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Top-25 foes square off in Pac-12 matchup

Top-25 foes collide in the Bay area this ranked Stanford Cardinal face their toughest challenge ranked Washington Huskies to town for a Pac-12 showdown.

David Shaw has yet to taste defeat in his debut season with the Cardinal, as Stanford is one of just 10 unbeatens left at the FBS level. It doesn't hurt to have the nation's premier signal-caller at the helm and Andrew Luck has certainly not disappointed in his junior season, as he and his teammates boast of the nation's longest current win streak, now sitting at 14 games. Stanford has made light work of the competition thus far in 2011, including a 44-14 whipping of Washington State last weekend.

Steve Sarkisian's Huskies are 5-1 on the year and trail Stanford in the Pac-12 North by just one game at 3-0. Washington's only loss of the season was a shootout at nationally-ranked Nebraska (51-38). Since then, the team has reeled off three straight victories, including last week's 52-24 pasting of Colorado. The Huskies are enjoying their highest ranking since 2003

Sarkisian envisioned this kind of success when he took over but recognizes there is still work to be done.

"I guess it's relatively close. I like our brand of football. I like the way we're playing. I know there is so much room for improvement, though. That's why I'm so hesitant to say 'This is exactly where I wanted to be.'"

This series dates all the way back to 1893, with Washington holding a narrow 40-37-4 advantage. However, Stanford has closed the gap of late, winning three straight and five of the last six meetings, overall.

The Huskies are 5-1 for the first time since 2001 and 3-0 in-conference for the first time since 1997. A big reason for that is the offensive production week-in and week-out. Washington is averaging 37.0 ppg and getting it done on almost 420 yards of total offense. It is a balanced attack, with the ground game churning out 173.7 yards per game and the passing attack coming in at 246.0 yards per game.

Quarterback Keith Price had the unenviable task of replacing Jake Locker under center, but the sophomore has been phenomenal thus far, throwing for 1,466 yards and 21 TDs. He ranks second in the nation in TD passes and fifth in passer rating (177.91).

Price has certainly benefited from playmakers in the backfield and on the outside in tailback Chris Polk (121.3 ypg, 5.4 ypc, three TDs) and wideouts Jermaine Kearse (23 receptions, 284 yards, six TDs), James Johnson (22 catches, 287 yards, three TDs) and Devin Aguilar (21 catches, 330 yards, three TDs).

The Washington defense is a step or two behind the offense in terms of production. The rush defense has been stout, holding foes to a mere 97.0 yards per game, but the pass defense has been much more generous, allowing a hefty 303.7 yards per game. In addition, the squad has just 13 sacks on the year and 12 takeaways in the first six games.

Senior linebacker Cort Dennison leads the team in both tackles (50) and TFLs (4.5), with one sack and one forced fumble. Junior cornerback Desmond Trufant (33 tackles, two INTs, two fumble recoveries) is a solid playmaker in the secondary.

With Luck under center, the Cardinal are simply one of the best offensive teams in the country, ranking fifth nationally in scoring (45.8 ppg), 14th in passing (304.0 ypg) and 16th overall (485.7 ypg). Luck ranks third in pass efficiency (180.55), as the Heisman favorite has completed 71.3 percent of his passes, for 1,719 yards, with 18 TDs and just three INTs.

He has spread the wealth downfield, as Chris Owusu (25 catches, 309 yards, two TDs), Zach Ertz (20 catches, 279 yards, three TDs), Griff Whalen (20 catches, 269 yards, one TD) and Coby Fleener (16 catches, 383 yards, six TDs) have all made their presence felt.

Tailback Stephan Taylor has made the Cardinal a balanced attack, averaging 93.2 ypg (5.5 ypc) with five TDs.

While Luck is the headliner at Stanford and rightfully so, the defense has been sharp through the first six games and should get some recognition. The Cardinal are sixth nationally in scoring defense (11.2 ppg) and second in rush defense (59.5 ypg).

What is more impressive is the fact that this unit lost All-American candidate Shayne Skov in the third game of the season. Veterans have stood up in Skov's absence, including senior corner Johnson Bademosi (team-high 27 tackles, two forced fumbles), senior safety Michael Thomas (26 tackles, one sack, one INT, one fumble recovery) and senior linebacker Chase Thomas (25 tackles, 7.5 TFLs, 5.5 sacks).