Pushing over a cement wall may be easier than running effectively against Stanford.
For the second consecutive season, the Cardinal is the hardest team in the conference to run against. Last year, Stanford allowed 84.4 rushing yards per game to lead the Pacific-12 Conference. Comparatively, that was a downtrodden effort.
Stanford leads the nation in run defense this season, allowing 41.7 rushing yards per game, an average of 1.6 yards per carry.
Another factor is the health of Washington’s offensive line. Coach Steve Sarkisian said Monday offensive lineman Colin Tanigawa is out for the season. Tanigawa started at left guard 11 times in 2011 and the first two games this season. Sarkisian did not disclose Tanigawa’s injury.
That leaves Washington without three linemen it expected to be starters. After starting 13 games at right guard last season, Colin Porter retired in April because of shoulder problems. Lineman Erik Kohler, who has played right tackle and guard this season, is not listed on this week’s depth chart.
In addition, redshirt sophomore lineman Ben Riva broke his forearm in the opener against San Diego State and remains out.
Now, a mix of young players man the line around senior anchor Drew Schaefer at center. Sophomore Micah Hatchie is listed as the starter at left tackle, redshirt freshman Dexter Charles at left guard, sophomore James Atoe or freshman Shane Brostek at right guard and sophomore Mike Criste or Charles at right tackle.
A lean, inexperienced offensive line is not a good formula against the stout Stanford defense.
With a veteran group, Washington tried to ram Chris Polk through the Stanford line last season with moderate success. Thanks to two long first-half touchdown runs – one for 46 yards late in the first quarter and a 61-yard rumble early in the second – Polk ran for 144 yards on 15 carries. Trouble was, he averaged a meager 2.1 yards per carry outside of the touchdown jaunts.
“I’d like to think we designed a couple pretty good plays, that allowed us to create some space against that defense, which is hard to do,” Sarkisian said of the long runs. “I would have liked to think if the score hadn’t been what it was and the game didn’t get out of hand, that maybe we could have ran the ball more than we were able to.”
Three weeks into this season, Washington’s run game has sputtered. The Huskies average 3.3 yards per carry and are ninth in the conference in average yards.
The loss of back Jesse Callier in the first game of the season hasn’t helped. And sophomore Bishop Sankey is struggling to shoulder the load. Sankey picked up just 16 yards on eight carries against LSU, which is almost as stingy as Stanford, allowing 56.8 rushing yards per game.
“Some teams, they get out of whack, they do all these things they can’t handle, then you have a guy who’s misaligned or he’s out of a gap and that’s when a guy hits a hole on a big run,” Washington offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau said. “(Stanford is) so sound, they’re so good at what they do. They kind of remind me of the old Nebraska back in the day when they kind of ran the same defense every down, but they were very, very good at it.”
The Huskies began the season knowing the departure of Polk would focus more attention on quarterback Keith Price. So far, all three opponents frequently left the box empty to overload against the pass.
But pass defense is Stanford’s weakness. The Cardinal is 10th in the conference, providing one of the few statistical points that falls in Washington’s favor heading into Thursday night’s game.
Sarkisian said he’s not sure if freshman wide receiver Dwayne Washington will redshirt. Washington was cleared to join the team by the NCAA on Saturday after a long delay. He had participated in school’s summertime LEAP program and worked out with the team prior to being sent home to await clearance. Sarkisian thought he would not be cleared until January, but he’s with the team this week. … Monday was the first day of classes for the fall quarter. The Huskies will stay on a morning practice schedule. … Quarterback Price was asked if he feels any extra energy or hoopla around this game. “No, not really. I’m not too worried about it. I know we have a big task ahead of us, and we just have to focus on Stanford and not get caught up into everything that doesn’t really matter.” … Price also lauded redshirt sophomore wide receiver DiAndre Campbell, calling him “one of our smartest receivers” and one that can get open at the end of routes as opposed to “just running routes” like others. … Sarkisian said on his Monday radio show that linebackers Nate Fellner (foot) and Jamaal Kearse (shin) are likely to be back this week, as is wide receiver Kevin Smith (knee).email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/uw sports @Todd_Dybas