Henry McKenna

Four-Down Territory: Washington at Stanford

Created on Oct. 05, 2013 6:12 AM EST

First Down: Washington at Stanford? Awkward…

Washington is the best team Stanford has faced this season. Stanford finally will pick on someone its own size. But Washington and Stanford have a chippy rivalry, as both have handed the other key losses in the last two years. Stanford started Washington’s downward spiral two years ago by trouncing them 65-21. Washington responded by upsetting Stanford 17-13 in 2012, which was the first of two missteps away from the national championship game. The teams have stinging animosity for each other — that makes for some good football.

Second Down: Stanford’s Big Plays Essential

David Shaw models consistency; however, his opponents cannot — they change every week. Stanford may be running the same offensive game plan, even the same plays. But the plays might go a little differently, perhaps for less yards. Stanford’s juiced-up offense (via Devon Cajuste, et al.) will face a team ready for its explosive threats on the perimeter. Stanford’s offense won’t cool off if Kevin Hogan continues his deep-ball dominance. The wide receivers have been getting open and Hogan has been hitting them in stride.

Though, if Washington can keep Stanford from blowing the top of the Huskies defense, they have a good chance of winning the game. Washington is fourth in the nation allowing only 10.8 points and they want to keep it that way.

Third Down: Defense Decides

Price only has been sacked three times this season, the same number of sacks Stanford got last year. Meanwhile, Price is throwing for 82.1 percent with four touchdowns when he sees pressure, according to ESPN.com. He’s near impossible to beat. So too is Kevin Hogan. Neither team has seen much of the other. Hogan had not supplanted Josh Nunes when the Huskies upset the Cardinal in 2011. Stanford has seen Price before, but he looks like a new man.

The running back Bishop Sankey should be considered one of the best in the country. Stanford’s committee featuring Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson is one of the best in the country.

All this means that it’s going to come down to defense. Can Stanford’s front seven, which nearly never reverts to eight men in the box, stop Sankey? Will the Huskies shut down Ty Montgomery in the red zone and Cajuste in the deep game? The best defensive team will win this game.

Fourth Down: Big Pac-12 Moment

This game will echo across college football. If Washington pulls off the upset, they immediately will be mentioned in the national championship hunt and next week’s game against Oregon will be enormous. Conversely, if Stanford wins, it galvanize its prestigious reputation.

The Pac-12 has gotten more hype, stealing the SEC's show. In many ways, the Pac-12 is playing some of the best college football. The only problem is that they usually become a thorn in each other’s paw. Every team can win big games, which means no one team has a great chance of going undefeated. Saturday’s game likely will end one team’s hopes for a national championship. My guess is that Stanford comes out on top in a close game, 30-27.

Follow Henry on Twitter: @McKennAnalysis

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