Cardinal must adapt to noise at CenturyLink Field

STANFORD, Calif. — To prepare quarterback Josh Nunes for the noise in Seattle's CenturyLink Field today, Stanford blasted music during practice this week

To prepare Nunes for problems communicating with his linemen and receivers, the Cardinal used hand signals.

To prepare him for the chaos of Washington's defense, the Cardinal mimicked UW's unconventional blitzes.

But there is another way for Stanford to improve Nunes' chances for success in the first road start of his career: Blow the Huskies off the line and run for 6 yards (or more) on first down.

"Big runs . . . are a quarterback's best friend," Nunes said with a laugh.

An effective running game, especially on first down, will give eighth-ranked Stanford the option to run or pass on subsequent plays and keep the Huskies defense guessing.

It will allow the Cardinal to control the ball and wear down UW's defense, which features undersized ends and linebackers.

It will quiet the crowd and allow Nunes to communicate with his teammates in standard fashion.

Most of all, it will let Nunes settle into the game without feeling pressure to make big plays.

"Josh is not a young man, but at the same time he hasn't been in this environment in college football," Cardinal coach David Shaw said. "It will be one of the next stages of his development."

Stanford's running game has been the key to its success over the past three years, particularly when the opposing defense wears purple.

In three blowout victories over Washington, the Cardinal has averaged an astounding 348 yards on the ground.

The figure includes a school-record, 446-yard performance last season in which Stanford averaged 10.1 yards per carry and had two tailbacks over 100 yards.

Both coaches attempted to downplay any connection between the 2011 result and today's tangle.

"From a psyche standpoint, this is a different team that we have and they are a different football team," UW coach Steve Sarkisian said. "This is more about this game this year and us, and that's where the focus is."

Washington's offseason overhaul included luring respected defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox from Tennessee. His version of the 3-4 features well-disguised blitzes and "probably fits the personnel better than last year," Shaw said.

The challenge for Stanford:

"Can we get the double teams we need to?" Shaw added. "Can we get to their linebackers? Can we do what we do at a high level and have enough variances off what we do to keep them honest?"

But Stanford's philosophy hasn't changed. In its reliance on a power running game and heavy use of tight ends, fullbacks and extra offensive linemen, the Cardinal is unlike any offense in the Pac-12.

Most opponents are built to defend the spread passing game; very few can handle the Cardinal's size and power. That makes past outcomes an uncannily accurate indicator of future results, and the Huskies haven't come close to beating Stanford during Sarkisian's three years in Seattle.

The combined score: Stanford 140, UW 35.

Will today be any different?

"We're not planning to rush for 400 yards," Stanford tight end Zach Ertz said, "but I think we can still be effective in the running game."

If that's the case, Nunes should feel right at home.


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