NO. 16 WASHINGTON (4-0) AT NO. 5 STANFORD (4-0), 7:30 p.m., Saturday, October 5
Stanford's Oct. 5 home game against No. 15 Washington (4-0) will provide a quantifiable measure of Kevin Hogan's value to the No. 5 Cardinal.
The Huskies beat Stanford 17-13 last year, handing the Cardinal its first loss of the season. And Washington looks like a much better team this year, primarily because senior quarterback Keith Price is playing like he did as a sophomore, when he became a star.
Last season, Price struggled, in large part because he was constantly under pressure, getting sacked 37 times. Through the first four games this season, Price has been sacked just three times, the same number of times Stanford sacked him in one game last season.
Price did little against the Cardinal in 2012. In fact, the entire Huskies offense did little, using two big plays in the second half to squeeze out the upset win.
Stanford no longer has its two most productive offensive players from last year's Washington game -- running back Stepfan Taylor, who rushed for 79 yards, and tight end Zach Ertz, who caught six passes for 106 yards.
But now it has Hogan. The Cardinal's problem in that game was that it had no passing threat. Josh Nunes was the starting quarterback in that game, as he was in Stanford's first eight games last season. He simply could not get it done against a Huskies defense that had given no indication that it was capable of dominating any offense.
Nunes completed 18 of 37 passes for just 170 yards and could not convert the big plays needed against a Huskies defense that stacked the line to stop the run.
The Cardinal failed to score an offensive touchdown that day. The offensive struggles continued until the ninth game, when Hogan replaced Nunes in the first quarter against Colorado and became the Cardinal's No. 1 quarterback.
"The biggest thing is the most obvious, it's Kevin Hogan," Stanford coach David Shaw said of the difference between this year's Stanford team and the one that faced Washington last year. "It starts with his mobility. He's made us a much more diverse offense."
Hogan provides the mobility, passing accuracy and field presence that Nunes did not. It will be up to Hogan to provide the offense that was missing last season in Seattle.
Though he runs less and has a lower completion percentage than he had last season, Hogan is throwing the deep ball much better than he did a year ago.
With Ty Montgomery, Devon Cajuste and Michael Rector providing capable receivers on the outside, Stanford now has a deep threat it lacked in recent years. That was on display in the 55-17 victory over Washington State on Sept. 28, when Hogan threw four passes of more than 30 yards, three of which went for touchdowns.
"Their guys can really stretch the field more than they have in the past," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said.
The Washington State game was the best performance this season by Stanford and Hogan, who has already thrown more touchdown passes this year (10) than he did all of last season (nine). Hogan needs to produce some big plays to complement the Cardinal's power running game to have success against Washington.
The Cardinal is unlikely to contain Price as effectively as it did a year ago. He is completing 72.3 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and two interceptions this year, a dramatic improvement over his 2012 numbers.
The Cardinal cannot let Washington running back Bishop Sankey run wild like he did last year, when he had 144 rushing yards, including a pivotal 61-yard touchdown run.
Stanford is riding a 12-game winning streak, which is the second longest active winning streak in the country. Ohio State has won 17 in a row.
If Stanford is to make it 13 in row, Hogan must demonstrate that he is a noticeable improvement over what the Cardinal offered against Washington last year.
STANFORD PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB Kevin Hogan is 9-0 as a starter. He completed 63.2 percent of his passes in the first four games, which is down from his 71.7 completion percentage last year. The fact that Hogan is attempting more passes downfield has something to do with that. Hogan is getting better at throwing the deep ball, and his 10 touchdown passes through four games has already surpassed his nine touchdown throws for all of last season. Hogan has a knack for running for pivotal first downs, either out of scrambles or planned running plays.
--WR Ty Montgomery - After being injured much of last season, Montgomery has emerged as a big-play threat on the outside, something Stanford has lacked in recent years. His 20 receptions are twice as many as Stanford's second-leading receiver, and he is averaging 16.4 yards per reception with four touchdown catches. Montgomery has also been an effective kick-returner, averaging 25.8 yards per return.
--CB Wayne Lyons - Considered the weak link on the Cardinal's outstanding defense, Lyons will be tested often by Washington QB Keith Price. The Cardinal is solid at the other cornerback spot with Alex Carter, but Stanford's defensive success will depend on how well Lyons holds up against Washington's talented group of wide receivers: Kasen Williams, Kevin Smith and Jaydon Mickens.
SERIES HISTORY: Stanford has a 38-41-4 record against Washington, including a 17-13 loss to the Huskies in 2012. Before that loss, Stanford had beaten Washington four times in a row. The Cardinal's last home loss to Washington came in 2007, when the Huskies won 27-9.
QUOTE: "That's the difference between us this year and last year. When people drop their safeties down (into the box), we've got the ability to go deep." - Stanford coach David Shaw, to the San Jose Mercury News, on the Cardinal's deep threat this season with its wide receivers.
ASSESSING STANFORD'S RUNNING GAME Stanford relies on a power running game behind its strong offensive line to control the game's tempo. All-American G David Yankey is expected to return after missing the previous game for a family matter, so that should help. The Cardinal has averaged 5.3 yards per carry in its first four games, which is pretty good, and better than its 4.4 average year ago. Running the ball against Washington, which yields 3.4 yards per rushing attempt, will not be easy. Tyler Gaffney has become the primary running back, averaging 94.2 and 5.2 yards per carry. But you may begin to see more of redshirt freshman Barry Sanders, who had a 22-yard touchdown run and a 16-yard reception against Washington State.
ASSESSING STANFORD'S PASSING GAME: Sophomore QB Kevin Hogan has completed 62.9 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. He threw one bad pick in each of the past two games, but he is getting much better at throwing the deep ball, which had been his shortcoming. Stanford no longer focuses on its tight ends in the passing game, instead relying on WRs Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste to make big plays on the outside. The Cardinal has a deep threat it lacked in recent years. Hogan is averaging 15.1 yards per completion this season after averaging 10.1 a year ago. He already has more touchdown passes than he had in all of 2012. Washington ranks second in the nation in pass efficiency defense, so Hogan will be challenged.
ASSESSING STANFORD'S RUN DEFENSE: Stanford's run defense is its strength. It yielded 284 yards on the ground against Army's triple option attack, but held its other three opponents, San Jose State, Arizona State and Washington State, to 35, 50 and 51 rushing yards, respectively. Stanford's front seven is among the best in the country, although that group has not been quite as dominant as expected in the first four games. Washington's Bishop Sankey rushed for 144 yards against Stanford last season and is averaging 151.1 yards per game and 5.8 yards per carry this year.
ASSESSING STANFORD'S PASS DEFENSE: Stanford's pass defense is based largely on its pass rush. The Cardinal, which led the nation in sacks last year, has nine through the first three games, as teams are focusing on getting the ball out quickly. Stanford's secondary, led by CB Alex Carter and S Ed Reynolds, is better than it's been in recent years. Stanford has yielded a lot of passing yards this season, but part of that is because team s don't try to run against the Cardinal. Washington QB Keith Price is the best passer Stanford has faced this season.
ASSESSING STANFORD'S SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Jordan Williamson is 8-for-10 on field goal attempts, including a long of 48. His only misses came on attempts of 51 and 52 yards. He has had touchbacks on 12 of his 31 kickoffs, and Stanford's kick coverage has been pretty good. Ty Montgomery has proven to be a solid kick returner, averaging 25.8 yards per attempt. But the Cardinal is still waiting for him to break a big one. Ben Rhyne has averaged 39.9 yards per punt with minimal returns.
--OG David Yankey, who missed the Washington State game because of a family matter, is expected to be back for the Washington game.
--DE Henry Anderson will miss his third straight game because of a leg injury suffered against Army. He will miss a few games after that, but is not expected to be out the rest of the season.
--OLB Trent Murphy had the second interception return for a touchdown of his career against Washington State. It was nearly identical to the one he had against Washington last year. He blocked the pass at the line of scrimmage, gathered it in and outraced everyone to the goal-line.
--DE Nifae Lealao of Sacramento was the only high school recruit to commit to Stanford in the month of September. He is rated the nation's No. 8 defensive end by Scout.com.