University of Washington

Huskies vs. Stanford: 5 things to watch Friday at Husky Stadium

The purple entrance of the University of Washington football team in the season opener at Husky Stadium in Seattle, September 3, 2016. UW beat Rutgers, 48-13.
The purple entrance of the University of Washington football team in the season opener at Husky Stadium in Seattle, September 3, 2016. UW beat Rutgers, 48-13. phaley@thenewstribune.com

With ticket sales trending toward a sellout, the No. 10 Washington Huskies and No. 7 Stanford Cardinal figure to play in a rowdy atmosphere Friday at Husky Stadium.

It’s the first matchup of top-10 teams at Husky Stadium since 1997, and the first such conference matchup since 1982. Here are five things to watch as the Huskies aim for what would be their biggest victory in years.

1. Can UW stop Christian McCaffrey?

Few teams can, of course. McCaffrey broke the NCAA record for all-purpose yards last season as a sophomore, finished a close second in the Heisman Trophy vote, and leads the Cardinal in rushing and receiving so far this year.

He’ll line up at tailback, receiver, even wildcat quarterback, and has touched the ball 91 times from scrimmage this year — and he returns kickoffs and punts.

The Huskies gave up 308 yards on 43 carries to Arizona last weekend, though the Wildcats had a mobile quarterback (Brandon Dawkins) who accounted for 135 of those yards on two big runs. Stanford doesn’t have the same kind of firepower at the quarterback position, though starter Ryan Burns does run occasionally.

Still, McCaffrey is a tough matchup. He gashed UW for 300 all-purpose yards in last year’s 31-14 Stanford victory, topping the 100-yard mark in rushing and receiving.

UW coach Chris Petersen praised McCaffrey effusively this week.

“He’s great with the ball in his hands,” Petersen said. “Unbelievable vision, extremely explosive, and maybe as patient as anybody I’ve seen. Whether he’s returning kicks or handling the ball in the backfield, those characteristics just show up, and it’s a unique combination. His vision is so good, and he’s so patient, and so many times it looks like there’s not really anything there, then he’ll find it.

“And then he’s not going down with one guy just kind of grabbing a hold of him. He’s not going down. You’ve got to tackle this guy with multiple guys. He’s unique and rare. You don’t see guys like this that often.”

2. Stanford’s pass rush.

The Cardinal’s defense hasn’t necessarily dominated, as it ranks 54th nationally in yards per play allowed at 5.22 (the Huskies rank 13th at 4.32). But Stanford does rank eighth in scoring defense, allowing only 12 points per game — opponents have scored three touchdowns against the Cardinal in three games.

And while Stanford will be without its top two cornerbacks, Quenton Meeks and Alijah Holder, a consistent pass rush is still likely: The Cardinal have 11 sacks through three games, and is tied for 12th nationally with an average of 3.67 per game. Peter Kalambayi, a hard-hitting linebacker, leads the team with 2.5 sacks and 4.0 tackles for loss.

The Huskies have allowed nine sacks in four games, and gave up four last week at Arizona. They’ll have to be better than that Friday.

3. Distribution of carries.

UW running backs coach Keith Bhonapha tends to favor the “hot hand,” so to speak, so it will be interesting to see how he distributes carries this week after Lavon Coleman’s big game in Arizona.

Coleman rushed for 181 yards on 11 carries, including a 55-yard touchdown to give UW the lead in the fourth quarter, and a 24-yard carry to set up the winning touchdown in overtime.

Myles Gaskin carried 24 times for 85 yards, and has yet to eclipse the 100-yard mark in a game this season. Much of that is due to the way opposing defenses have lined up.

Quarterback Jake Browning has been able to throw over the top of teams that stack the box against the run. And there’s no reason to think the coaches will stray much from Gaskin, who set UW’s freshman rushing record last season and is the best back on the team.

But it stands to reason that Coleman will at least see the ball more.

“I think having a guy that you know can come in there and have some snaps for you, and actually contribute to the offense and what we’re trying to get done, is awesome,” Bhonapha said.

“The one thing that we have constantly challenged him on is getting to the point where he runs vertical and not doing a bunch of dancing, and he was doing that definitely on Saturday, making the guy miss and getting vertical.”

As for Gaskin, Bhonapha said: “I know people are talking about these long runs that he has to have, but the kid has been productive when he’s had the ball in his hands.”

4. Beat-up Cardinal.

After three games, Stanford is already without several key players due to injury.

That list includes not only Meeks and Holder, but receiver Francis Owusu, who sustained a concussion after taking a big hit last week against UCLA, and fullback Daniel Marx, who was hurt against the Bruins.

Tight end Greg Taboada remains questionable. As does offensive lineman Brandon Fanaika.

The Huskies don’t have any apparent new injuries, though Petersen wouldn’t say if they did. Defensive lineman Jaylen Johnson made his 2016 debut last week after missing the first three games due to injury, and redshirt freshman cornerback Austin Joyner returned, too.

5. Your Friday commute.

If you’re attending the game, plan to get to the stadium earlier than normal, if possible, because having 70,000 people attending an event in Seattle at 6 p.m. on a Friday will make for some excruciating travel times.

If you’d prefer not to drive, Uber is offering 50 percent off on all rides that begin or end near campus between the hours of 3:30 p.m. Friday and 3 a.m. Saturday.

Due to the game being played on a Friday, regular Metro park-and-ride bus routes and neighborhood service will not be available (though information about a different shuttle service can be found at UWShuttle2016.com, with registration closing at 11:59 p.m. Friday. A “UW Link” Metro shuttle will operate between the University Link station and Campus Parkway, with service every seven-and-a-half minutes both ways.

Link light rail might be your best option, if you can swing it.

Christian Caple: 253-597-8437, @ChristianCaple

Huskies gameday

NO. 10 WASHINGTON (4-0, 1-0 PAC-12) VS. NO. 7 STANFORD (3-0, 2-0)

6 p.m., Husky Stadium, Seattle.

TV: ESPN. Radio: 1000-AM, 97.7-FM.

The series: Tied, 41-41-4.

The pick: Washington, 17-10.

PRIME NUMBERS

WASHINGTON

1 — John Ross, WR (5-11, 190, jr.): Can use elite speed vs. Stanford’s backup corners.

11 — Elijah Qualls, DL (6-1, 321, jr.): Big matchup against tough Stanford O-line.

22 — Lavon Coleman, RB (5-11, 228, jr.): Career-best 181 yards last week.

36 — Azeem Victor, LB (6-3, 230, jr.): Could have a bunch of tackles, considering how often Stanford runs.

STANFORD

3 — Michael Rector, WR (6-1, 189, sr.): Former Bellarmine Prep star is a fast, reliable receiver who has a knack for big plays.

17 — Ryan Burns, QB (6-5, 232, jr.): 395 passing yards, three TDs in three games.

29 — Dallas Lloyd, S (6-3, 213, sr.): 10 tackles, INT this season.

34 — Peter Kalambayi, LB (6-3, 243, jr.): Kind of LB who is always around the ball and in the backfield.

Christian Caple: ccaple@thenewstribune.com

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