BY Steve Rudman & Art Thiel 06:52PM 10/21/2011

Key For Huskies: Make Andrew Luck A Spectator

Sportspress Northwest columnists Rudman and Thiel mull the possibilities attendant to potentially the best UW game of the year so far — at Stanford on Saturday evening.

Wide receiver Jermaine Kearse leads University of Washington wide receivers with 23 catches for 284 yards and six touchdowns. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

STEVE: Can’t say I’m surprised that oddsmakers have established Stanford as a favorite to beat Washington, but the spread seems kind of large — 20 points. It’s either a favorable commentary on Stanford, or a dismissal of the five opponents UW has beaten.

ART: I think it’s an overappreciation of Stanford’s opponents. The Cardinal hasn’t beaten anyone with a winning record, although the Cougars were 3-2 going into Saturday’s game in Pullman, when WSU was whacked 44-14. A lot of the romance has to do with Heisman favorite Andrew Luck as well as the margin of victory. Stanford is second in the Pac-12 conference in points, 45.8, and first in points allowed, 11.2. But a lot of that is playing Duke, San Jose State and the conference tail-enders. Not dismissing Stanford as a top 10 team, it’s just that the football team has the same problem as the academic side of campus — grade inflation.

STEVE: It sounds like you give the Huskies a chance — maybe even a decent one — of beating Luck and the Cardinal despite a 6-0 record and the fact the game will be played in Palo Alto.

ART: A decent chance is a fair assessment of the possibility of upset. The Huskies have to start fast and stay with the Cardinal into the second half. Stanford has such big, tough meanies on both sides of the ball that they wear down opponents by the fourth quarter, when Luck picks them apart, partly because he’s fresher. Stanford has had 215 rushing plays to 191 passes, so it’s not as if Luck needs to do a lot other than avoid mistakes. The key for Washington is making enough long drives to minimize Stanford’s possessions. I think coach Steve Sarkisian is capable of creating such a scheme. He said Monday they’re going to show plays and formations that haven’t been used this season.

STEVE: Having watched the UW all year like you have, I think Washington can sustain drives because, as you’ve pointed out, the 11.2 points against Stanford has a lot to do with the cheeseballs it has played. On the other hand, when you’ve got a quarterback (Luck) with a 180.3 passer efficiency rating and a weak Washington secondary, this game might become the Mt. Sac Relays.

ART: The weakest link on either team is the Huskies’ secondary. The talent level is barely Pac-12 adequate. Neither free safety Nate Fellner nor cornerback Quinton Richardson, both of whom split time with their backups, are up to the task. Which means the front seven is going to have to get past one of the better O-lines in the country to make things unpleasant for Luck. Not likely, so yes, the track meet is on.

STEVE: I’ve done some number crunching on Luck, essentially to try and answer the question, “Who is the best quarterback the Huskies have ever faced?” That’s hard to answer since “quarterback” involves so many hard-to-measure skills. But it terms of pure pass effiency, and going back to the John Elway years, Luck ranks No. 2 (180.3) to Sam Bradford’s 180.6 (the Huskies played against Bradford and Oklahoma in 2008, losing 55-14.) Elway (as a collegian) isn’t close in terms of passing efficiency.

ART: From all that I’ve read and heard about Luck, as well as watching him pull apart the Huskies 41-0 last year, the guy’s mental acuity is even more impressive than his 6-4, 240-pound physical prowess. He knows his teammates and the playbook so well that he has the freedom at the line to check off to whatever he senses the defense will give him. And with three nearly pro-caliber tight ends, the Cardinal can line up with an empty backfield on one play and a goal-line formation the next, and get 15 yards with either. That makes for a high QB efficiency rating.

STEVE: Read an article yesterday about Luck, in which it said that if Eli Manning was worth two firsts and a third to the Giants, then Luck would be worth three No. 1s if a team wanted to move up and select him. The story quoted three pro scouts who agreed that Luck would be worth three No. 1s. It’s hard enough to beat a college quarterback who’s worth a first-round pick. But three? You were right earlier: UW needs to keep him off the field.

ART: That’s why the “Suck for Luck” campaign has taken off in so many bedraggled NFL towns. Seattle had a nice little campaign going until the Seahawks beat the Giants in NY, giving them two wins, while the 49ers under  coach Jim (Handshake Hell) Harbaugh are 5-1 and making it tough to win the NFC West with another losing record. That means the Seahawks will be mediocre enough to miss Luck in the NFL draft, but not so good to beat him when he comes back as the rookie QB for the division rival St. Louis Rams. The man is destined to haunt the NW for years.

STEVE: Just like Elway did with Stanford and the Denver Broncos. But if the Huskies are to keep Luck from haunting the NW this week, Keith Price has to keep doing what he’s been doing all year — and maybe even ratchet that up. I haven’t placed much stock in the “Price and Heisman” talk this week, but that changes if Price plays well and the UW beats Stanford.

ART: Price has played calmly in Eugene and Lincoln, Neb., and each week gains more command of the game, so I don’t expect the chardonnay-and-brie crowd at Stanford to intimidate him. What I do expect early on is a handful of new misdirection plays and some deep balls that will keep that mega-smile on Price’s face by getting an early lead. With Chris Polk running better than ever, Stanford’s defense can’t risk going much more flavorful than vanilla, which is all the opening Price needs.


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