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Stanford vs. Washington: 3 Keys for Each Team in Thursday's Game

Kevin LeeCorrespondent IDecember 11, 2014

Stanford vs. Washington: 3 Keys for Each Team in Thursday's Game

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    After upsetting the USC Trojans 21-14 nearly two weeks ago, the Stanford Cardinal will travel to CenturyLink Field to take on the Washington Huskies. Currently ranked eighth in the nation, the Cardinal look to improve their record to 4-0 during their first away game of the season. The Huskies are 2-1 and hope to notch a win in their first Pac-12 game of the season.

    Both teams have had an extra week to prepare for this showdown in Seattle. Washington's last game was against FCS opponent Portland State, in which the Huskies easily defeated the Vikings 52-13.

    Stanford will need to refocus after an emotional win against the second-ranked team in the nation, while Washington will really have to put up a stellar performance to upset the Cardinal.

    Here are three keys for each team to keep in mind for Thursday's matchup.

Washington: Keith Price

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    Washington quarterback Keith Price is the focal point of the Huskies offense. With star running back Chris Polk now in the NFL, a lot of pressure was put on Price to carry the offense this year.

    What makes Price so dangerous is that he is essentially a dual-threat quarterback. He's essentially had no success running the ball so far this season, recording minus-18 yards in three games, but he is bound to perform much better sometime. 

    As for his passing ability, Price had a quality game against Portland State. He was 14-of-19 and threw for 181 yards and three touchdowns. Of course, this was against an FCS team, and he will surely face a more formidable challenge in Stanford's defense.

Stanford: Capitalize on Washington's Offensive Line

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    Coming into the 2012 college football season, the Huskies expected to have four returning starting offensive linemen. The most recent injury to guard Colin Tanigawa is very bad news for Washington. They now only have one of those four linemen healthy enough to face the Cardinal.

    Undermanned and battered, the Huskies will no doubt struggle to keep Keith Price protected and get the push they need to establish a running game.

    Stanford's front seven will have a great opportunity to pressure Price and keep him from getting into a rhythm. It surely doesn't help that the Cardinal defense is first in the nation in rushing defense, only allowing 41.7 yards per game.

    Add to that the likes of Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov and Chase Thomas, and Washington will really have to hope that the Cardinal defense tires quickly.

Washington: 3rd-Down Defense

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    One of Stanford's glaring weaknesses this season is their third-down conversion rate. Coming in at 109th in the nation, the Cardinal are only converting on third down 30.8 percent of the time.

    This is in stark contrast to last season, in which Stanford was fourth with a 49.1 percent conversion rate. Obviously that was when they had Andrew Luck, but there's no excuse to be as bad as they have been lately in third-down situations.

    Washington must take advantage of Stanford's third-down woes and prevent them from moving the chains. Keeping their defense off the field and fresh will be key to limiting the Cardinal offense.

    In addition, forcing Stanford to attempt field goals may be in the best interest of the Huskies as kicker Jordan Williamson has been in a slump, missing all three of his attempts against USC.

Stanford: Stepfan Taylor

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    There's no doubt that Stanford loves to run the ball down the throats of all their opponents. Stepfan Taylor is the star of the Cardinal's ground attack. Against USC, he had two touchdowns and recorded 153 rushing yards.

    It was after that game that he gained national attention and even had some wondering about his Heisman chances. Let me remind you that Taylor has quietly been one of the Pac-12's best running backs in recent years, rushing for back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.

    As a team last year, Stanford completely ran over the Huskies in a 65-21 win. With a total of five rushing touchdowns and 446 rushing yards, the Cardinal will look to have similar success on Thursday. 

Washington: Turnovers

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    The Huskies need things to go almost perfectly in order to beat Stanford, and that means they have to win the turnover battle. In three games, Washington has a turnover margin of plus-three, which is good enough for third in the Pac-12. Now take a guess at who's first.

    Stanford leads the Pac-12 with a margin of plus-six. We all know how important turnovers are, and Washington will have to pressure Josh Nunes into making some bad passes or force some fumbles. Stanford surprisingly has not lost a fumble, making them one of only nine teams to do so in the FBS.

Stanford: Special Teams

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    Stanford special teams may play a huge role in the game against Washington. We already know of the Cardinal's kicking woes. Also, playing their first away game of the season in CenturyLink Field with a loud Huskies crowd won't be helping Williamson calm his nerves.

    The special teams of Stanford isn't all bad though. Ty Montgomery has been very dangerous when it comes to kick returns.

    During the opening kickoff in the game against USC, Montgomery returned the kick for 64 yards. However, it didn't lead to any points as Stanford missed a 47-yard field goal. The Huskies will need to be on their toes to prevent any big plays from happening.

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