has thrown only two interceptions through four games, and that kind of ball control will be necessary again tomorrow.
In the end, I just think Stanford’s defensive front will be a little too much, the Cardinal’s offense will be a little too strong, and Stanford will win a close one, 31-28.
Christian Caple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ChristianCaple