UW is 15th ranked, and 4-0 for the first time since 2001, entering Saturday night’s Pac-12 North showdown at No. 5 Stanford. Plus: Sarkisian says USC hasn’t contacted him and adds ‘"Don’t worry about it."
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – Steve Sarkisian thought back to last weekend’s swamping of Arizona. He thought of his Huskies’ current, best start to a season in a dozen years. He thought ahead to this weekend’s Pac-12 North showdown at No. 5 Stanford.
And he smiled.
‘‘What a cool week for the Huskies, man,’‘ the coach said Monday.
The No. 15 Huskies (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) haven’t been this highly ranked since October 2003. They haven’t been undefeated through four games since 2001. Saturday’s game at Stanford Stadium (7:30 p.m., on ESPN, the Washington IMG College radio network and here on GoHuskies.com with another exclusive game chat from the press box with free live streaming audio of UW’s radio broadcast) is the fifth time since 1940 that the Huskies and the Cardinal will meet while each ranked inside the nation’s top 15.
UW upset then-No. 8 Stanford in Seattle last September 17-13 behind Bishop Sankey’s 61-yard run, a 35-yard touchdown pass from Keith Price to Kasen Williams, a thudding defensive performance – and since-retired quarterback Josh Nunes of then-No. 8 Stanford completing just 18 of 37 passes with a key interception late.
Not that any of that is going to matter to the Huskies this week.
‘‘Tremendous matchup against an excellent football team. Very, very well-coached team that has improved,’‘ Sarkisian said. ‘‘We are so drastically different on both sides of the ball. (And) they are better today than they were a year ago.’‘
That’s because Stanford’s huge upgrade at quarterback. Last season Nunes sent even screen passes skidding into the turf against the Huskies. Now, Kevin Hogan is 11th in the nation in passing efficiency, one place in front of Price.
So it’s no longer a singular issue of the Huskies needing to slow down Stanford’s power running game behind its huge, active offensive line. That line is getting back its best blocker, preseason All-American David Yankey, after he missed the Cardinal’s 55-17 rout of Washington State last weekend.
‘‘They have a lot more variety on the offensive side of the ball (with) the quarterback (and) their ability to throw the ball down the field,’‘ Sarkisian said.
‘‘Defensively, a veteran group, especially along the front with playmakers on the back end. So we have our work cut out for us.’‘
That work will largely get accomplished if the Huskies’ defense can continue to tackle the way it has in wins over Illinois, Idaho State and Arizona since a bye week UW spent emphasizing the fundamentals of it.
Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey, the nation’s rushing leader in 2012, ran for 132 yards against the Huskies – 17 below his per-game average coming into last Saturday. But it took him 32 carries to do it, with no run longer than 13 yards for the explosive, fast running back. Safety Sean Parker and outside linebackers Princeton Fuimaono and Shaq Thompson were particularly impressive making sure tackles on Carey, sometimes in the open field.
‘‘We are tackling so good right now,’‘ Sarkisian said. ‘‘For Ka’Deem Carey’s longest run to be 13 yards and he had 30 carries, to hold that guy’s longest run to 13 yards was really tremendous.’‘
Stanford, though, is a huge upgrade in talent and power of what UW has defended against so far. Senior Tyler Gaffney runs behind an offensive line that averages about 308 pounds and features four seniors. Two of them are grown – really grown -- men in their fifth college years.
Just the kind of challenge Huskies 330-plus pound defensive tackle and brick wall Danny Shelton savors.
‘‘From my memory, it’s going to be a physical game,’‘ the stout junior said. ‘‘They’re a good team. We just have to play physical.’‘
SARKISIAN: NO CONTACT BY USC
The second question Sarkisian got from the media Monday was on the same topic he brought up to his players in a morning meeting with them. It was about the coaching situation at USC, where his friend Lane Kiffin was fired early Sunday.
Sarkisian said neither he nor his agent have been contacted by USC.
‘‘I’m kind of glad you asked. We can get the giant elephant out of the room here,’‘ said the former quarterbacks coach, offensive coordinator — and one-time, fall baseball player — for the Trojans.
‘‘My first thoughts are with Lane and his family, and (wife) Layla and those kids. That’s a hard thing to do. Those kids had to get up this morning and go to school. That’s hard. We are real people…
‘‘I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity that I have to be the head football coach at the University of Washington.’‘
Sarkisian said he was thankful to Mark Emmert, the former UW president who hired him in January 2009, to UW Director of Athletics Scott Woodward and to current UW president Michael Young, ‘‘and this community that I get to be part of and my family gets to be part of.
‘‘This is an awesome place to be.’‘
Later Monday, on his weekly radio show on KJR-AM in Seattle, Sarkisian expounded on the USC talk.
‘‘Don’t worry about it,’‘ he told fans through the show’s host, UW play-by-play voice Bob Rondeau.
He said he still has the goal he set when he arrived at UW: to reach the standard of coaching excellence his now-mentor Don James set from 1974-92 leading the Huskies – and then to exceed each of James’ benchmarks by one.
Sarkisian specified that means his goal is to be at Washington for 19 years, to win two national championships here and to lead the Huskies to four consecutive Rose Bowls.
Since taking over at Washington, the native of Torrance, Calif., near Los Angeles has been linked to rumors about coaching openings at UCLA, Arkansas and the NFL’s St. Louis Rams.
‘‘And I have never once and never will comment on hypothetical scenarios,’‘ he said Monday. ‘‘I have great respect for USC and the great and rich history that they have. But I am proud to be the football coach of the 15th-ranked team in America right now, and all the hard work that we’ve put into this program in the last five years to get to this point. To be in an awesome match up on Saturday night against a national-championship contender in Stanford, that’s where my focus is.’‘
He said he brought up the USC issue to Huskies players Monday morning as a timely example of the ‘‘no-distractions’‘ emphasis he’s been giving his players for months. That focus is one of the reasons Sarkisian has given for UW being 4-0.
‘‘We’ve been on this zero-distractions kind of mantra since the offseason, getting ready to open up Husky Stadium,’‘ he said, ‘‘so this was a cool opportunity to talk about it this morning and go into our team meeting as use it from a personal standpoint. For them, too. Those kids are setting at home in their dorms or their apartments watching ESPN, too.
‘‘This is a great chance for us to show and prove that there are zero distractions. We are focused on the task at hand. And the task is a big one this week, and that’s playing Stanford.’‘
Sarkisian said the players’ reaction to him bringing up the USC speculation was basically ‘‘OK, thanks.’‘
INSIDE THE DAWGS: Sarkisian and his staff have studied and will continue to look at films of Stanford’s win at Oregon last season, to see how the Cardinal slowed down the Ducks’ fast-paced, no-huddle offense. The Huskies have run 85, 85, 81 and 86 plays in their games this season. They averaged 69 plays per game last season. … After RB Jesse Callier’s 54 yards on 11 carries with a touchdown against Arizona behind Sankey, the nation’s rushing leader at 151.8 yards per game, Sarkisian said ‘‘I’d venture to guess you are going to see more of Jesse on offense’‘ in coming games. In other words, Callier will be getting some of those UW-record 40 carries Sankey got last week, a feat brought on by the monsoon-like rain during the game. … Washington’s success rate of 62.1 percent on third downs is third in the nation behind UCLA’s 68.3 and Louisville’s 63.5. Stanford is seventh in the country on third-down conversions at 57.1 percent. It was a major emphasis of Sarkisian’s during the preseason. Having many ‘‘plus’‘ plays on first and second downs to set up manageable third downs has sure helped. … UW is fifth in the country in total offense at 574 yards per game, two places behind Oregon (599.3). … Speaking of the Ducks: The Huskies Oct. 12 home game against second-ranked Oregon will kickoff at 1 p.m. and be televised nationally on Fox Sports 1 cable.