Breaking Down UW-Stanford With SF Chronicle's Tom Fitzgerald
Two of the best quarterbacks in the nation are facing off this weekend when Washington meets Stanford in Palo Alto. One, Andrew Luck, is already cemented as the No. 1 pick in next spring's NFL Draft, while another, Keith Price, is just starting to introduce himself to America.
But there's more to the matchup than just two scintillating quarterbacks. We go in-depth in a chat with Tom Fitzgerald, who covers the Cardinal for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Q: Andrew Luck is obviously a focal point but it's hard to discount the strength of Stanford's offensive line. What does the team do so well that makes it hard to pressure/hit/sack Luck?
A: Partly it's Luck's superb pocket presence. He's very aware of where the pass rushers are and can slide and move up in the pocket as needed. He also throws very well on the dead run. His line has been improving steadily, led by veterans RG David DeCastro and LT Jonathan Martin. They and the new starters this year-- C Sam Schwartzstein, LG David Yankey and RT Cameron Fleming -- have been excellent at pass protection. The tight ends have also excelled at that. Lastly, RB Stepfan Taylor is terrific at picking up blitzes. That's one reason why he plays so much, even though Stanford has some other very good backs.
Q: You could argue the Huskies haven't faced a defense like the one Stanford presents this weekend? Although the Cardinal line up in vanilla formations, what is it about the D that makes it extremely difficult for teams to move the ball consistently?
They are constantly switching things around. They vary their blitzes quite a bit. The main thing, though, is they've been very stout against the run. NT Terrence Stephens has stepped in nicely for Sione Fua, and DEs Ben Gardner and Matt Masifilo have played very well too. At some point, the loss of ILB Shayne Skov (knee) is going to come back and bite them, but it hasn't yet because Jarek Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley have been OK in that spot. Safeties Delano Howell and Michael Thomas have been great, although Howell won't play Saturday because of hand injury. Basically, Stanford has shut down the running games and forced teams into third-and-long.
Q: In your opinion, what caused Stanford to look out-of-sync in the first half at Washington State last weekend?
A: I think they were trying a little too hard to get the wide receivers involved since so much of the offense has revolved around the three tight ends. Luck's first pass was picked; it was underthrown and Jamal-Rashad Patterson didn't put up enough of a battle for it. On the next series, Luck tried unsuccessfully to hit Chris Owusu deep, then tried a pass to him over the middle on which the safety smacked Owusu, putting him out of the game. Stepfan Taylor lost a fumble, so that meant two turnovers in one half, very rare for Stanford.
Q: What concerns does Stanford have about Keith Price and a Washington offense that has scored 30+ points in each game this season?
A: They are very concerned with Price's ability to buy time for the excellent receivers to get open. Stanford seems to have trouble making tackles in space, so if those wideouts and (Austin) Seferian-Jenkins can get open, they could cause trouble. The Cardinal also are well aware of Chris Polk's ability to run and catch.
Q: Washington has a tight end (Austin Seferian-Jenkins) that causes matchup problems for opposing defenses, much like the Stanford trio of tight ends. How does the play of that group open up things for the rest of the Stanford offense?
If the linebackers and safeties concentrate on stopping the tight ends - Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo - that can open space downfield for the WRs or on short patterns for fullback Ryan Hewitt, who's a good receiver. It can also open things up for screen passes, although Stanford doesn't run a lot of screens. When the defenders take off with TEs, it can open up the running game as well.
Q: What's the biggest storyline coming out of the Stanford camp this week?
A: The hand injury to Delano Howell, who's the hardest hitter on the defense and one of the leading tacklers. He'll be missed this week.
Q: What will Washington need to do to win the game this weekend?
A: They need to run the ball with Polk to chew up some clock, but mainly they need to hit some big pass plays. Stanford is not an easy team to mount a sustained drive against because they are so sound defensively, mainly against the run.
Q: What will Stanford need to do to win the game this weekend?
A: Score at least 37 points, as they've done every game this year. I don't see the UW defense containing them for long, especially since Stanford is even more concerned with ball security after last week. It won't be 41-0 like last year, but I'd imagine Stanford will win by 2-3 touchdowns.
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