Oct. 22, 2011
by Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
STANFORD, Calif. - Good thing for the Huskies that win or lose, they always adhere to their own "24-hour rule."
Dwelling longer than that about this one won't do anyone in purple and gold much good.
"I just know the guys we have on this team, the character we have," senior middle linebacker Cort Dennison said Saturday night of 22nd-ranked Washington's resiliency, standing outside the locker room at Stanford Stadium following a 65-21 loss to No. 7 Stanford. "We've done it before (after big losses), and we'll do it again. I have no doubt we will move beyond this."
But the co-captain when led UW with 13 tackles added, "I don't think anybody expected this."
"This" was the Huskies' climb to the top of the conference encountering an avalanche. A red one.
Chris Polk had two long touchdown runs in the first half and a UW record-tying, 100-yard rushing day for the Huskies (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12). But Washington's defense could not contain Stanford's runaway rushing attack that gained 446 yards. That, and a key interception returned for a touchdown, is how the Dawgs found themselves down 38-14 at halftime.
They ended up allowing the most points since a 65-7 loss at Miami on Nov. 24, 2001.
Yet there is a silver-lining for the Huskies - though it was hard to spot amid all the rampaging red: The Huskies have indeed been here before.
Two weeks after a 41-0 loss to Stanford last October, Washington began its program-turning, four-game winning streak to end the season. That included a Holiday Bowl win over the same Nebraska team that had beaten the Huskies 56-21 months earlier last season.
The Huskies had won nine of 10 games entering Saturday night. The one loss was 51-38 at Nebraska in September. UW followed that with the first 3-0 conference start since 1997.
"We're still a 5-2 football team," coach Steve Sarkisian said after Stanford (7-0, 5-0) stayed tied with Oregon atop the Pac-12's North division. "We can go one of two ways. The key for us is to not get down and sulk. We've got to get back up and play Arizona (2-5, 1-4) next Saturday."
It's another challenge for him and his coaching staff, to quickly repair the psyche of a team that has proven to be resilient in his first 2 ½ seasons at Washington.
"You give up 400 yards rushing, that's beyond a setback from a psyche standpoint," the coach said. "We've got to get right and get right quickly."
Stanford kept using two and three tight ends, sometimes in the backfield in a power-I formation with three backs lined up in a row behind quarterback Andrew Luck. And Washington kept either missing tackles, going to the wrong gaps or getting blocked.
The Huskies were unable to take the Cardinal out of a power game defensive coordinator Nick Holt knows is a tough matchup for his mostly young, growing defense right now.
How bad a matchup? Stanford has beaten Washington 140-35 combined in the last three meetings.
"We are not there physically yet in the program to be in there toe to toe with their guys," Holt said.
Stanford's 446 yards rushing - 198 of which came in the first 16 minutes of the game - were the most against the Huskies since Oregon gained 465 on Oct. 20, 2007.
"Power. Lead. Power. They wore our defensive out," said defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu, who was double- and triple-teamed most of the night by a Cardinal offensive line featuring three seniors.
"It was real frustrating."
Yet Polk ran for 143 of his 144 yards in the first half, including scoring romps of 46 and 61 yards as the Dawgs clawed out of an early, 10-0 hole. His 17th career 100-yard day leaves the redshirt junior tied with Napoleon Kaufman for UW's all-time record.
Polk's second long sprint, when he bulled through the left side and then outran Stanford's entire defense, put Washington within 17-14 early in the second quarter. It seemed like the shootout was on.
"We had them right where we thought we could (take them)," Polk said. "We had a lot of momentum. We felt they weren't going to stop us."
But the defense couldn't hold. On the first play of Stanford's ensuing possession, the Huskies' front seven again got blocked and pushed away, and the secondary overran the play. Stepfan Taylor cut inside and untouched up the middle for a 70-yard touchdown and Stanford led again by 10.
The deficit became 31-14 with just under 4 minutes left in the half on Luck's 1-yard touchdown pass to Coby Fleener. Washington then worked Polk on the ground and drove past midfield. Sarkisian was obviously sensing the chance to score at the end of the half and then get the ball back on the second-half kickoff to potentially close within three -- without Stanford's offense stepping on the field.
But on third down from the Stanford 38, Keith Price locked in on Jermaine Kearse on a short route inside and missed seeing open Devin Aguilar slanting in from the flank. Free safety Michael Thomas read the play, stepped in front of Kearse and snagged the pass. The interception became a killer, 62-yard interception when the quarterback with a sore ankle was the only Husky with a chance to stop Thomas from scoring. He didn't, and Stanford took a 38-14 lead into halftime.
"Oh, man. They left a guy wide open - and I missed that guy," Price said, shaking his head. "It was just unfortunate."
The game essentially ended there.
It was Price's fifth interception of the season. He entered the day tied with Boise State's Kellen Moore for second in the nation with 21 touchdown passes, one fewer than Baylor's Robert Griffin III.
The Cardinal, which extended the nation's longest winning streak to 15 games, came at Price with what the redshirt sophomore said was the most pressure he'd seen all season.
"They had a game plan," Price said. "And I guess that game plan was to get after me."
Now is prime time for the most appropriate team rule of the season.
"Yes, we have the 24-hour rule," cornerback Desmond Trufant said. "We've lost big before and bounced back. That's how we've gotten to this point with our program.
"The season is not defined by one game. We've been here before. ... We've just got to keep pushing."
QUICK HITS: Washington's school-record streak of scoring 30 or more points in its first six games ended. ... Stanford has now beaten its last 10 opponents by 25 points or more. ... Stanford's 247 yards rushing in the first half was 31 fewer than it had in entire 41-0 win at Husky Stadium last Oct. 30. ... Luck, a favorite for the Heisman Trophy, completed 16 of 21 for 169 yards and two touchdowns. Asked what he thought of the passing performance by the presumed first pick in next spring's NFL draft, Sarkisian was still thinking about the other half of Stanford's offense. "I don't know," he said. "They ran the ball."