TONIGHT Week 5 – Stanford at Washington
Posted Sep 26, 2012

Week 5 CFN Fearless Prediction – Stanford at Washington

-CFN Fearless Predictions
Stanford (3-0) at Washington (2-1) Sept. 27, 9:00, ESPN

Here's The Deal: Stanford has had an extra week to bask in the glory, rest some early bumps and plot out the rest of the season. It's time to get back to work.

The Cardinal was the story of Week 3, remaining unbeaten with an unexpected upset of then-No. 2 USC. However, the program, led by razor-focused head coach David Shaw, is all about looking ahead instead of peering back. Rising quickly in the polls, Stanford still has nine more regular season games, 10 if it's able to capture the Pac-12 North Division. And Shaw recognizes that in order for his team to build on its fast start, it still needs to improve in all three phases of the game.

Stanford has yet to play a road game, but that changes with this week's primetime, nationally-televised trip to Seattle to face Washington. The Huskies' seemingly solid 2-1 start is masking problems lurking beneath the surface. They darn near lost the opener to San Diego State, got abused by LSU and only rolled when Portland State came to town. This visit from the Cardinal is a critical one for U-Dub, a possible fork in the road in 2012. It's either going to further expose the flaws in this team, or will provide the Huskies with an opportunity to generate momentum on the back of an unbeaten and ranked visitor.

Why Stanford Might Win: The last time Washington met a physical opponent that was very strong on both lines, it bowed meekly to LSU, 41-3, in Week 2.

Okay, so Stanford isn't quite LSU, but the similarities are unmistakable. Both are assertive at the point of attack, lean on a power running game and can wreak havoc on opposing offensive lines. The banged-up O-line is a particular concern for the Huskies, who'll attempt to control an attacking defense that'll get after the pocket with underrated DE Ben Gardner and versatile linebackers Shayne Skov, Chase Thomas and Trent Murphy. The Cardinal will hit Washington with enough different looks from different spots on the field to keep QB Keith Price from ever getting comfortable as he sets to throw.

On offense, Stanford will stick to its blueprint of running powerful Stepfan Taylor behind FB Ryan Hewitt and an improving collection of young blockers. Taylor was brilliant in the USC game, compiling 213 total yards and scoring twice. Oh, and the Cardinal tight ends, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo, will be mismatches for an average and undersized set of Washington linebackers.

Why Washington Might Win: The Huskies boast the better quarterback in this showdown. And he'll have to play like it in order to deliver the upset at CenturyLink Field.

Stanford QB Josh Nunes has nicely managed his first three games as Andrew Luck's heir apparent, but he can't take a game over the way Price is capable of doing. When given time to operate, the junior is a bona fide playmaker, with nine three-touchdown games since replacing Jake Locker at the beginning of 2011. While Price is seeking more depth in his receiving corps, his first two options are Pac-12-caliber. WR Kasen Williams is a rising star, and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins looks NFL-ready in just his second year on campus.

As well as the retooled Stanford O-line has played through three games, it's going to get tested by the guys in purple on the other side of the ball. Josh Shirley is a guided missile on the outside, while young Danny Shelton will shoot the gap from the nose. Nunes has yet to feel the pressure that U-Dub will look to visit upon him Thursday evening.

What To Watch Out For: Both defensive backfields will be under the microscope. Both are up to the challenge.

Pegged in the preseason as a possible liability, the Stanford secondary has been terrific so far. The Cardinal has given up some yards, but have yielded just one touchdown pass. And none two weeks ago to Matt Barkley and USC. Sure, the pass rush is pitching in big time, but the defensive backs are tall and physical, and rapidly exceeding expectations. Sophomore safeties Ed Reynolds and Jordan Richards, who have three picks apiece, will attempt to keep Seferian-Jenkins from running wild through the defense.

Washington has been pretty pleased as well with its secondary, which will have an edge on the average Stanford wide receivers. The Huskies have yet to allow an opposing passer to throw for more than 200 yards or one touchdown in a game. S Sean Parker and CB Desmond Trufant are back-end playmakers, with All-Pac-12 ceilings. The veterans are getting an assist from blue-chip recruit Shaq Thompson, who had seven tackles, two stops for loss and a blocked kick in the Portland State win.

What Will Happen: The finesse and skill position talent of USC didn't work against Stanford. Neither will it for Washington.

It's never easy to go on the road on national TV against a team that's hungry for a statement win. However, the Cardinal, a mature and focused team, will be up to the task. The situation is different, and the game won't be in Baton Rouge, but Washington is very much the same team that was manhandled by LSU two weeks ago. Stanford will follow a similar script as the Tigers did, hammering its host with Taylor between the tackles, and pressuring Price from the opening drive. The Huskies will be fired up, fueled by the home crowd. The Cardinal, though, won't buckle from its surroundings, methodically executing its gameplan until U-Dub caves in on both sides of the ball.

CFN Prediction: Stanford 31 … Washington 21
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) Stanford -7 O/U: 51
Must Watch Rating (5 – Ryder Cup 2012, 1 – SNL Thursday Weekend Update): 4