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Stanford's top football defense will be tested by Huskies

 

While Stanford football possesses the nation's best defense, the Cardinal most likely will give up more points, more yards and more first downs against Washington this weekend than it has in any game this season and may very well be playing even better.

The unranked Huskies (0-0, 4-0) have scored 59, 44 and 45 points in their past three games, all at home. The 16th-ranked Cardinal (1-0, 2-1) is headed for Husky Stadium, which may be one of the top two loudest venues (along with Oregon) in the Pac-12 Conference, for Saturday's 1:15 p.m. kickoff.

"Their offense is explosive," Stanford linebacker A.J. Tarpley said. "They have guys at every skill position who can take it the distance on almost any play."

Stanford has not allowed an opponent to score more than 30 points in any of its past 26 games, the longest streak in the country. Still smarting over its conference loss to USC, the Cardinal cannot afford to slip again if it still has eyes (and it does) on reaching its third consecutive Pac-12 championship game.

Stanford ranks first nationally in scoring defense (4.3), total defense (204.3), passing defense (66.0) and first down defense (11.3).

Washington averages 41.2 points, 418.0 offensive yards, 178.8 passing yards and 21.8 first downs a game.

"I think we're doing a good job and we're always trying to get better," Tarpley said. "At the same time it is only three games."

The Huskies are also a plus-8 in turnover margin and average 24.5 points a game as a result of the turnovers. Stanford, which has lost five fumbles and had one pass intercepted, is a minus-1 and averages 5.7 points as a result of turnovers.

"We need to create more opportunities for ourselves," Tarpley said. "Whether we get zero turnovers or four turnovers, we always want more."

Shaw thinks Stanford's ability to keep possession of the ball went a long way in creating the success of the program the past several years.

"The two biggest things that go under-appreciated in the last four years with how many games we've won is how great we've been on defense and how we haven't turned the ball over," he said. "If you play great defense and not turn the ball over, there's a good chance you win."

One other tiny detail worth mentioning is that Washington has scored in each of its 19 trips into the red zone. Stanford has scored in eight of its 14 trips (57 percent) into the red zone and that is something that has been addressed by the Cardinal coaching staff.

"It's not the play-calling," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "We just need to do things better in the red zone."

Stanford's offensive line, which misfired at times against the Trojans, faces its toughest test of the season at Washington, which ranks fourth nationally in sacks averaging nearly five a game.

A Cardinal strength the past several seasons, the offensive line, already has allowed six sacks this year. It gave up 16 all of last year and that was in 14 games.

"This is the next thing for them," Shaw said. "They're playing against a good front seven and in a loud environment. Sometimes they are not going to hear the signals, so they better know the hand signs. Every week they've gotten better."

Andrus Peat (6-7, 316), Joshua Garnett (6-5, 325), Graham Schuler (6-4, 287), Johnny Caspers (6-4, 297) and Kyle Murphy (6-7, 298) will line up against one of the biggest, most physical lines in the conference.

"Hopefully they play better than they did the game before," Shaw said. "The big word is cohesive. Individual talent on the offense line depends on the talent next to you. To be effective, everybody has to be on the same page and in the right spot every single play."

While linebacker Kevin Palma returns to action from an injury, linebacker Joe Hemschoot and cornerback Ra'Chard Pippens have been declared out for the Washington game. Pippens, a special teams player, cannot run at full speed.

Stanford has been practicing on the turf field, where the speakers are located, because it is louder and the offense needs to get comfortable with its silent calls.

"We've been working on our silent calls and we have all the signals down," Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan said. "The communication is better and makes it easier to be efficient."

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