One team standing in the Washington Huskies path to a Rose Bowl is the mighty Stanford Cardinal. UW was able to upset Stanford 17-13 last season at CenturyLink Field, and the Huskies will look to do it again in Palo Alto on Saturday. The Huskies need to bring their A game to bring down the Cardinal on Saturday. Here are some keys to what it will take for the Huskies to return to Rose Bowl contention.
1. Minimize Penalties
Through the first three games of the season, the Huskies were the most penalized team in the nation. UW was fortunate to be playing lesser opponents, so the penalties had minimal damage, but the Huskies have to play nearly penalty-free football to win big games. UW was able to go a whole half without a penalty against Arizona, but still finished the game with seven. Stanford is a team that will take advantage of minor mistakes so penalties could shift momentum from one side to another in a blink of the eye. The Cardinal are one of the most disciplined teams in the nation and I will be surprised if they hurt themselves with penalties.
2. Turnovers/Special Teams
Did you know that UW hasn’t returned a kickoff for a touchdown since Louis Rankin on the opening kickoff of the 2007 Apple Cup? Or that the last punt return touchdown was 10 years ago? UW looks to be outmatched in this game, and a big-time play from the defense or special teams may be what the Huskies need to pull out a victory. A special teams touchdown or pick-six would be a game changer for the Huskies and could easily turn the tides. Stanford isn’t a team that gives the ball away, so the Huskies need to take advantage if and when it does. On the flip side, the Huskies can’t afford to turn the ball over to an already dominate Stanford defense.
3. Defend Big Plays
Stanford is able put up a lot of points by lulling teams to sleep with its power running game before using the play-action pass to throw deep. Last week against Washington State, Stanford completed three touchdown passes of 30 yards or more. While they have traditionally been viewed as a slow down, run first offense, Stanford has added a new dimension with quarterback Kevin Hogan and his play-action passes. Since Stanford is so difficult to stop in the run game, it makes it even harder to stay discipline and not get beat over the top. The Huskies can’t allow Stanford to go over the top for long touchdowns on Saturday. Sean Parker and Will Shamburger need to stay discipline in the defensive backfield, and trust that everyone else will do their job. Marcus Peters and Greg Ducre have been phenomenal on the outside this season, but they will truly get put to the test this Saturday against Stanford.
4. Play Big
Stanford is going to punch you in the mouth until you are out of gas, so the Huskies need all their strength to put up a fight. The more size the Huskies are able to put up front, the better off they will be. Even though they haven’t played major roles so far this season, look for players such as Thomas Tutogi and Lawrence Lagafuaina to play key minutes due to their added size. Stanford is able to rotate plenty of offensive linemen and the UW will need to do the same on defense to stand a chance. The key to last year’s Stanford upset was UW’s ability to stop the run and push the line backwards, and this will once again be critical on Saturday. Danny Shelton has been a force at nose tackle to start the season and will need to put another big time performance on Saturday. With UW’s added depth this season, the defense should be able to stay fresh and not wear down against the Cardinal, but the Huskies will need all the size they got up front to stop Stanford’s power run game.