It’s going to be an interesting Saturday slate of games this week, with perhaps the most entertaining of the bunch coming at the end, deep into the night. The No. 5 Stanford Cardinal look to protect their undefeated record once again on their home field, as Steve Sarkisian’s 4-0 Washington Huskies come calling at 10:30 p.m. ET/7:30 p.m. PT on ESPN.
UW, fresh off a win over previously-unbeaten Arizona last week, has climbed up to No. 15 in the AP Poll, and No. 14 in the FanSided Top 25. Led by a resurgant Keith Price and the nation’s most underrated back, Bishop Sankey, the Huskies appear to finally be for real, and barking for Sark.
To get some insight on Saturday’s tilt between UW and Stanford, we met up with Evan Webeck from The Husky Haul, chatting up the Huskies.
Saturday Blitz: So far, Washington has looked fantastic here in the fifth year of the Sarkisian regime. Has he finally turned the corner at UW?
Evan Webeck: Sarkisian took over a program that went 0-12 the year before he got there. He immediately turned the Huskies into a five-win team, and saw more improvement the next year. He stalled at seven wins for a few seasons, but has finally gathered the personnel, coaches and scheme that works. This is by far the best team he’s had since he arrived on Montlake, and it looks poised to challenge for the Pac-12 North.
SB: We all know that UW beat Stanford last year at CenturyLink, which perhaps cost Stanford an argument at a national championship. What do the Huskies have to do to repeat that feat on Saturday night?
EW: The biggest difference between last year and this year may be the man behind center for both teams. Stanford had Josh Nunes in last year’s loss in Seattle, but now employs one of the better QBs in the Pac-12, Kevin Hogan. On the other hand, Keith Price made a 180-degree turn around and is now an elite quarterback. UW has to push the pace and not make the dumb mistakes that it has made in the first four games of the season to have a chance.
SB: The Huskies have just one win in Palo Alto since 2000. What is it about Stanford, especially at home, that most concerns UW?
EW: The Huskies haven’t been much of a smash mouth team in recent years, but that has changed. Bishop Sankey is now pounding the ball up the middle, while also being able to take it outside, too. Defensively, the Huskies have arguably the best linebackers and secondary in the conference. They’re defensive line has never been a strong point, and that’s still the case this year. If the Cardinal are going to win, it’s going to be because they dominated the line of scrimmage again.
SB: Stanford gave up 284 on the ground to Army, which was pretty uncharacteristic. But other than that game, they’ve held teams to 136 combined yards in three games. What do you see Bishop Sankey doing against the Cardinal’s vaunted front seven?
EW: Obviously, the game against Army was an enigma. But Sankey is the best running back they’ve faced to this point, and the Huskies may have the strongest offensive line, too (can’t believe I just said that). No question, it’s going to be a struggle to get the running game going, but Stanford won’t have the luxury of putting any extra defenders in the box because when it does, Price will burn them with the deep ball. I think Sankey will have another 100-yard rushing performance, but won’t be the reason the Huskies win or lose.
SB: Keith Price is finally doing 2011 Keith Price things again. What’s he doing now that he was doing in 2011, but not necessarily in 2012?
EW: Price admitted to not having confidence in himself, his teammates, the play calling…really anything last season. That’s all changed and he is thriving. The biggest difference that I see is the scheme. With the hurry up offense and using quick passes, it eliminates the offense’s biggest weakness, the offensive line. And it highlights the offense’s strength, it’s playmakers.
SB: Kevin Hogan is yet another dynamic Pac-12 North quarterback, up there with Price and Marcus Mariota. How do you see UW stopping him, and should the experience of the Huskies secondary make an impact?
EW: The Huskies have found a gem in sophomore cornerback Marcus Peters. He’s already approaching Desmond Trufant area. Pairing him with Greg Ducre, who is having a breakout season himself, gives the Huskies the ability to play one-on-one matchups outside and bring more pressure on the quarterback. Sean Parker, obviously, is one of the top safeties in the conference. Having Shaq Thompson at linebacker gives the Huskies a lot of flexibility, too. Being a converted safety, he can cover a slot receiver if need be, but he also has the ability to rush the passer, stop the run or just sit back in coverage.
SB: Finally, give us a prediction. It’s the biggest game that the Huskies have played in years. How’s it go down?
EW: It’s going to be a great game. That’s the only solid prediction I can make. As much as I think the Huskies have a real chance at the upset, I can’t bring myself to predict it. I think it comes down to whichever team has the ball last. I’m going with Stanford, 31-28.