Washington Huskies vs. Stanford Cardinal

Washington (4-6) will welcome the Stanford Cardinal (0-9) on Saturday at 12:30 PM in what's expected to be a windy and rainy Husky Stadium. Here's a preview from the two insiders on this network.

LAST WEEK: Washington suffered one of their worst defeats of the season, a 34-14 drubbing at the hands of the Oregon Ducks in Eugene.  The Huskies scored early in the third period to draw within three points at 17-14 before Oregon's rushing attack ran over, through, and around the Husky defense and torched them for 17 unanswered points.  The Husky linebackers were grasping at air all afternoon as the Duck's Jonathan Stewart and Jeremiah Johnson took advantage of cutback lanes and had a field day on the ground.  The Washington rushing attack was easily shut down by an Oregon defense that was supposed to be prone to giving up 100-yard rushing days for opposing backs.  The Husky offensive line got handled in the trenches and Louis Rankin could not get untracked.  Carl Bonnell was flushed from the pocket often and had several balls dropped.  It was the low point in the season on both sides of the ball, and to make things worse, the Husky punt team gave up a return for a touchdown by the Ducks' Patrick Chung, who was returning punts for the first time all season.  The bitter loss left the Huskies 4-6, including five losses in a row.  They'll look this week to break that streak with a win in their final home game of the season before traveling to Pullman to face the WSU Cougars in the Apple Cup.  Washington would love to send their seniors off with a win on Saturday as a thank you for sticking it out during perhaps the darkest period of football ever seen at the UW.LAST WEEK: Stanford moved full speed ahead on the train to 0-12 with a 42-0 shutout at home against USC.  Those same Trojans had not scored more than 33 points since their opener and had played within a touchdown of four straight opponents.  Stanford was visibly outmanned at most positions in all three phases of the game.  Special teams fumbled a kickoff return and had a field goal blocked that USC ran back for a score.  The Stanford offense could not protect against heavy blitzing pressure, while the running game mustered 1.0 net yards per carry on the day.  The defense gave up a new season high against the pass of 247 yards and three touchdowns (on just 14 completions), though the much maligned run defense was sometimes stout - USC and Pete Carroll had to run the ball in the final minute to crack 100 yards and avoid some measure of statistical embarrassment against the nation's worst unit.  USC was determined to put up points and attempted four fourth downs, converting three times.  Maybe most disheartening was the field goal block, which resulted in five Stanford injuries on one play.  There is no sugar-coating a shutout, which is now semi-regular for the Stanford offense, though redshirt junior quarterback T.C. Ostrander did have his best passing game of the season (178 yards), including some completions deeper down the field.  The rush defense was uneven, but 3.4 yards per carry is enough to launch a tickertape parade with this team.
KEY INJURIES: Isaiah Stanback (foot - out), Kenny James (ankle - probable), Clay Walker (knee - will play), Brandon Ala (dislocated elbow - out), Carl Bonnell (shoulder - will play), Donald Butler (knee - questionable). KEY INJURIES: QB Trent Edwards (foot - out), QB T.C. Ostrander (knee - will play), FB Nick Frank (spine - out), WR Mark Bradford (foot - out), TE Matt Traverso (out), C Tim Mattran (leg - out), OG Josiah Vinson (questionable), OT Chris Marinelli (ankle, doubtful), OG Ismail Simpson (questionable), ILB Pat Maynor (staph infection - doubtful), ILB Fred Campbell (questionable), CB Wopamo Osaisai (shoulder, leg - questionable), CB Tim Sims (questionable), S David Lofton (foot - out), CB/S Brandon Harrison (shoulder - will play)
WHEN WASHINGTON IS ON OFFENSE: Washington is suffering from lack of a rushing game.  When Isaiah Stanback went down, his ability to keep plays alive with his feet and his ability to throw the ball across his body on the run made this offense look better than it really is.  Now with a rushing attack that is dormant, back up QB Carl Bonnell is asked to find receivers that are being blanketed by seven defenders at times.  Bonnell has thrown eight interceptions in two starts now, and his receiving corps has dropped the ball on him a number of times.  Against Stanford, Bonnell will look to Sonny Shackelford (44 rec. 585 yards, 7 TDs) and Anthony Russo (29 rec. 532 yards, 2 TDs) to get open.  Corey Williams now has 10 receptions on the season and Quintin Daniels scored twice.  TE Johnie Kirton needs a big game, and is capable of it (11 rec. 3 TDs).  Louis Rankin is the lone tailback and has missed being spelled by Kenny James.  Rankin's forte is speed whereas James was stronger between the tackles.  The offensive line looks to redeem itself after Oregon handled them easily.  It is the same five guys - Ben Ossai and Chad Macklin at the tackles, Clay Walker and Stan Daniels at the guards, and Juan Garcia at center.  It is a unit that is #8 in scoring offense in the Pac-10 (22.4), #7 in passing offense (193.3 ypg), and #6 in rushing offense (138.7). WHEN STANFORD IS ON OFFENSE: Oh, to be ranked 6th or 7th in Pac-10 offensive categories!  The offense was expected to be the sole strength on this team, though they have been devastated by injuries and performed dead last every official Pac-10 statistic (save 9th in passing efficiency and 8th in fourth down conversions).  Golden boy Trent Edwards was lost midway through the season, giving way to T.C. Ostrander, though Edwards had his own difficulty with the injuries and offense around him.  Cardinal quarterbacks have started with true freshmen or walk-ons at wide receiver in 13 of 18 slots this season, and two of those five starts for Evan Moore and Mark Bradford ended with injury in the first series.  Whether the pass has hurt the run or the run has hurt the pass, the statistics are staggering this year.  One offensive touchdown in the last five games, and that was a halfback pass.  2.2 yards per carry and 67.9 per game rushing.  163.0 yards passing per game, with 10 interceptions against just seven touchdowns.  Two of the four worst all-time Stanford passing performances in the last three games.  37 sacks allowed.  Moore (11 rec. 179 yards, 2 TDs) is on the mend, and Ostrander (45.1%, 54.7 ypg) improved last week - glimmers of faint hope.  Stanford has tried to run the ball with Anthony Kimble (3.8 ypc) and Toby Gerhart (3.7 ypc), with middling-to-poor success.
WHEN STANFORD HAS THE BALL: The Huskies were reeling last weekend trying to stop the run.  The front four suffered a loss as Brandon Ala's senior season is over after a dislocated elbow.  He was having a solid year.  In his place Greyson Gunheim will reassume his starting role at one end, flanked by Daniel Te'o-Nesheim on the other side.  Inside will be Jordan Reffett and Wilson Afoa, with Donny Mateaki rotating in a great deal to keep legs fresh.  Because Mateaki is a senior, he may get the starting nod on Saturday.  The linebackers feature two seniors in Scott White and Tahj Bomar inside with junior Dan Howell outside.  White has been the most sure tackler of the bunch (74 stops, 9 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 4 INT) and has been very productive.  Bomar has struggled and was being replaced in the lineup by true freshman Donald Butler before Butler got hurt in practice last week.  Chris Stevens and EJ Savannah also play a great deal.  Trenton Tuiasosopo rotates inside as well.  The secondary features CJ Wallace (90 tackles) at one safety and probably Jason Wells at the other.  However Chris Hemphill had a good game against Oregon last weekend and may get a long look.  Mesphin Forrester also rotates back there.  The corners are senior Dashon Goldson and junior Roy Lewis.  Lewis has really come on as of late to become a solid cover corner.  As a unit, the Huskies rank 9th in scoring defense (25.9 ppg), 9th in pass defense (234.8 ypg), 8th in turnover margin (-.4), and 9th in rushing defense (154.8 ypg). WHEN WASHINGTON HAS THE BALL: Despite a season-best 108 yards rushing allowed last Saturday, Stanford still stands as the worst unit in Division I-A at 239.1 yards per game.  Their 5.24 yards per carry allowed towers above next-worst Washington (4.40 ypc).  Redshirt freshmen and true freshmen play heavily in the front seven of Stanford's 3-4 defense, and they feel they started to put it together last week with gap integrity and linebacker fits against the run.  The Cardinal will miss their most talented playmaker on defense Saturday in senior inside linebacker Michael Okwo, who leads the conference and ranks #12 in the nation in tackles per game (10.29).  The secondary has been statistically sound this year, due in part to solid play as well as opponents' predilection to run the ball against Stanford.  But injuries are now pummeling the defensive backfield, with fifth-year senior safety David Lofton out and their starting cornerbacks (Wopamo Osaisai and Tim Sims) both questionable after USC injuries.  Osaisai and Sims are inexperienced players who made great strides this season in coverage.  Senior Brandon Harrison is getting healthy and is a steady and versatile tackler and playmaker at both safety and cornerback.  Stanford has often this year employed a package of two linebackers and six defensive backs when opponents have spread the field with extra receivers.  Rainy conditions may keep Washington on the ground and Stanford in its base defense, but watch for some ultra-green Cardinal when the 3-2-6 is on the field.  Stanford has not forced a fumble in five games, and they have one interception in their last four (returned 72 yards by Osaisai for a score).
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Huskies have gotten very little on kickoff returns, ranking 8th in the conference (18.8 yards per return), but if he gets a chance, Marlon Wood has enough speed to make things happen.  On punt returns it's been the same story, ranking 7th (6.6 yards per return despite Wood's speed).  Punter Sean Douglas is #2 in the conference with a 42.9 yard average, but his net of 34.2 is a reflection of just how poorly this unit covers punts.  PK Michael Braunstein has been solid, connecting on 9-of-11 tries and has been deep on his kickoffs. The punt coverage team was flagged twice for the same motion penalty, however, raising concerns.  The deepsnapping has been very solid after a tough first two games. SPECIAL TEAMS: This unit can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Stanford offense and defense.  They had their fourth kick blocked last week and suffered their third fumbled kickoff return.  Punt returns (4.8 ypr) and kickoff returns (15.4 ypr) rank dead last in the Pac-10, with the latter regularly starting Stanford inside its own 20 despite the new one-inch tee in 2006.  Aaron Zagory is kicking field goals and PATs, with the worst percentages in the conference for both.  Jay Ottovegio was expected to be a top punter this fall but was slow out of the gate; he is improving of late with both distance and goalline placement (two on the two-yardline last week).  Osaisai is the lone special teams spark and worth watching on coverage, also recently added as a kickoff returner.  His status is questionable this week.
WASHINGTON CAN WIN IF: Louis Rankin can get untracked.  If the Huskies could assemble any kind of a rushing attack, it might give the receivers a chance to get open against defenses that have very little respect for the Husky running game.  If Rankin can bust free, then Bonnell might be able to find Kirton without a bevvy of LBs all over him, and Shackelford and Russo on outs, ups, and slants.  Bonnell does need to stay away from forcing balls, though.  Even if all of the turnovers aren't his fault, eight picks in two starts is too many.  Particularly when your completion percentage is below 50%.  Carl needs to take care of the football, and if he gets some help from the ground game, he's good enough to connect with Shack and Russo and Kirton enough times to win this football game. STANFORD CAN WIN IF: Lightning literally strikes.  It will take an act from the Big Man to level this lopsided playing field, and that is a statement to behold for Husky fans reeling from five straight losses.  Fortunately for Stanford, there is rain forecast for Saturday, which could make for extraordinary bounces of an already strange-shaped ball.  Ostrander and Moore will have to connect on at least one big play in the air, and the Cardinal will have to come up with an atypically consistent ground game.  Rain encourages teams to run the ball, and Stanford just maybe turned the corner last week with their rush defense.  The defense's depleted first string will have to force at least two or three game-turning turnovers to make up for overall inadequacies on both sides of the ball.  Stanford must control the clock through much of the game and take an early lead.
WASHINGTON WILL LOSE IF: They once again cannot stop the rushing game.  Washington needs to watch out for the cutback type of runs that have gashed them.  Both ASU and Oregon hurt them when linebackers overpursued or ran out of their lanes.  Also, if the Huskies turn the ball over as often as they have recently, the Cardinal could very easily score enough points to win this football game.  The Huskies are the better team, but they don't have a huge margin for error.  Also, they cannot afford to give up another return for a touchdown.  Anything that begins to turn the momentum to Stanford could be dicey, as this team cannot have the best of confidence levels right now. STANFORD WILL LOSE IF: History holds form.  This is the worst team in modern Stanford Football - maybe ever - playing at the house where no Cardinal squad has won since 1975.  In college athletics, fans can always cling to the hope of "anything is possible," and upsets are a regular part of life.  But Stanford is so overwhelmingly non-competitive today as to take all hope away from this game and the subsequent two of the 2006 season.  Stanford will struggle mightily on offense.  Washington will get back its groove against the Cardinal defense.  Turnovers will exacerbate the visitors' difficulty.  And something on special teams will send the home fans in Husky Stadium into a frenzy.
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David Samek is the Publisher of Dawgman.com and the Editor-In-Chief of Sports Washington magazine. He has been covering Washington football since 1996. Mike Eubanks is the publisher for TheBootleg.com and has been covering Cardinal sports since 1998.

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