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September 27, 2012

Five to Watch: Stanford




The Huskies kick off their Pac-12 schedule with a bang Thursday night, hosting undefeated Stanford at what should be a rowdy "blackout" crowd at CenturyLink Field.

The No. 8 Cardinal will look to improve to 4-0 on the year, and with the 2-1 Dawgs embarking on the toughest three game stretch of their season (Stanford, Oregon, and USC) Washington should feel a sense of urgency already. Here are five Stanford players the Huskies will have to keep an eye on in order to build off of their PSU momentum and keep the season moving in the right direction, instead of falling into a downward spiral for the worst.

1) Stepfan Taylor (RB)

Looking back over the recent meetings between the Cardinal and the Huskies, it is clear that Stanford has pounded the Dawgs with their run game.

In 2009 Stanford ran for 321 yards, in 2010 it was 278, and last season it was a school record 446 rushing yards. Stepfan Taylor will be the back for the Cardinal who will be getting the most touches, and will be looking to carry on the current trend of running all over the Husky defense.

So far this season he has rushed for over 300 yards and has reached the end zone three times, and with recent history on his side Taylor will most likely be chomping at the bit to significantly add to his totals.

2) Sam Schwartzstein (C)

Going along with the theme of Stanford's run game, Sam Schwartzstein is arguably the reason why the team is so successful on the ground.

As a senior this year Schwartzstein is described as the voice of Stanford's offensive line and along with being one of Stanford's three team captains he is also a candidate for the Rimington Trophy as the top center in college football. For the Huskies to have a chance at stopping the current trend of getting run over by the Cardinal, they will need to find ways to compete against such a highly acclaimed line.

3) Josh Nunes (QB)

Thursday against Washington marks Stanford's first away game this season, and as Josh Nunes hits the road for the first time as Stanford's starting quarterback it'll be interesting to see how he handles the hostile crowd.

Nunes performed exceptionally well down the stretch against USC, but since the game was on the farm in Palo Alto he had the crowd on his side.

This time, he'll be entering a game dubbed "The Blackout of the Century", and if the Huskies have any kind of recent history on their side, they can look back on their past two blackout games for inspiration. Washington hasn't lost either of their blackout games since starting the trend back in 2010.

They won that game against UCLA 24-7, and last year took out Arizona 42-31. Nunes hasn't shown any signs of being rattled on the big stage as of yet, but if the Dawgs can strike early and also make a stand against the run game, Nunes will be forced to show poise and composure away from home.

4) Levine Toilolo (TE)

At 6-foot-8, 265 pounds, senior tight end Levine Toilolo will be a nightmare for the smaller Huskies defense if Stanford opts to call his number. With his unmatched size advantage compared to Washington's secondary, and with a defense that will be forced to clamp down on the Cardinal's run game, Toilolo could very well have a monster game Thursday night.

Also, aside from the impact he may have receiving, the big man is no slouch when it comes to blocking and assisting that dangerous Cardinal run game. If it isn't already clear, the Huskies defense is going to have their hands full.

5) Ed Reynolds (FS)

After missing last season due to injury, Ed Reynolds has started his 2012 campaign on fire. Reynolds accounts for half of Stanford's interceptions this season with three, and with a secondary that has only given up one passing touchdown compared to six picks, Keith Price is going to have to be on his game.

Accuracy will be key, but more so than that Price will need his line to give him enough time to dissect the defense. The Cardinal will be getting after Price much like they got after Matt Barkley, and if Price will be rushed into throws Ed Reynolds and Stanford's secondary will be quick to put a damper on the evening.

For Washington to come out on top in this one, the Huskies will need to put points up like they did against Portland State to combat Stanford's scoring. More important than this, though, the Dawgs have to play tough defense. Washington hasn't posted a "W" against Stanford since 2007 when they won 27-9, and to compete against a hungry Stanford team that's ready to trounce on the Dawgs for the fifth time in a row, they'll need to play like their big brothers from Centurylink.

If the Huskies play anything like the Seahawks did Monday night and combine exceptional secondary play with non-stop pressure on the quarterback (8 sacks would be nice), they should put themselves in a position to win the game. Let's just hope that it doesn't come down to a last second jump ball in the end zone this time.

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