"Week Four": Washington @ Stanford

This may well be a season-setting game for each team on Saturday as the halitosis-plagued, but at least temporarily #24-ranked Washington Huskies mush their way south to the supposedly "quiet confines" of Stanford Stadium to take on the respect-seeking Stanford Cardinal. The Bootleg's Scott Cooley was present for Tuesday's weekly press lunch and provides us with comments from coaches and players.

"Week Four": Washington @ Stanford


Stanford (2-1, 1-0) resumes Pac-10 play on Saturday at 6:00 p.m. against a Washington (2-1, 1-0) team sky-high with confidence after defeating the No. 3 ranked USC Trojans. The game will be televised live on Fox College Sports Pacific and carried over the airwaves on KNBR 1050 AM (since KTRB is broadcasting A's baseball).


Stanford is coming off a convincing win against San Jose State (0-3) where the Cardinal team scored a touchdown five different ways (kickoff return, punt return, INT return, passing TD, rushing TD) to defeat the Spartans 42-17. In reviewing records going back to 1961 (Thanks, "Terry 2"), we haven't been able to find a time when we even scored on a kick-off and a punt return in the same game, much less all of that action!)


The Cardinal special teams unit has been nothing short of amazing in 2009. Led by the explosiveness of sophomore Chris Owusu, the grouping has recorded three touchdowns and ranks No. 3 in the nation in kickoff return average (41.0 ypr).


"Coach Harbaugh expects us to put our offense in great field position," said Owusu, who ranks No. 1 in the country with a 52.8 KOR average. "We work on it a lot in practice. We make sure that we go through our individual assignments together and get into the film room."


A couple of facets of the game that weren't so polished for Stanford were fumbles and penalties. The running back corps coughed up a trio of fumbles in the "Bill Walsh Legacy Game" and is an area senior tailback Toby Gerhart said the team addressed in practice.


"There is a huge emphasis on that this week because the running backs lost three fumbles ourselves," Gerhart said. "Yesterday, we were working on ball security in practice because we know as defenders tear off they are going to try and strip the ball."


Stanford was guilty of nine penalties in Saturday's contest. The Cardinal committed four penalties during the first game of the season versus Washington State and six yellow flags were tossed against Stanford in the Wake Forest affair. The increasing trend is an issue that must be remedied.


Penalties always detract from a team's progression, but Stanford has surrendered many points to the referees. After being one of the most efficient red-zone teams in the country last season, untimely penalties have aided Stanford's dead-last conference ranking in red-zone offense this year.


"Occasionally you are going to get penalized for playing aggressively, but we have to avoid creating those third and long situations that screws up drives or pushes us out of field goal range," said Gerhart.


After playing perennial SEC powerhouse LSU very close (23-31) in the season opener, national pundits have been impressed mightily with the resurgence of the Washington Huskies football program.


Head coach Steve Sarkisian, who arrived in Seattle after spending seven seasons as an offensive guru at USC, is being afforded much of the turnaround credit.


"They have done a marvelous job there," Harbaugh said. "You just can't say enough about the job the players and coaches have done there. They present so many challenges for us this week. What they do really well is keep defenses off-balance. They have the ability to be a really diverse offense."


In last season's bout between these two Pac-10 programs, each of the team's biggest stars was knocked out of the game before halftime. Stanford's Gerhart suffered a concussion during the first quarter while Washington's star quarterback Jake Locker sustained a hand injury in the second quarter and did not return.


Outside of Oregon's Jeremiah Masoli, Locker is one of the few Pac-10 passers with elite-level mobility. He ran for a score in last week's win and Harbaugh and his staff are quite aware of the junior's talents.


"He's a pocket-passer who has the athletic ability to get out of the pocket and make plays with his legs," said Harbaugh. "He's really playing with a lot of poise, as is their entire football team.


"There's really no way to shut him down. Locker can get the ball on the perimeter himself in their spread option game and he can also distribute it from the pocket. And then when you think you've got them all covered, have good pressure and you're in the lanes, he's got the ability to escape so it's really tough. Their system does a great job of spreading the ball around."


Two things can happen after a team experiences a monumental win like the Huskies did over the Trojans. A team can ride the momentum all season long and surpass expectations or it can get caught up in the moment and suffer an emotional let down the following week.


When Stanford came away with one of the biggest upsets in college football history after defeating USC in 2007 the Card returned home with self-confidence, but fell short in a tough game to TCU.


"In this conference, it's tough every week," said Harbaugh. "Everybody is capable, everybody is vulnerable. I think Steve Sarkisian understands that as well as anybody and I full expect them to have their team ready to play."


The Huskies win over Southern California didn't impress the Vegas oddsmakers enough as the Cardinal opened as a nine-point favorite. That number quickly plummeted and the spread has settled at seven points.

Editor's Note: The Bootleg does not condone, or offer an implied endorsement of, sports-related wagering, legal or otherwise. Gambling is evil... unless it is fourth down!

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