Stanford faces its first road game when it plays a nationally televised game against Washington on Thursday.
More significantly, it will be the first road game for Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes. Nunes has been efficient, if not spectacular, in the Cardinal’s first three games, including the upset of Southern Cal. His best asset has been his poise, and it remains to be seen whether he can exhibit the same composure in a hostile environment.
The No. 9 Cardinal would prefer not to have to rely on Nunes’ passing to win the game, hoping the running game that has been so effective against the Huskies the past few years will be enough to control this year’s meeting as well.
The Cardinal had a school-record 446 rushing yards in last season’s 65-21 romp again Washington. But three things are different this time. First, although the Cardinal’s running game has been productive this season, it has not been as overpowering as Stanford had hoped or as overpowering as it was last season.
Second, the Cardinal do not have the offensive weapons to put up 65 points on the Huskies this season, primarily because Andrew Luck is no longer around to provide a consistent passing attack and make big plays. Third, Washington’s run defense seems to be a little better than it was a year ago.
Being better than last season is not much of an accomplishment because the Huskies’ run defense was so poor last season. But with Justin Wilcox as the defensive coordinator this season, the Huskies are putting up some resistance against the run. Nonetheless, the Huskies are still vulnerable against the run, and the Cardinal should be able to exploit that weakness.
Nunes merely needs to be enough of a passing threat to make Washington respect the pass.
The other question is whether Stanford can handle success. Its 21-14 victory over USC showed the Cardinal can win without Luck, but now the Cardinal must show that it can avoid an emotional letdown and maintain that intensity. Luck provided the consistent excellence at the quarterback position to prevent a letdown the past three seasons.
Having a bye following the USC game, giving the Cardinal five extra days to get over the USC game, should benefit the Cardinal, especially the Stanford defense.
With the Cardinal offense no longer equipped to put up big numbers, the Stanford defense assumes a greater responsibility for the Cardinal’s success. It was outstanding against USC, shutting the Trojans out in the second half and preventing Matt Barkley from being effective and will need to do the same again this week against the Huskies’ versatile Keith Price.