The Huskies’ defense knows Saturday’s Pac-12 North showdown at Stanford will come down to who is tougher up front. Yet smash-mouth Stanford has added a newer, passing dimension this season.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – Get your thud on.
That’s how the Huskies’ defense views this weekend’s task against fifth-ranked Stanford, the Pac-12’s – if not the country’s -- most rugged outfit.
"Yeah, I'm excited for them to challenge us, our manhood again, and for them to bring the same physicality that they always do,” Huskies senior co-captain and defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha said.
This challenge, of course, is not new to UW. And it’s not Mission: Impossible, either. Kikaha and his defensive mates have enjoyed watching films of last season's 17-13 upset of then-No. 8 Stanford at CenturyLink Field, in preparation for this weekend.
Not so much for the fact the Huskies won that September night in Seattle. That's not going to help them much Saturday night when 15th-ranked UW (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) plays at Stanford (4-0, 2-0) to decide which stays with Oregon at the top of the conference's North division.
What will help the Huskies this week: The realization and belief on their defense that it can play Stanford's smash-mouth style -- and win.
"It was exciting to watch our team compete at the same level of physicality as Stanford," Kikaha said Tuesday following a practice forced into the Dempsey Indoor facility by more driving rain.
Stanford's veteran offensive line -- with four seniors, two of them fifth-year ones -- average 308 pounds across the front. The Cardinal's top two tight ends weight 267 and 262.
Kikaha is at 260. Opposite starting end Cory Littleton is 230. The only member of UW's defensive front comparable in size to Stanford's O-line is 327-pound defensive tackle Danny Shelton.
So speed and leverage are the keys for Washington's defensive line. That's true in every game, of course, but none more so than this one.
When Washington last played at Stanford two seasons ago, it was 5-1 and ranked 22nd in the country in late October, 2011. But the Cardinal obliterated the Huskies' defensive front with 446 rushing yards and five of Stanford's seven touchdowns in a 65-21 debacle.
It all started -- and ended -- up front.
Just as this week's game will.
So how does UW combat Stanford's size?
"Analyzing the (Stanford) film, it just makes me want to play lower, have a better base, just be more disciplined and stout with my techniques,” Kikaha said.
Thing is, Stanford isn’t just a power-rushing offense this season. Quarterback Kevin Hogan is 11th in the nation in passing efficiency, one spot ahead of Keith Price. Stanford throws down the field far more than it did in 2012, when Josh Nunes was sending screen passes straight into the ground while completing just 18 of 37 throws with a key interception late against the Huskies.
"That makes them a lot more of a dynamic, balanced offense," Kikaha said.
But the Dawgs’ defensive end likes that, too.
"That’s also exciting for me, to play that hard, physical ball — and also get to pass rush," he said, smiling.
There’s another asset the Huskies can use against Stanford: rugged Thomas Tutogi as an extra linebacker.
Smash-mouth is Tutogi’s thing. The more physical the better for the hard-hitting, senior middle linebacker.
"Oh, yeah, always. It’s always a good week when we play Stanford — for me," he said, smiling.
Tutogi started two weeks ago against Idaho State, when starting middle backer John Timu was resting a bruised shoulder. Tutogi said that game helped him be ready for whatever role he might have this weekend.
"It helped me communicate a lot better," he said. "One of my downfalls has been communicating on the field."
Asked what Stanford does specifically to challenge UW’s linebackers, Tutogi mentioned the Cardinal’s multiple two- and three-tight-end formations plus single- and multiple-running back sets.
"They give us a lot of stuff," he said. "But they are one of those teams that like to show you were they are going to go, by the way they line up.
"What’s complicated is how much they throw at us."
INSIDE THE DAWGS: The reason coach Steve Sarkisian didn’t have the Huskies practicing in Tuesday morning’s rain as he did last week before the home game against Arizona: Saturday’s weather forecast at Stanford is for highs in the mid-80s with zero chance of rain. … Not only did Travis Coons earn Sarkisian’s and the Huskies defense’s for all five of his punts pinning Arizona inside its 20 during a wind and rain storm last week, he is one of 23 kickers in the nation who has yet to miss a field goal this season. Coons is 4 for 4. Coordinator Justin Wilcox pulled Coons into a defensive meeting on Monday so that the defense could applaud the punter for all the advantageous field position he gave it.