The Cardinal Rule: A look at Stanford

The year was 1975. Billie Jean King won Wimbledon. George Carlin hosted the very first Saturday Night Live. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest swept the Oscars. Betamax VCRs were introduced. Warren Moon was a sophomore quarterback for first-year Husky head coach Don James.

#13 Stanford (4-1, 5-1) at #10 Washington (4-1, 6-1)
Saturday, November 3 -- 12:35 PM
Husky Stadium – Seattle, WA
Last Meeting: October 28, 2000 – Washington 31, Stanford 28
Series All-Time: Washington leads, 37-32-4


And the Stanford Indians.. er, Cardinal –- for some people were still getting used to the nickname change -- beat Washington in Husky Stadium.

Twenty-six Wimbledons, five coaches and ten attempts later, the Cardinal is still seeking a repeat performance.

Paul Wiggin couldn't do it. Jack Elway couldn't. Bill Walsh had two tours of duty and couldn't. Dennis Green never had the opportunity. Tyrone Willingham hasn't been able to.

Not yet, anyway.

But coach Willingham, now in his seventh season, places little-or-no emphasis on oddities like that. "They have played better football games than we've played," Willingham logically dismisses when asked about Washington's string of home successes. "What we have to do is simply play better than Washington."

No, it's not slighting the streak. Instead, Willingham feels it's hard enough to win in a PAC-10 conference game without worrying about outside stratagems. Take Stanford's schedule, for instance. Consecutive games against Washington State, Oregon, UCLA, and now the Huskies, with a combined opponent record of 26-4 -- all losses coming against each other. It warrants Stanford's #1 strength-of-schedule rating in the latest BCS standings, lifting the Cardinal to a lofty #6 ranking after back-to-back wins over the Ducks and Bruins -- both top-five teams at the time.

"In the seven years that I have been in this league, I can't remember the conference being this strong," Willingham says of the juggernaut the PAC-10 has become. "From the start, we knew that the conference would be tough from top to bottom.

"And I still think you could see some shake-ups as we go into these last three or four weeks of conference play."

Certainly, some shaking up will happen this week, as UCLA, now 3-1 in conference play, visits 4-1 Washington State. Just as certainly, Stanford will give the PAC-10 the largest shudder if they can knock off Washington for their third-straight victory over a top-ten team. For the Cardinal load lightens considerably –- their last two conference games are with Arizona and California, currently a combined 0-10 in conference play. At 7-1, Stanford would need one WSU loss to claim at least a Fiesta Bowl berth.

Coach Willingham mentioned that playing so many big games consecutively could be taxing to his team, saying "We just played two great football teams, and now we have to play another one." But he also senses pride and a coming of age in Stanford's 38-28 win -- despite six turnovers -- over the Bruins last week. "We made our share of mistakes against UCLA, but we persevered," Willingham reflected. "Six turnovers won't win very many games. But we believed in ourselves, and we keep believing in ourselves."

Willingham also feels the same vibrations from Rick Neuheisel's Huskies, and feels it's no coincidence that they keep winning games at the end. "They're doing exactly what it takes to win," he feels, "and that's making plays in the fourth quarter. They have profited from their system and have done a great job of outplaying their opponent in all areas.

"Husky Stadium is a very difficult place to go play, and they have great confidence there. We will have to play our best game to get a victory."

Coach Willingham insists he doesn't delve into the BCS, and he doesn't read into any of it, saying, "Things like the BCS will take care of itself. All we have to do is just keep winning football games. That's what I call our internal focus.

"And I do know one thing. If we don't win this week, then none of (the BCS) is even a remote possibility."

Not to mention, having to bring up this 1975 business again in two years.
Stanford Cardinal two-deeps

Washington Huskies two-deeps
STANFORD OFFENSE

TEAM STATS: 39.3 points, 451.5 yards (193.0 rush, 258.5 pass)
RUSHING: Brian Allen 87-516-5 TD, Kerry Carter 115-411-8 TD
PASSING: Chris Lewis 38-68-4, 487 yards, 5 TD
RECEIVING: Ryan Wells 22-383-3 TD, Luke Powell 21-373-3, Teyo Johnson 4 TD


Former Washington offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick is now in his fourth season on the farm, and this may be the most impressive offense he has fielded yet -- Stanford is on pace to break their all-time record for points in a season, and are just off the pace for most total yards. They rang up 463 yards on a vaunted UCLA defense. They average over 34 minutes of possession time per game –- easily the best in the conference. And with senior QB Randy Fasani out at least another four weeks with a knee sprain, the starting unit only boasts three seniors.

For a second straight season, sophomore Chris Lewis (6-3, 215) takes over the controls. Though he's only 1-3 in career starts, his first win was a big one last week against UCLA. Lewis is a perfect 3-0 in games he had to relieve Fasani, and is also a perfect 3-0 playing against top-five teams. All three relief efforts were comeback wins -- one beat USC a year ago on the last play of the game. Lewis is athletic, and he likes to skirt outside and get the ball downfield, making him a constant big-play threat –- and also prone to turnovers. Says Diedrick of Lewis: "He's a year older now. He's seen a lot more. And nothing ever fazes him." Federal Way-Decatur RS-freshman Ryan Eklund (6-7, 205) has almost no game-situation experience, but finds himself one snap away from taking the reins.

First it was Troy Walters, then DeRonnie Pitts, now it's sophomore Luke Powell (5-8, 170) trying to add his name to a long list of distinguished Stanford receivers. Powell averages 18 yards per reception, and also leads the nation in punt returning at 22 yards per try. He has returns of 51, 49, and 46 yards in his few given opportunities. Junior Ryan Wells (6-0, 195) also averages 18 yards per catch. He had a 103-yard afternoon against the Bruins, and a 138-yard, two-touchdown day against Boston College. Mariner-turned-Mira Mesa sophomore Teyo Johnson (6-7, 240) had a breakout game against Oregon, and if Reggie Williams gives smaller DBs nightmares, Johnson will cause them to lose sleep. The two-sporter burned the Ducks for 95 yards, including a 28-yard strike from Lewis. Sophomore tight end Brett Pierce (6-6, 245) has a pair of touchdowns, and is a valuable third-down target.

Husky fans will never, ever forget Curtis Williams' tragic collision with junior TB Kerry Carter (6-2, 235) last year in the Palo Alto rain. Carter and senior Brian Allen (5-10, 200) alternate frequently in the backfield ala Hurst and Alexis, and both can chew up yardage and find the end zone. Allen averages 5.9 yards per carry, while Carter has bruised his way to eight TDs, including a school record-tying four-touchdown performance against Oregon. Carter has scored four twice in his career. Junior fullback Casey Moore (6-2, 240) complements Allen well as a lead blocker, and is a dangerous receiver.

The Cardinal line has only two seniors in the two-deeps, and four starters have been together now for two full seasons. Only sophomore tackle Kwame Harris (6-7, 308) is a first-year starter, and he was the sixth man in the rotation last year. Guards Eric Heitmann (6-4, 295) and Greg Schindler (6-5, 307) are both all PAC-10 candidates, and tackle Kirk Chambers (6-7, 295) returned from a two-year Mormon mission to earn all-Freshman accolades. Center Zack Quaccia (6-4, 310) is a three-year starter, and can also swing to guard if need be.
STANFORD DEFENSE

TEAM STATS: 30.2 points, 376.0 yards (93.3 rush, 282.7 pass)
TACKLES/TFL: Coy Wire 50/5, Tank Williams 40/0, Ruben Carter 36/1
SACKS: Anthony Gabriel 2, Austin Lee 1.5, Wire 1.5
INTERCEPTIONS: Carter 3, Ryan Fernandez 2


It's been an adventure replacing Riall Johnson and Willie Howard, but defensive coordinator Kent Baer has potentially ten senior starters that have allowed only four rushing touchdowns this year. Stanford has a propensity for giving up big plays, but with an offense that averages over 33 minutes of possession time, it can afford to gamble.

Junior tackle Matt Leonard (6-4, 290) is Stanford's leading sacker with three, but he missed the UCLA game with back spasms and is questionable to go here, so expect senior Travis Pfeifer (6-4, 274) to make his 10th-career start. Seniors Austin Lee (6-6, 275) and Marcus Hoover (6-4, 270) start on the ends, owning nine tackles-for-loss between them. Junior Trey Freeman (6-3, 295) dropped 30 pounds from his frame in earning the starting role at nose tackle. Top reserve Louis Hobson (6-3, 250) recorded his first career interception against UCLA.

Seniors dominate the linebacking corps. Coy Wire (6-1, 218) has just about done everything in his Cardinal career –- fullback, safety, and now inside linebacker. Wire leads Stanford in tackles, and had one of Stanford's two punt blocks against Oregon. Matt Friedrichs (6-1, 242) leads the Cardinal in TFL with seven, while Anthony Gabriel (6-3, 245) has six even though he missed the Washington State game with a broken hand. Freshman Amon Gordon (6-3, 267) got a medical redshirt last year, and made his first big play against the Ducks with a crucial punt block late.

It's also an all-senior defensive backfield for Stanford, led by hard-hitting free safety Tank Williams (6-3, 225). Williams leads the Cardinal with three interceptions (giving him seven career thefts) and in passes defended, and is second on the team in total tackles. Strong safety Simba Hodari (6-1, 208) recorded his first career interception against Boston College. The corners are smallish in Ruben Carter (5-8, 177) and Ryan Fernandez (5-11, 178), though they share 13 career interceptions between them. Fernandez ended Cory Paus' non-interception streak at 198 last week with a second-quarter pick. Senior Brian Taylor (5-11, 183) will get plenty of nickel time, and also has a pick this year. Taylor was abused by UCLA after Fernandez had to leave with a leg injury, but did come up big in UCLA's final drive.
STANFORD SPECIAL TEAMS

PLACE-KICKING: Mike Biselli 4-7 FG (long 41), 28-30 XP
PUNTING: Eric Johnson 29-37.6 (long 56), 5 inside-20
KICK RETURNS: Wells 11-25.3 (long 39), Allen 10-29.9 (long 76)
PUNT RETURNS: Powell 9-19.7 (long 51)


The kicking game hasn't been anything to write home about, but the Cardinal may well have the best kick-return game this side of Roc Alexander and Charles Frederick.

Senior place-kicker Mike Biselli (5-10, 195) might best be remembered by Husky fans for perfectly executing three-straight onside kicks last year in the Stanford Stadium swamp. Biselli does have good range with a career-best of 52-yards, though he's only 4-of-7 in FG attempts this season. Sophomore punter Eric Johnson (5-11, 175) has only improved to 37 yards per punt (with two being blocked) after averaging 34 yards as a freshman. The news gets much better for the Cardinal return game, with Brian Allen averaging 30 yards per kickoff return -- sixth in the country -- complementing Luke Powell's nation-leading 19.7 punt-return average. Ryan Wells averages a cool 25 yards per kick return, so it's not so cut-and-dried to just kick it away from Allen.

KIBBLES AND BITS

Oddly enough, with the tragic events of September 11 moving their annual meeting with San Jose State to December 1, the Cardinal still has two non-conference games to play after their conference schedule is complete. Stanford hosts Notre Dame on November 24 . . . It's an understatement to consider the running game key on Saturday. Under Tyrone Willingham, Stanford is 28-5 when it out-rushes the opponent. Meanwhile, Washington is 26-1-1 since 1995 in games it has rushed for over 200 yards . . . Of all the PAC-10 starting QBs, Cody Pickett has the highest completion percentage (58.6 percent) . . . One thing to count on –- Stanford will play it clean. For a sixth consecutive season, the Cardinal leads the PAC-10 in fewest penalty yards . . . It's noteworthy that under new coach Tony Alford, the Husky running backs have yet to lose a fumble. It's even more noteworthy that last year when Alford was at Iowa State, the Cyclone backs didn't lose one the entire season . . . More Turnovers: Washington has only allowed four scores from their 13 turnovers . . . UCLA's DeShaun Foster became the fastest Bruin ever to 1,000 yards, doing it in seven games. Previously, Karim Abdul-Jabbar did it in eight . . . Washington State leads the PAC-10 in turnovers caused (23) and sacks (26). However, they fell from first in rushing defense all the way to sixth when they gave up 446 yards on the ground to Oregon last week . . . When the Ducks welcome ASU to Autzen this week, it will be hard to match the aerial show Joey Harrington and Jeff Krohn put on last year in Tempe. The two combined for 866 yards and 11 touchdowns in Oregon's 56-55 double-overtime win.

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