(AP) - Stanford started this season with all kinds of questions about how it would replace a respected coordinator and a star-laden lineup on defense.
Nobody is wondering anymore.
The 16th-ranked Cardinal (2-1, 0-1) already have two shutouts entering Saturday's Pac-12 game at Washington. Stanford leads the country in scoring defense (4.3 points), total defense (204.3 yards) and passing defense (66 yards) per game, and it's doing it the same way it has in recent seasons: with a physical and disciplined approach.
''We had high expectations for this year, and we have a high standard. Guys take a lot of pride in making sure those things don't change,'' said new defensive coordinator Lance Anderson, who was promoted from outside linebackers coach after Derek Mason left for Vanderbilt in January.
Anderson's defense will face a Huskies team which has scored at least 44 points in three consecutive games - all at home. However, this matchup to open Pac-12 play is a major step up in competition, particularly after Washington (4-0) rolled past Georgia State 45-14 last Saturday.
''I don't know if we're ready for it or not, but we've got four games, some good experience and this whole thing is a work in progress and I really mean that,'' coach Chris Petersen said. ''This is going to be a completely new challenge to us that we haven't seen in the first four games and we're well aware of that. We have to step our game up. We have to play at a level we haven't played at yet to compete with these guys.
''Hopefully, those first four games helped us somehow, some way.''
As Petersen tries to build the Washington program back up, Stanford coach David Shaw is counting on Anderson to fill the void left by Mason. Besides him, the Cardinal lost linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy, free safety Ed Reynolds and defensive end Ben Gardner - all leaders of a class that won back-to-back Pac-12 championships and reached four consecutive BCS bowls.
Just as Anderson is thriving in a position where Mason and Vic Fangio excelled before him, players have proven to be quick studies in leadership roles.
Inside linebackers A.J. Tarpley and Blake Martinez, defensive end Henry Anderson and strong safety Jordan Richards have been key cogs in the transition. Three-year starting cornerbacks Wayne Lyons and Alex Carter also have led the way, turning positions that used to be weaknesses into strengths.
''It's fun to prove people wrong,'' Tarpley said. ''The guys in the locker room, we know we have all the guys we need to be successful. Whether or not people on the outside want to challenge us or question us, every year I've been here we seem to have gotten better on defense no matter who we lost.''
Shaw credits the defense's smooth transitions to how many players the staff rotates.
The proof has played out on the field, especially this season, where just about everybody on the defense's two-deep roster has had a hand in the strong start.
The Cardinal crushed lower-tier UC Davis and its traditional-style offense 45-0. They lost 13-10 to a fast-paced Southern California team in a game the defense dominated and where the offense struggled to score. And they overwhelmed Army's triple-option run game in a 35-0 win before a bye last weekend.
''The best thing about this defense, to me, is that it's hard to say who the best player on the defense is,'' Shaw said.
If there's one area the defense wants to improve, it's creating more turnovers.
Stanford has five takeaways, which is tied for 62nd in the nation. But the defense had none in the loss to USC.
Considering the Cardinal have forced at least one turnover in 40 of their last 42 games, they believe it's just a small sample size and they're pleased with the progress they've made.
''I feel we're in a great spot right now,'' Martinez said. ''We're jelling pretty well.''
Shaw said Tuesday that senior Remound Wright, who had a team-high 60 rushing yards against USC, will play after sitting out against Army with an undisclosed injury.
The Cardinal still ran for 199 yards without him while Kevin Hogan threw for 216 and four touchdowns.
Washington lost some of its depth at running back when senior Jesse Callier suffered an Achilles injury against Georgia State and was lost for the season, Petersen said. However, the Huskies still have plenty of depth in the backfield, led by Dwayne Washington and Lavon Coleman with a combined 473 rushing yards.
Petersen is also uncertain about the status of speedy wide receiver John Ross, who has a team-high 224 yards and three touchdowns on just six receptions. He sat out against Georgia State with a leg injury suffered against Illinois. Petersen said Ross took part in practice Monday and ''seemed OK,'' but wouldn't go so far as to say he is ready for Saturday.
The Huskies outgained Stanford 489-279 last season but lost 31-28, their fifth defeat in the past six meetings. However, that lone loss by the Cardinal came in their most recent trip to Washington, 17-13 in 2012.