A year ago, the Stanford Cardinal finished the season at 12-2. They won the Rose Bowl in one of the greatest seasons in school history. One of those two losses came in a 20-13 heartbreaker on the road to eventual national title game runner-up Notre Dame.
The other? To a Washington team that only finished 7-6 in what was largely a disappointing 2012 campaign.
With Week 6 of the 2013 season approaching, the two teams meet once again, for the 83rd time. This time around, the Huskies are playing up to their potential. Coach Steve Sarkisian’s squad is sitting pretty at No.15 in the nation with a pristine, 4-0 record.
Beating Stanford for the 42nd time in program history and moving to 5-0 on the year will not be easy, however. The Cardinal look poised to compete for its third consecutive BCS victory (the program took home the Fiesta Bowl win in 2011-12) and also enters Saturday’s game with a 4-0 mark.
The two teams have gotten to this point utilizing two very different methods, however. The Huskies have scored at least 31 points in every game they have played, and steamrolled Boise State to open the season, 38-6. A re-energized Keith Price has been surgical under center, completing 72.3-percent of his passes for 1,044 yards, nine touchdowns and two picks thus far.
His stellar play following a down year as a junior in 2012 has opened up the rushing game for superstar-in-the-making Bishop Sankey. Had the team been better last year, his 1,439 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns would have garnered more attention nationally. Sankey is on pace for an even bigger junior season, having already tallied 607 yards and five scores while averaging a robust 5.84 yards per attempt.
While programs such as Boise State, Illinois and Arizona present certain challenges, however, none boast a defense of the caliber of Stanford.
The saying “Offense wins games, but defense wins championships” epitomizes Stanford’s approach to the game. While the rest of the Pac-12 has spread their respective offenses out to the max, the Cardinal has condensed, bringing in spectacularly talented defenders to stop the league’s warp-speed attacks and putting up just enough points to win.
On Saturday, the duty of stopping the rushing of Sankey and the right arm of Price falls on the shoulders of linebacker Shayne Skov, defensive linemen Josh Mauro and Ben Gardner and defensive back Ed Reynolds. All are seniors, and all are primed to blow the nation away.
The question, of course, is whether this core of weapons can shut down the Huskies’ elite offensive unit. If not, can coach David Shaw’s offense put up enough points to compete?
That depends upon the continued growth of quarterback Kevin Hogan’s game. The junior is not asked to do very much, but he has tallied 832 passing yards with 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. The team lost star tight end Zach Ertz to graduation and the NFL, but junior wideouts Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste have stepped up to fill the pass-catching void.
Will it be enough against Washington’s star senior corner Sean Parker and his three interceptions? Can Price and Sankey continue to pile up the points against Stanford’s spectacular defensive unit?
What about the coaching matchup? Shaw has proven he has what it takes to continue to build the program after Jim Harbaugh took over with the San Francisco 49ers, but Sarkisian has yet to prove he has what it takes to make Washington viable on the national stage on a regular basis.
Can he change the game on Saturday, or will the Cardinal flex its muscle in a huge way as it continues its march for a national championship bid?
We have no idea what these answers to these questions are, but perhaps you do. It’s time to settle it!