Neutralize the Fire Hydrants
Stanford rushed for only 2.3 yards per carry at Washington in 2012. The inability of Josh Nunes to present a credible passing threat played a large role in those struggles, and the insertion of Kevin Hogan into the Cardinal's quarterback spot gave hope that the story versus the Huskies would be different this time around.
Things did indeed change in 2013, but not in the expected fashion: Stanford rushed for 179 yards on 42 carries (4.4 yards per rush) on Saturday. They successfully pounded the Huskies during a pair of critical touchdown drives in the third quarter. And, quite surprisingly, it all opened up while Hogan struggled: He finished 12-for-20 for 105 yards (5.3 yards per attempt), a performance that shared statistical similarities with Nunes' 18-for-37, 170-yard (4.6 yards per attempt) debacle in Seattle last year.
Stanford's young quarterback played the worst game of his career Saturday, but the Stanford offensive line was able to do just enough to overcome his struggles. Hogan's own rushing performance (10 carries, 44 yards, including one beautifully called read option) certainly helped neutralize the interior clogging abilities of monstrous defensive tackle Danny Shelton (four tackles). In turn, the Cardinal's big linemen went to work against Washington's smaller linebackers, and they won just enough pivotal battles to complement Ty Montgomery's absurd special teams production (nearly 300 all-purpose yards) and churn out a Stanford win. An early 26-yard end around run from Montgomery also went a long way toward loosening up the interior.
The Farm Boys' rushing production wasn't prolific, but it's not expected to be without the support of a better passing attack. Credit the blockers and some physical running from Tyler Gaffney (19 carries, 74 yards) for producing enough in less-than-ideal conditions.
Hit the Blocks on Athletic Linebackers
The disciplined, gap-sound trio of Shaq Thompson, John Timu, and Princeton Fuimaono combined for 23 stops against Stanford a year after swarming the football and raising hell in Seattle. These guys played extremely well again, especially in pass coverage, where they effectively suffocated Stanford's short-to-intermediate range passing attack by forcing Hogan to fit the ball into tight windows that he was mostly incapable of finding.
When it came to rushing production, though, Stanford eventually (and barely) got the best of Washington in Saturday's arm-wrestling match.
Make Sankey and Price Hurt
Washington quarterback Keith Price was fantastic (33-48, 350 yards), and Bishop Sankey (27 carries, 136 yards) is a future NFL running back. Saturday's game marked the first time in recent memory that Stanford had struggled so mightily to tackle an opposing runner -- both of Sankey's touchdowns came after first contact. Price also escaped the Cardinal's grasp several times, though the pass rush did sack him five times (Washington had given up only three sacks all season entering the game).
Price is certainly very sore right now. Stanford's front seven jarred him several times, but he never backed down. In the end, this was a 15-round prize fight between a pair of heavyweights. A group of future professionals (don't discount receiver Kasen Williams, either) gave Stanford's vaunted defense all it could handle, but it turns out that the Cardinal got to Price just enough to hold on for the win. Trent Murphy led the way here (two sacks), but Shayne Skov's missile-like pressure was a Stanford defensive centerpiece.
Avoid a Taste of Your Own Medicine
Stanford is not accustomed to lining up opposite bigger players. Six-foot-seven, 276-pound Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins provided an exception to that rule. He hauled in four catches for 58 yards but dropped a critical pass in crunch time. Seferian-Jenkins gave the Cardinal trouble, but Mason's unit ultimately did a solid job containing him.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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