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Originally published September 23, 2014 at 3:54 PM | Page modified September 24, 2014 at 11:51 AM

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Will UW defensive front meet its match in Stanford offensive line?

Washington’s defense leads the nation in sacks, and Stanford’s offensive line rarely gives them up as it plays smash-mouth football. Something has to give Saturday.


Seattle Times staff reporter

saturday

Stanford @ UW, 1 p.m., Ch. 13

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Something’s got to give Saturday afternoon at Husky Stadium when Washington’s sack-happy defensive front meets Stanford’s stout offensive line, which includes five projected NFL draft picks.

“It’s going to be a good matchup,” said Hau’oli Kikaha, UW’s senior defensive end/outside linebacker who has 19 sacks the past two seasons. “Everybody wants to see it, including ourselves. You always want to challenge the best, and they’re a really good O-line. I can’t wait.”

Kikaha is second in sacks among Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) players behind teammate Danny Shelton, who has seven. Washington (4-0) also leads the nation with 19 sacks while No. 16 Stanford (2-1) has historically built a fortress around its quarterbacks.

In the previous six seasons, the Cardinal ranked among the top three Pac-12 teams in sacks allowed with a 1.03 average. Last season, Stanford allowed just 1.1 sacks per game (16 total), which was the fewest in the Pac-12 and 10th nationally.

Of course, the run-oriented Cardinal also passed only 311 times, just 34.7 percent of its plays.

This season, Stanford’s run-pass ratio is similar — 38.1 percent passing and 61.9 percent runs — which partly explains why the Cardinal has allowed just six sacks.

“In the game of football nowadays, they’re the oddball,” UW defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said. “Everybody’s so spread ... running the ball or throwing the ball from all these open sets.

“(Stanford) packs it in and they’re going to run like the old Vince Lombardi Green Bay Packers. They’re going to pound it up in there and they’re just going to keep pounding it. Until you take it away, they’re going to keep doing it.”

What also makes Stanford an outlier in today’s college football: Its offensive stars are linemen. Even more unique, according to coach David Shaw, they’re all juniors.

When Andrus Peat, Kyle Murphy, Joshua Garnett, Graham Shuler and Johnny Caspers signed scholarship papers with the Cardinal in February 2012, Shaw predicted each would play in the NFL.

Two years later, he’s sticking by that claim.

“I think we have the best tackle in football in Andrus Peat and maybe the best right tackle in Kyle Murphy,” Shaw said Tuesday in a radio interview on the Jim Rome Show. “I think Joshua Garnett is an emerging superstar at left guard. This group is continuing to jell.

“I think there’s going to be three first-rounders in this class. I think the other two guys (Shuler, the center, and Caspers, the right guard) are going to play significantly in the NFL. We’re not they’re yet. We’re not to the point where I think this is a superstar group.”

Stanford relies on a four-man committee at running back, led by sophomore Barry Sanders, whose namesake father won the 1988 Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma State before a Hall of Fame career with the Detroit Lions.

All-American returner Ty Montgomery, who had a 99-yard kickoff return for a TD last year against Washington, is dynamic on special teams. However, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior receiver is marginalized offensively because senior quarterback Kevin Hogan is efficient, but unspectacular, in the passing game.

“You have to be concerned with the run first,” Kikaha said. “They’re powerful guys up front. So it’s easy on them when it’s passing downs because most teams get so geared up to stop the run.

“We may not get a lot of opportunities to get after their quarterback, but when we do we have to make them count.”

Stanford piled up 179 rushing yards on 41 carries, while Hogan completed 12 of 20 passes for 100 yards during the Cardinal’s 31-28 win over the Huskies last year.

In Washington’s 17-13 win two years ago at CenturyLink Field, Stanford uncharacteristically had more pass attempts (37) than runs (28).

That was the last time the Cardinal had more passes than runs in a game. Over the next 27 contests, Stanford returned to its smashmouth, ground-oriented attack and pounded out a 22-5 record.

“As a football coach, I like it,” UW defensive-line coach Jeff Choate said. “I don’t like what’s happened to football. I love Stanford’s style. Hey, let’s go play in a phone booth and find out who the tough guys are. I respect the heck out of that.”

Shelton may lead the nation in sacks, but the 6-foot-2, 339-pound senior nose tackle is relishing a chance to prove his value as a run-stopper inside and make amends for what he described as a “soft” performance the last time he faced Stanford.

“They’re still that physical team that they always are, so we’re going to have to play that physical ball that we know how to play,” said Shelton, who had four tackles last year against the Cardinal. “We’ve done well trying to bring our physicality, but I think we’ve been holding back the last couple of years.

“I think we have a lot more. I definitely have a lot more, and I’m looking forward to showcasing that this Saturday.”

Sack monsters
Washington nose tackle Danny Shelton leads FBS players with seven sacks and defensive end/outside linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha is second with six. At their current pace, they’ll shatter UW’s season record of 14.5, set by Jason Chorak in 1996. With at least nine games left, Kikaha needs 7½ sacks to break the school’s all-time record. Here’s the list:
PlayerYearsSacks*
1. Daniel Te’o-Nesheim2006-0930
2. Ron Holmes 1981-8428
3. Donald Jones 1989-9126
4. Jason Chorak 1994-9725.5
5. Andy Mason 1990-9324
6. Hau’oli Kikaha 2010-present23
*Since 1982

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com



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