The Washington Huskies will look to continue their climb up the College Football Playoff rankings with Friday night’s 7:30 p.m. game at Stanford. As we do before each UW game, we sat down with 710 ESPN Seattle host and ESPN college football analyst Brock Huard to break down some keys for the No. 9 Dawgs.
1. Be disciplined on defense to keep star Stanford running back Bryce Love from breaking loose.
The Huskies will do what they always do defensively, which is stick to what they know and believe in. That’s why they are the No. 1 defense in the country. That begins with Vita Vea and Greg Gaines defeating blockers inside and allowing linebackers and secondary defenders to clean up. As for Love, who has at least one run of 52 yards or more in each game he’s played this season – including one last week in Pullman on his 12th TD run of the year – it will be about shrinking the creases and running lanes and finishing tackles. Defensive backs Taylor Rapp and JoJo McIntosh are going to be key figures in the game plan, as they’re often unblocked defenders who will have to be the surest of tacklers against the best home run hitter in college football.
2. Embrace run first, play-action second.
UW has learned it is a run-first, play-action-second team, and that the plan to produce big plays has to be manufactured much more frequently in 2017 than 2016. The perfect example was the bomb to Dante Pettis from Jake Browning last week against Oregon on a third-and-2 in the second quarter. That play was first built on the power run game and the commitment to run the ball much more frequently than in years past. I don’t see that changing in the weeks ahead, as it is something built as much on the strengths of this Washington group’s personnel as it is on what happened in the team’s lone loss to Arizona State.
3. Don’t let Stanford’s defense dictate the game.
Cardinal nose tackle Harrison Phillips is a monster and linebacker Peter Kalambayi is one of the country’s top five sackers. The two inside linebackers both run well, and safety Justin Reid is an all-conference difference maker that is hard to fool. He will have his eyes on Browning and the play-action game all night. The Cardinal have struggled to stop the run consistently, though, and I believe they will put Reid and others around the line of scrimmage to try and get Browning to check and put the ball in the air more than keeping it on the ground.
4. A chance to get Azeem Victor into a groove with a new position.
Azeem has been the odd man out in a loaded group of linebackers for Washington. He has just not been playing as sudden and twitchy inside the box as he did a year ago, and a combination of a lack of confidence, not trusting his instincts and Ben Burr-Kirven’s breakout season has resulted in him losing playing time. Washington will try him out as an edge rusher against Stanford, and getting out into space may be exactly what Azeem needs to restore his own belief in the talents and gifts he still has.