FROM STANFORD — Hello from Stanford Stadium, where a sellout crowd is expected on a Rockwellian California evening. Lots of sun. No clouds.
Anyway, before we turn our in-game coverage over to our Twitter feed/game thread, here are three keys to a possible UW victory today, as well as our gameday box that ran in today’s newspaper.
1. Win third down — For all the talk of how tough Stanford is on both sides of the ball, the Cardinal don’t actually rank all that high in many statistical categories. That might speak to their balance, or to the fact that they haven’t really been tested for the entirety of a game yet. But there is one area the Cardinal have excelled in, and that’s third-down offense and defense. Offensively, they convert 57.1 percent of their third downs, good for seventh in the nation. And defensively, they limit opponents to a 30.6 percent success rate, which has them tied for 24th.
The Huskies are even better offensively on third downs, converting at a 62.1 percent clip, which is second in the nation. But they rank only 54th in third-down percentage defense, and that’s where they have to be better to contain Stanford tonight. Quarterback Kevin Hogan is especially difficult to defend on those downs, because he’s fast enough — and smart enough — to escape the pocket and extend a play with his legs. He did that well last week against WSU.
2. Get Sankey going — Steve Sarkisian said all week that 40 carries is too many for Bishop Sankey, so I don’t know if I’d look for a number that high in back to back weeks. But the truth remains that Sankey is UW’s best, most consistent offensive weapon, and the Huskies probably won’t win this game if he doesn’t rush for more than 100 yards. The Huskies need to force Stanford to focus on the run to take some heat off Keith Price and open up the vertical passing game.
3. Wrap up — Sarkisian compared Tyler Gaffney’s running style to that of former Cardinal star Toby Gerhart, and Husky fans don’t have to think real hard to remember what Gerhart did to UW here in 2009. Like Gerhart, Gaffney doesn’t necessarily gain his yards by making defenders miss, but by absorbing the first one or two hits and plowing through them. So it will be important for the Huskies to wrap up and drop Gaffney — and the rest of Stanford’s ballcarriers — at first contact. That will be the most efficient way to force the third-and-long situations the Huskies want to see.
No. 15 WASHINGTON (4-0, 1-0 in Pac-12) at No. 5 STANFORD (4-0, 2-0)
7:30 p.m., Stanford Stadium
TV: ESPN. Radio: 950-AM.
The series: Washington leads, 41-38-4. Washington won, 17-13, in Seattle in 2012.
What to watch: Stanford’s defensive front seven features six seniors and one junior, and knocked WSU quarterback Connor Halliday out of last week’s game. … The Cardinal’s running game hasn’t suffered much due to the graduation of all-time leading rusher Stepfan Taylor. Former baseball player Tyler Gaffney has been an admirable replacement (72 carries, 377 yards) and is complemented by Anthony Wilkerson (41 carries, 191 yards). … This is the biggest test of the season for Washington’s defense, which ranks fourth nationally in scoring defense (10.8 ppg) and second in pass efficiency defense.
The pick: Stanford, 31-28.
No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Year
25 Bishop Sankey RB 5-10 203 Jr.
UW coach Steve Sarkisian said Sankey, nation’s leader in rushing yards per game, looked fine in practice this week after carrying the ball a school-record 40 times against Arizona.
17 Keith Price QB 6-1 202 R-Sr.
Had heck of a time trying to throw against Stanford pass rush last season, but is completing 72.3 percent of passes this season and looks like Price of 2011.
71 Danny Shelton NT 6-1 327 Jr.
Hulking nose tackle has his hands full with Cardinal offensive line considered one of the best in the country.
88 Austin Seferian-Jenkins TE 6-6 276 Jr.
Star tight end has just 10 catches in three games. Run blocking will be key, though, against Stanford.
No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Year
8 Kevin Hogan QB 6-4 228 R-So.
9-0 as a collegiate starter, and his mobility makes him particularly dangerous in 3rd-and-medium situations.
11 Shayne Skov LB 6-3 245 R-Sr.
One of the best LBs in the country punishes ballcarriers and quarterbacks alike.
93 Trent Murphy LB 6-6 261 R-Sr.
Returned a Price interception for a TD in game last season. Did the same to WSU last week. Big guy, big wheels.
89 Devon Cajuste WR 6-4 228 R-So.
Caught two TD passes a week ago. Has size to bully corners and enough speed to outrun some safeties.
Christian Caple can be reached at email@example.com. Twitter: @ChristianCaple