Stanford, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - The fifth-ranked Stanford Cardinal will try to keep pace atop the Pac-12 when they host the 15th-ranked Washington Huskies in a marquee matchup at Stanford Stadium.
In what was advertised as an offensive shootout, the Huskies dispensed of Arizona in the Pac-12 opener by playing strong defense. Washington picked up a 31-13 victory in the contest to move to 4-0 and lift itself to No. 15 in the most recent Top 25, the highest the Huskies have reached since 2002. It has been even longer since Washington was 4-0 to start the season (2001). If they can win on Saturday it would be the first 5-0 start for the Huskies since 1992.
Stanford has made a habit of piling up wins early in the season and in doing so it has been a fixture in the national rankings. Nothing changed after last week's contest as the Cardinal rolled to a 55-17 win over Washington State to improve to 4-0 overall and 2-0 in league play. Stanford has now won 12 straight games dating to last season and started 4-0 for the third time in the last four years.
This is one of the more tightly contested Pac-12 rivalries. The Huskies own a 41-38-4 edge in the all-time series. That includes a 17-13 stunner the Huskies pulled off last season that handed Stanford its first loss of the season.
It has been no accident that Washington has gotten off to such an impressive start. The Huskies are playing exceptionally well on both sides of the ball. It starts on offense where the Huskies are scoring a healthy 39.8 points per game, ranking third in the Pac-12 in total offense (574 ypg).
Quarterback Keith Price and running back Bishop Sankey have been the driving forces behind Washington's impressive offensive numbers.
Price is currently ranked second in the Pac-12 in passer rating (173.6), completing 72.3 percent of his pass attempts for 1,044 yards, nine touchdowns and only two interceptions. Price had possibly his worst game of the season against Arizona, though that can be partially blamed on the rainy weather conditions. Price completed just 14-of-25 pass attempts for 165 yards and two scores, but was also intercepted once.
The rain didn't slow down Sankey, who set a program record with 40 carries for 161 yards and a score. Sankey has rushed for over 600 yards on more than 100 carries this season and has also scored five touchdowns. By averaging 151.8 yards per game, Sankey leads the nation in rushing. There is depth in the backfield as well with Jesse Callier (162 yards, three TDs), who is a capable stand in.
"The weather kind of forced our hand a little bit in the way he had to play the game," Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian said while adding he hopes for more balance going forward after rushing the ball 61 times against Arizona. "I think it's critical for us."
Price has plenty of options to throw to on the roster. Jaydon Mickens (21 receptions, 214 yards, TD) has been extremely reliable and has surprised by leading the team in receptions early on. Kasen Williams (16 receptions, 255 yards, TD) was the most productive wideout last season and has begun to pick up his production of late, while Kevin Smith (15 receptions, 29 yards, TD) is another receiver that will be involved. Austin Seferian-Jenkins hasn't produced at the level of last season yet but the tight end is still a talented and dangerous pass-catcher, with All-American talent.
While the offense has been humming along, the Huskies have also been punishing opponents on defense. Currently the Huskies rank first in the Pac-12 in total defense (288.6 ypg), though facing FCS foe Idaho State certainly helped the cause.
Hau'oli Kikaha (3.0 sacks) is the leading pass rusher for the Huskies, while Sean Parker (17 tackles, three INTs) has been lethal in the secondary.
The only quarterback in the Pac-12 to have a higher passer rating than Price is Stanford's Kevin Hogan (174.6). He might not be putting up the lofty numbers that Price is but he certainly has made the most of his opportunities. Hogan has completed 63.2 percent of his pass attempts for 832 yards 10 touchdowns, while limiting his interceptions to three.
Hogan's passing has been helped by the growth of Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste. Montgomery has been a steady producer this season with 20 receptions for 327 yards and four touchdowns, while Cajuste (10 receptions, 244 yards, three TDs) has been the big-play threat that can really open up the field for the Cardinal.
"This year, the way our wide receiving corps is playing, we have to put that on film. We have to show people that we'll go downtown if they leave those guys one on one," Stanford head coach David Shaw said. "We try to make the defense choose and if they choose to drop the safeties down we have to go over the top."
Of course the Cardinal are a team that likes to run the ball more than pass it. Tyler Gaffney has been the main threat in that area as he has picked up 377 yards and five touchdowns on 72 carries. Anthony Wilkerson (191 yards, TD) and Barry Sanders Jr. have also gotten some work.
Perhaps it is more a comment on how strong the Pac-12 is this season but the normally dominant Cardinal aren't high on the league rankings in terms of total defense (343.5 ypg). Stanford led the conference in defense last season and was a top 20 squad nationally. Stanford has also not been as strong in terms of rushing the passer with just nine sacks.
There hasn't been much worry for the Cardinal though as Shayne Skov (28 tackles), Trent Murphy (12 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks) and Ben Gardner (2.5 sacks) give the unit plenty of star power.