2006 Look Ahead: Washington

The most direct impact for Stanford of the NCAA's decision to add a permanent 12th game starting in 2006 was the addition of Washington to this fall's schedule. The game in Seattle is not only a chance to end a 30-year curse, and also a rematch against the contemptible former Cardinal coach. November 11 will be a critical contest, and on paper considered a "must win" for Stanford's 2006 goals...

Washington Huskies

First Down: Quick Hitters

Stanford @ Washington – November 11

Last Meeting: Stanford 27, Washington 13 ('04)

Side-by-Side Stats: (Washington/Stanford)
Returning Offensive Starters: 6/10
2005 Yards Per Point: 16.6/12.9
2005 Rushing Yards Per Game: 135/92
2005 Yards Per Carry: 3.9/2.6
2005 Passing Yards Per Game: 223/224
2005 Pass Completion Rate: 52.5/61.4
Returning Defensive Starters: 8/6
2005 Yards Per Point Allowed: 13.7/14.4
2005 Rushing Yards Per Game Allowed: 143/156
2005 Yards Per Carry Allowed: 3.8/4.0
2005 Passing Yards Per Game Allowed: 276/286
2005 Pass Completion Percentage Allowed: 66.8/60.8
2005 Record: 2-9/5-6

Second Down: Offense

The Huskies should be stronger at the skill positions, but that may not translate into any more points with so many new faces on the offensive line.

Starting quarterback Isaiah Stanback performed serviceably as a dual run-pass threat last year, throwing for over 2,000 yards on 54% accuracy and rushing for over 350 yards.  However, because of the lack of other offensive weapons, opposing defenses really started to key on him as the season wore on, limiting his productivity.  Oregon transfer Johnny DuRocher, back from a broken hand last season, and incoming national Top 10 recruit Jake Locker add depth to a unit that probably will not win too many games single-handedly, but should do its part to give the Huskies a shot at the W.

Even with starters Louis Rankin and Kenny James battling injuries last season, the Huskies managed 135 ground yards per game on nearly four yards per carry, their best numbers since their 2000 Rose Bowl season.  This year, both backs return, as does redshirt freshman J.R. Hasty, Washington's scout team offensive player of the year last season (editor's note: Hasty is expected later this week to be officially declared academically inelligible for the 2006 season).  Again, like at the quarterback position, nothing really jumps out about these backs, none of whom cracked 500 yards last year.  The talent is serviceable at both quarterback and tailback, and with better health, play can only improve in both areas.  However, that may not be enough to win games on its own, so the onus will fall to the offensive line to crank out those key drives.  That is bad news for the Huskies.

On the line, five players who started contests last year graduated last spring, including two two-year starters and tackle Joe Toledo, a fourth-round choice of the Miami Dolphins.  Though good things are expected out of redshirt freshman left tackle Ben Ossai, named the probable starter after spring, the returning talent is raw as can be, with only two seniors in the current two-deep.  And with experience more important on the line than anywhere else on the field, it is possible that this unit could gel into something decent by November, but expect some ugly performances, especially the first couple of months.

Third Down: Defense

The story is similar on defense, where a young front seven may hold back a secondary that looks to make a major leap.

In the secondary, the entire two-deep returns, alongside three junior college transfers (headlined by free safety Ashlee Palmer).  That is good news for a team that allowed a school-record 24 passing touchdowns last year: unlike on the offensive side of the ball though, the talent is top-notch here.  So it seems injuries really did slow down the Huskies, who had to start seven different defensive backs over the course of 2005.  With better health, this unit could make a quantum leap from cellar dweller to competitive in the Pac-10.

In the front seven, however, standout linebackers Evan Benjamin (Washington's top tackler in 2005) and Joe Lobendahn (Second Team All-Pac-10) depart with starting linesmen Manase Hopoi and Mike Mapuolesega.  And perhaps more than any other unit, the defensive front has crumbled as Washington's program has deteriorated in recent years.  The Huskies allowed fewer than 100 yards per game and three yards per carry in 2002, their last winning season.  But those numbers nearly doubled to 184 and 4.4, respectively, two years ago, and 143 and 3.8 last year.  With so many departures, I look for the rushing defense to be at its all-time worst in Seattle, and I think this unit continues to be the Achilles heal that the rest of the team is not strong enough to overcome.

Fourth Down: Extra Points

- Washington and Stanford each alternate home and road games for their last seven contests of the season.

- This has the makings of a letdown game for both teams.  Stanford's trip to Husky Stadium is sandwiched between a visit from USC, the home finale against Oregon State and the Cal trip.  For Washington, Stanford comes between visits to rival Oregon and archrival Washington State.

- One final schedule note: Washington will play 12 consecutive games this year.  Stanford will be the 11th in that murderous stretch, and the only game the Huskies will definitely be favored in is the opener versus San Jose State.  (The other out-of-conference tilts are at Oklahoma and versus Fresno State).  Really, the Cardinal have no excuses if they cannot come out of Seattle with a win.

- I think Cody Pickett and Reggie Williams carried this team in recent years, made observers think the Huskies were a lot better than they were as Washington rode its stars and let the fundamentals deteriorate.  Now, with no top-notch playmakers on the roster, the Huskies are paying the price for sloppy line play and a lack of fundamentals on the field.

- Not to point fingers for the fall from grace, but Rick Neuheisel certainly appeared to have his mind elsewhere his final years in Seattle, and Ty Willingham has demonstrated himself far from an expert teaching his teams to rush the ball and stop the run soundly, which figures to be Washington's biggest problem this year.  Sort of the anti-Jeff Tedford, if you will.

- Further sign of a slide come from NFL front offices, where Toledo (fourth round) was Washington's only NFL selection this past year.  In 2005, two Huskies went pro, the highest in the second round.  In 2004, four Huskies went pro, Reggie Williams the highest at ninth overall.  In the seven years previous, 25 Huskies went pro, including running back Corey Dillon, quarterbacks Brock Huard and Marques Tuiasosopo and tight end Jerramy Stevens.

2006 Regular Season Prediction:

3-9, 2-7 Pac-10

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