Stanford has been the Andre the Giant of Pac-12 Conference football, slowly, methodically slugging its way through the heart of defenses, right to the top of the Pac-12 Conference.
Whatever you want to call its brand of football — smash-mouth or old-school — Stanford has taken pride in playing a style that, well, it’s just meaner than anyone else’s in the Pac-12. As Washington defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha put it, a game against Stanford is a challenge to your manhood.
Suddenly, Stanford is more. Suddenly, Stanford can do it all on offense — smash it on the ground or spread it all around — making it, maybe, even meaner.
After claiming the Pac-12 championship last year, and winning its first Rose Bowl since 1971, the fifth-ranked Cardinal (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) has unleashed sophomore quarterback Kevin Hogan, who has emerged as the top-rated passer in the conference entering Saturday’s game against the No. 15 Huskies (4-0, 1-0) at Stanford Stadium.
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“This is going to be our biggest challenge yet,” UW defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said.
Hogan threw three touchdown passes of 33 yards or more in the Cardinal’s 55-17 rout of Washington State last Saturday. Last season, the Cardinal had a total of three touchdown passes of 30 yards or more.
“That makes them a lot more dynamic, having that balanced offense,” Kikaha said. “That’s also exciting. You get a changeup. You get to play really hard, physical ball, and then you get to rush the passer. It’s a good thing for us.”
Stanford will still pound the ball, no doubt. Hogan will do play-action passing off of that, and he’ll spread it around with three- and four-receiver sets at times, with Hogan capable of throwing it over safeties who sneak closer to the line. That often becomes necessary against perhaps the best offensive line in the Pac-12, featuring All-American guard David Yankey.
And Stanford will still use its “elephant” package of seven or eight offensive linemen in short-yardage situations.
“Everybody kind of puts them into that (smash-mouth) niche, and they do (that); they’re as physical as anybody and they run the ball as well as anybody, so that’s a challenge,” Wilcox said. “But now with the wideouts and the quarterback playing like they are, that creates a different set of issues.”
UW leads the Pac-12 in total defense and ranks third in the nation in allowing just 3.8 yards per play. But the Huskies have yet to play an offense that will challenge them — and their manhood — quite like this.
Defense gets a kick out of Coons
Washington senior kicker and punter Travis Coons was on his way to a special-teams meeting Monday morning when Wilcox asked him to step into a meeting with the defense instead.
“Sweet!” Coons thought. “I’m about to get some time at safety.”
Sorry, the Huskies have the safety position covered. But Wilcox wanted to make sure his defense appreciated Coons, who deserved an “MVP award,” coach Steve Sarkisian said, for his efforts in dreadful conditions during Saturday’s UW victory over Arizona.
“Everybody give Coons a round of applause for helping us out,” Wilcox asked his defensive players.
Said Coons: “That’s never happened before.”
Kicking into a headwind during a rainstorm, Coons made a season-long 42-yard field goal to give UW an 8-0 lead in the second quarter. More impressively, all five of his punts dropped inside the 20-yard line.
Coons is 4 for 4 on field-goal attempts this season and said a “big factor” in his success is that he’s not in charge of kickoffs anymore. Freshman Cameron Van Winkle has taken over as the kickoff specialist, after Coons did the kicking, punting and kickoffs last season.
“Kickoffs actually took a lot out of my leg,” he said. “Just handling kicks and punts, my legs feel fresh every day.”
Adam Jude: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org