Washington preview

Jake Locker could have foregone his senior season at Washington to enter the NFL Draft. He would have been selected in the first or second round and been signed to a multi-million contract. Heck, he might have even been starting for the Carolina Panthers at this point in the season.

Instead, Locker chose to finish out his four-year tenure in Seattle. He was considered the top NFL prospect at his position going into the season, as well as a Heisman frontrunner. Now, Locker isn't mentioned in the same sentence as quarterback Heisman candidates like Cameron Newton, Andrew Luck and Kellen Moore.

A down season from the Huskies has diminished Locker's reputation but injuries have also played a part. An illness and a thigh bruise hampered him during the Arizona State game, and then he injured his ribs the following week against Oregon State.

Locker enters Saturday's game with those injuries still lingering. But Steve Sarkisian said he would rather have his quarterback on the field at less than 100 percent than not at all.

To protect his ribs, Locker has been wearing a flak jacket during games. Sarkisian admitted that the high thigh bruise "limits some of the running, the explosiveness" Locker has.

The lack of mobility became apparent when Arizona sacked Locker four times last weekend. The sack total probably would have been eight had Locker not used his legs to scramble out of the pocket on a few plays. Still, Locker finished the night with six carries for minus-24 yards.

Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh said that his team will prepare for Locker as if the entire running package is in the game plan.

"You really have to prepare for it," he said. "You have to be prepared for the QB-driven run game, the zone-read option game and the boot-fest. There's no predicting what they're going to do."

The Huskies offense struggled against Arizona, getting outgained 356-178 in yardage in the first half and 467-290 overall. Washington converted just four of its 13 third-down attempts during the 44-14 shellacking.

With so many talented skill players surrounding Locker, one has to wonder where the surprising inefficiency on offense has stemmed from. In practice this week, Sarkisian experimented with shuffling a few members of the offensive line.

Much like he did at USC, Sarkisian has built a Washington offense that is designed to confuse. Schematically, they will throw multiple formations and shifts at a defense – kind of like the Stanford offense.

"They can line up at fullback, they can take the tight end and run, they can spread it out and fly sweep you to death. That part of their game is extremely good," said Harbaugh. "They've got the QB-driven running game. They can do a lot of different things on offense."

Harbaugh called Chris Polk a legit back that is "big, fast, physical, and smart." Polk ran for 75 yards on 19 carries in last year's 34-14 loss to Stanford. Harbaugh was even more complimentary of the Washington wideouts.

"I've always had great respect for this receiving corps," he said. "I think they are right there with the best teams in the league in terms of who's got the best receivers. They are athletic, tough and physical football players."

Jermaine Kearse paces the Huskies' receivers with 41 catches, 670 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season. Stanford safety Michael Thomas said that Kearse was one of the "crispest" route runners in the conference. The Cardinal have given up 298 and 390 passing yards the last two weeks.

Stanford should be able to expose the Huskies defensively though. They rank 98th in total defense (424.0 ypg) and are allowing 33.1 points per game. The Cardinal boast the No. 5 scoring offense in the country, with a 42.6 per game clip.

Washington is getting gashed for more than 200 yards a game on the ground. The Wildcats rolled up 234 rushing yards last week, including a 78-yard touchdown run by Keola Antolin, so Stepfan Taylor and the rest of the capable Stanford backs could be poised for a big day in Seattle.

While doing little to stop the run, the Husky front seven is not creating much of a pass rush either. Washington State did compile six sacks against Arizona two weeks ago, but the Huskies only managed a pair of takedowns last Saturday, and one came in garbage time. Matt Scott, not known for his passing abilities, had plenty of time to connect on 18 of his 22 attempts.

Harbaugh said that Washington likes to disguise its defense with a Rolodex of alignments and coverages. A factor playing to Stanford's advantage this week is that many members of the coaching staff were at USC a few years back, including the defensive coordinator, so Stanford's players and coaches should have some familiarity with the Huskies' schemes.

"They have a really good defensive coordinator in Nick Holt," said Andrew Luck. "He's been around the Pac-10 for a while. He brings a lot of blitzes so you definitely have to be aware of where everybody is. You can't just expect them to back off and play vanilla defense."

Washington has allowed opponents to convert 28 of 31 red-zone opportunities this season, including 21 touchdowns. The Cardinal rank eighth nationally in red-zone efficiency with a 91 percent success rate (40-for-44).

Stanford has already battled the elements at Autzen Stadium this season and will enter another hostile environment Saturday. Oregon's home-field capacity is listed at 54,000, while Husky Stadium can pack in more than 72,000.

"From my experience, I think it's the loudest in the Pac-10," Harbaugh said of Husky Stadium.

Before the Oregon game, Stanford practiced with blaring music in the background to prepare for the noise. The team went through the same routine this week.

"We had the music out yesterday, and it's just simulating that kind of atmosphere where you're lining up on the ball and you can't hear the snap count," Ryan Whalen said. "It makes it fun for practice in my opinion. It gives everyone an extra bounce in their step and a little more juice."

About the Author: Bootleg Senior Writer Scott Cooley has worked in the sports media industry throughout his professional career, including serving as a writer for an ESPN production house and a professional football franchise. His work has been published in multiple print and online platforms including ESPN.com. He currently writes for yours truly, as well as Bookmaker, Covers and Red Hott Locks. Cooley specializes in football, baseball and basketball with an emphasis on sports betting. Cooley and his wife reside in California, contact him at scottwcooley@gmail.com


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