Photo Credit: Ted S. Warren/Associated Press
On Saturday night, the Washington Huskies will invade Stanford territory to take on the Cardinal in Palo Alto. After a deflating loss against the Huskies last year at CenturyLink Field, Stanford will have a bitter taste in their mouth. Don’t think for one second that the Cardinal will let Washington walk into their own house and steam roll them just like the Huskies did last year.
Josh Nunes started at quarterback for Stanford last year and there is a reason he won’t be there again this time around. A much more skilled and smarter Kevin Hogan, who is the top ranked passer in the Pac-12, will face the Huskies. An already threatening offense, due to the power run game, just got even more dangerous with Hogan. He adds an element to the offense that Nunes did not: speed and mobility. He also is a far better passer than Nunes was so the Huskies can’t load eight men in the box against the Cardinal this year as they try to stop the run. If they choose to do so, Hogan will burn the Huskies over the top and will try and find elite targets in Devon Cajuste and Ty Montgomery.
The passing game is not the identity of this Stanford team however. Tyler Gaffney heads the powerful Cardinal rushing attack that even have some formations in their playbook that call for nine offensive linemen to be in on one play. Gaffney is more of an elusive back than Stephon Taylor was, but is less powerful.
Junior middle linebacker John Timu leads the talented linebacker core for the Huskies and is aided by former 5-star Shaq Thompson and hard-hitter Princeton Fuimaono. This group is arguably the most skilled on the Huskies team and they have proven thus far into the season that they will be staunch against the opposing teams running game. Thompson is coming off the best game of his career and seems to be finding his groove early in the season.
This linebacking core has help, as Washington’s defensive secondary is one of the best in the Pac-12 and safety Sean Parker already has three interceptions on the season. Add in sophomore cornerback Marcus Peters and you have a scary duo that opposing quarterbacks will have to worry about all game.
If the Huskies want to upset the Cardinal and win this big-time matchup, the key will be getting to the quarterback. Washington has been able to do this well in their past two games this season as Josh Shirley, Cory Littleton and converted tight end Evan Hudson have all gotten pressure on the quarterback. Speed will be the key here, as they need to contain an elusive Kevin Hogan.
Even though the Huskies boast an impressive defensive line, the Cardinal counter with what might be one of the best defensive lines in the country. Outside and rushing linebacker Trent Murphy is a huge body on the line for the Cardinal and is quicker than you would think a 6’7” 270-pound human being would be. On the other side of the line, defensive end Aziz Shittu provides a constant pass rush. He is one of the top young players in the nation today. Defensive end Ben Gardner rounds out the impressive Cardinal line and is a skilled player within his own right.
If you know anything about this Stanford team, you know they have arguably the best front seven in the nation. Shayne Skov is a fifth-year senior at the middle linebacker position and is the unquestionable leader of this defense. He shows great pursuit to the ball and is often in on nearly every play. As mentioned before, OLB Trent Murphy adds another element to this Cardinal front seven and is very stout against the run. The front seven is not where it ends though. To back up the group, the Cardinal start an impressive secondary.
Ed Reynolds is the best defensive back in the Pac-12 and he shows this on a week-to-week basis with his impressive interceptions and bone shattering hits. The junior will likely be gone after this year and drafted in the early rounds of the NFL Draft. However, Reynolds is not all this secondary has. Safety Jordan Richards is another key piece.
Fifth-year senior Keith Price is off to a fast start in 2013. He is the second ranked passer in the Pac-12, only behind Kevin Hogan, and comes in with his confidence level at an all-time high. He has all the weapons he needs to be successful with receivers Kevin Smith and Kasen Williams, plus All-American tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. With the Huskies move to the up-tempo no huddle offense this year, Price has been forced to think on the run, which has led to more instinctual passes from him. If the Huskies want to have a successful day on offense, it will all start with Keith Price. But there is another weapon on this offense that Stanford fans know all too well: Bishop Sankey.
Sankey leads the nation in rushing yards per game and comes into the game fresh off a school record 40-carry 161-yard performance against Arizona. The Cardinal will be looking to stop Sankey from the opening kickoff and with their front seven, they very well could be successful in doing so. That’s why Keith Price will have to perform at a high level if the Huskies want any chance at winning this game.
If you’re a fan of high scoring, offensive type games, this one will not be for you. It should be a defensive battle in the Bay Area as the two best defenses in the Pac-12 square off against one another in a battle for Pac-12 North supremacy.
Seven wins in a row. The young guys playing well. The old guys playing well. Everything seems to be coming together for the Seattle Mariners, who are now only five games below .500 and are coming up on a seven game home stand.
There are a couple obvious storylines as to why the Mariners are succeeding, starting pitcher Felix Hernandez is probably the first half Cy Young, 41-year old Raul Ibanez is on pace for almost 40 homeruns, and third baseman Kyle Seager continues to prove the doubters wrong. These may be reasons for success, but they are not the reason that Mariners fans are optimistic than they have been in years. The true reason? The young guys.
Obviously Seager is still reasonably young, but he led the team in homeruns and RBIs last year so he doesn’t count. It is the newer guys. Second baseman Nick Franklin, shortstop Brad Miller, and as weird as it is to say, first baseman Justin Smoak, have brought a completely new energy to the Mariners. Brad Miller was just awarded the AL Player of the Week award, making him the first rookie since Griffey to win the award for the Mariners. Franklin is batting a respectable .269 and has showed more pop in 47 games than Dustin Ackley has in his career.
But Justin Smoak. My goodness. Justin Smoak. This guy has turned a corner. The light has been flicked on. After batting .217 last year and simply looking lost at the plate most of this year, he has become a professional hitter ever since he got back from injury. Since he came off the DL in mid-June, Smoak is batting over .300 and has an OBP of over .400. In his last 52 games Smoak has had eight homers and an OPS in the .900’s(!).
This is the type of production we expected from Smoak when the Mariners traded for him, and it seems to finally be materializing. The real question is whether this is just a hot streak, or something we can expect from here on out. I would lean towards the latter, and it is not just because I am optimistic, or because I predicted preseason that this would be his breakout year. Smoak’s at-bats have been sharper. His eye has been better. He has simply hit the ball a lot harder and a lot more often.
If Smoak, Miller, and Franklin can consistently produce, they combine with Seager to become one of the brightest young infields in the league. Add the always stellar Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, and the young arms that haven’t even made it up yet like Taijuan Walker, and I don’t see any reason why this Mariners team can’t be really really good in a few years. Be sure to stay tuned.
Jake Straughan is one of most underrated players in the state of Washington. The 6-foot-1 point guard recently committed to Idaho and could be the best player east of the mountains in the state. Not only has Straughn found success on the court, he's also put forth an admirable effort in the classroom, sporting an impressive 3.97 GPA. Last season, Straughan averaged 26 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists per game for Colton high school. SeaTown Sports interviewed Straughan to get his thoughts on his commitment to Idaho and his plans for the summer. Read it all after the jump!
SeaTown Sports: What separates basketball from the other two sports you play, baseball and football?
Jake Straughan: My favorite thing about basketball is the speed of the game. It's so fast. You can make one mistake and you can make it up the next play.
STS: Would you want to play two sports in college?
JS: I'm not looking to playing two sports in college, just basketball.
STS: What's your height and weight?
JS: 6-foot-1 and 175lbs
STS: Describe your game to a stranger.
JS: I'm an all-around player. I can do it all. My best skill is shooting the basketball, but I can do whatever the coaches want. I just play to win – if that's shooting threes, if that's driving, if that's hitting mid-range – whatever it is, I can do it.
STS: What do you personally need to work on this summer?
JS: My biggest thing right now is just getting bigger and stronger. If I can get bigger and stronger, I'll be able to expand my game more. For me, I play to win and have fun. I just wanna end my AAU career with a bang.
STS: Does your role change when you shift from playing basketball for your school to playing basketball on the AAU circuit?
JS: I'm the same player. It's a little less, in the sense that I don't have to score as many points because I'm surrounded by better players. On my AAU team, I'm still averaging close to 20 points, so I'm still doing whatever it takes to win.
STS: Is there a player in the NCAA or in the NBA that you try to model your game after?
JS: A lot of people say that I remind them of Jimmer Fredette because of the way I shoot it, and the fact that I can shoot it from long-range along with my ability to drive. He's kind of an all-around player and he can score as well. That's who I look to model my game around.
STS: We don't hear a lot on the western side of the state about basketball on the eastside, fill us in on how your season went.
JS: I was really happy with our season, we actually won our league, which was the second time in school history where we've done that. We lost a lot from the previous year with a lot of seniors who played big roles. We had a lot of guys step up, and I stepped my own game up and we ended up winning the league. We kind of went downhill a little bit in the playoffs, but I think we had a successful season.
STS: How did you end up landing a scholarship offer with Idaho?
JS: For a couple of months I've been playing with the guys at Idaho, running with the guys, meeting with the guys, that's how it kind of started. The coaches then invited me on an unofficial visit and took me around the campus and then told me they were going to offer me a scholarship.
STS: Why did you commit to Idaho?
JS: I chose Idaho because it was the perfect fit for me. I was their No. 1 priority and they were my No. 1 school. I couldn't pass up this opportunity. I'm really excited for it. I'm very happy with the decision.
STS: Were there certain schools showing more interest than others before you made decision?
JS: Oral Roberts, Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Penn, Bucknell, Loyola (MD.), RIce, Yale, Vermont and Liberty were the other schools on my list.
--Kevin Cacabelos (@KevinCacabelos)