It’s been 372 days since Stanford has lost to a Pac-12 team. Last year the Cardinal converted two make-or-break fourth downs to edge past Arizona, took down a resilient UCLA team twice in the span of six days and put on an epic defensive performance to take down mighty Oregon in Autzen Stadium. Stanford defeated every Pac-12 opponent it faced, regardless of whether the game was an offensive shootout or a defensive slugfest.
But the one team that the Cardinal couldn’t beat was the Washington Huskies.
Tomorrow, No. 5 Stanford (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seeks redemption when it hosts No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0), and though the Cardinal players have avoided using the word “revenge” throughout the week, there is no doubt that last year’s loss to the Huskies left a bitter taste in their mouths.
That feeling of disappointment still resonates with junior wide receiver Ty Montgomery, who dropped what would have been the go-ahead touchdown with less than three minutes to go in last year’s game against the Huskies. The ball was one of the few well-thrown passes by quarterback Josh Nunes on that Thursday night, but it went right through the receiver’s hands.
“I feel like I didn’t do my part and let everybody down,” Montgomery said. “I don’t remember the plays, I choose not to. I just remember how I felt, and I don’t want to feel that again.”
In less than two years, defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox has managed to transform a sloppy Huskies defense that gave up 35.9 points and 284.6 passing yards per game in 2011 into a fearsome unit that so far has allowed just 10.8 points and 156.8 passing yards per game — two statistics both currently ranked in the nation’s top 10. Even with the loss of its star cornerback Desmond Trufant to the NFL, Washington’s secondary has not missed a beat, allowing just one touchdown through the air while picking off six passes.
Though the Huskies defense did not allow Stanford to score an offensive touchdown in their last meeting, the Cardinal offense has developed a new downfield aerial threat that was glaringly absent a year ago at CenturyLink Field. The speed and physicality of Montgomery and junior wideout Devon Cajuste — who hauled in four catches for 115 yards for two touchdowns in last weekend’s blowout win against Washington State — should prove to be especially important if the Huskies key in on stopping the run.
“We have to show we’ll go downtown if it’s there for our [receivers],” said head coach David Shaw. “That’s got to be part of who we are.”
Tomorrow’s matchup will feature the two most efficient passers in the Pac-12. Cardinal junior quarterback Kevin Hogan leads the conference in efficiency with a 174.6 rating and 9.56 yards per pass attempt, while Huskies signal-caller Keith Price isn’t far behind with a 173.6 rating and 72.3 completion percentage. After a sensational 33-touchdown 2011 campaign, Price failed to meet expectations last year behind an injury-riddled offensive line.
“[Price] looks like a healthy quarterback, like he did two years ago,” Shaw said. “He looks like a quarterback who has a healthy offensive line in front of him. He’s playing with a lot of confidence. He’s playing like that guy who burst on the scene two years ago when everybody in the conference took notice of him.”
Price has plenty of weapons surrounding him on offense, including workhorse running back Bishop Sankey, preseason All-American tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and shifty wide receiver Kasen Williams. One of the most underrated halfbacks in the country, Sankey broke a school record last weekend when he carried the ball 40 times against Arizona. And while Seferian-Jenkins has yet to have a breakout game in 2013, the Cardinal defense is all too familiar with Williams’ playmaking ability; after all, it was Williams who scored the game-winning touchdown on a screen — thanks to a missed tackle at the line of scrimmage — against Stanford last season.
“[Williams] is a big receiver. He’s strong, he’s fast, and I know we have to prepare for him,” said sophomore Alex Carter, who has been playing lights-out in pass coverage as well as setting a hard edge against the run. “[Defensive coordinator Derek] Mason always says, ‘Pursue the ball.’ A good tackling team is a team that can get all hats to the ball, so if we can just do that, we can stop the big play from happening. That’s the biggest thing.”
Even if tomorrow isn’t a revenge game for Stanford, it will certainly showcase two undefeated Pac-12 North teams looking to keep their conference title hopes alive.
“It’s going to be a battle,” Shaw said.
Tomorrow’s Pac-12 North showdown will kickoff at 10:30 p.m., with national television coverage on ESPN.
For in-game updates and analysis, check stanforddaily.com for our live blog and follow @StanfordSports on Twitter.
Contact George Chen at gchen15 ‘at’ stanford.edu.