Can Washington shut down Stanford's offense?
The gritty Washington Huskies travel to Palo Alto this week in an attempt to knock off the No. 10-ranked Stanford Cardinal. The nation’s hottest offense hosts one of the stingiest defenses in a Pac-12 showdown on Saturday night. Who will prevail in this anticipated matchup?
After scoring 55 and 56 points in their last two contests, no offense outside of Baylor has been more impressive than the Cardinal. Led by PFF’s No. 12-ranked running back, Christian McCaffrey, and a mauling offensive line that owns our highest run-blocking grade (+68.8), the Cardinal have steamrolled the Pac-12 en route to a perfect 4-0 conference record.
As highlighted by our own Sam Monson, the biggest reason for the recent offensive dominance has been the superb play by McCaffrey, who has accounted for 844 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns. He’s been the alpha dog in the Stanford backfield, and his all-purpose traits have allowed the Cardinal play calling to lean on him in a multitude of ways and relieve quarterback Kevin Hogan from needing to carry the offense.
The offensive line and our highest-graded fullback, Daniel Marx, who has been outstanding as a run blocker, deserve praise as well, but McCaffrey has been the lynchpin for this high-powered attack.
Senior left guard Joshua Garnett leads the Cardinal offensive line. The preseason first-team All-Pac-12 honoree has been a behemoth in the running game and owns our second-highest overall grade for a guard. The entire starting offensive line has a positive run blocking grade, as well as junior tight end Austin Hooper.
The great play up front has allowed quarterback Hogan to dial back his attempts and only strike when needed. After a shaky 2014 and season-opener against Northwestern, Hogan is now our 13th-ranked quarterback. He has played very well since the Northwestern loss, earning positive grades in every game and completing 50 percent of his 20-plus-yard passes with five touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Washington has our 12th-ranked defense limited Oregon and USC to 38 combined points the past two weeks. That’s no easy task against two of the strongest offenses in the country. They are allowing 16.8 points per game and have one of the toughest defenses, albeit their 3-3 record.
Considering all of the well-known players the Huskies lost to the NFL in the offseason, it’s even more impressive what they’ve done. This defense still has a ton of talent at each position, but no one has been better than senior outside linebacker Cory Littleton. He is the highest-graded player on this defense and also owns the highest pass rush grade. His cohorts in the linebacker corps are dynamic redshirt sophomores Keishawn Bierria (+9.2 overall grade) and Azeem Victor. They are both versatile players who fly around the field making stops in the running game and can rush the passer or drop into coverage with aplomb.
The secondary is strong and has the Pac-12’s highest-graded cornerback duo in sophomores Darren Gardenhire and Sidney Jones. Safeties Kevin King and Budda Baker have also graded positively, and along with Brian Clay make up a stingy pass defense that ranks in the top 20 of our rankings.
Sophomore defensive lineman Elijah Qualls leads the shallow defensive line rotation for the Huskies. They use a lot of two down lineman sets, so Qualls is vital at plugging gaps and letting the talented linebackers swarm to the ball.
Stanford’s offense wins if:
They move the stout defensive linemen and neutralize the speedy and aggressive Washington linebackers in the running game. Ensuring the offensive line gets a body on the high-motor linebackers is essential to let McCaffrey gain chunks of yards and display his shifty moves in the open field.
Washington’s defense wins if:
They play smart and under control while not over-pursuing. These young and talented linebackers have a tendency to get out of control and can allow huge creases to develop. The secondary should have no problem locking down the average Stanford receiving corps. If they can force Hogan to put the ball in the air a ton, they could force a mistake or two.
Prediction: Stanford over Washington
The home field advantage plays a big role and allows the Cardinal to keep the ball on the ground and check into the most advantageous plays at the line of scrimmage. Washington gets bullied up front by the strong Stanford offensive line and Stanford wins a low-scoring match.