The 15th-ranked Huskies (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) aren’t overly giddy as they arrive for this North division showdown at No. 5 Stanford (4-0, 2-0). “This is where we should be … competing for a Pac-12 championship,” Keith Price says.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
STANFORD, Calif. – The 15th-ranked Huskies didn’t arrive here with their noses in the warm air nor with their heads in the clouds – if there had been any on this perfect, sunny, October day by San Francisco Bay.
They weren’t giddy or nervous or antsy over their highest ranking since 2003, over this chance at Washington’s first 5-0 start since 2001, or over expectations of their Pac-12 North showdown at fifth-ranked Stanford.
They walked off their Alaska Airlines charter jet at sunny San Jose Airport, then off their buses and into Stanford Stadium late Friday afternoon, with the same, steady demeanor and focused expressions they had arriving to play Illinois in Chicago last month – or last week just before they routed Arizona back home in torrential storm.
To these Dawgs, this is no huge whoop.
This is the expected now at UW, in the fifth season under turnaround maestro Steve Sarkisian; primetime games with stakes as high as the hype and national attention.
“I think this is where we should be, getting a lot of attention. But we understand that’s not what’s going to help us win games,” quarterback Keith Price said of Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. meeting of UW (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) and Stanford (4-0, 2-0) on ESPN, the Washington IMG College radio network and here on GoHuskies.com with another exclusive game chat including free, streaming audio of UW’s radio broadcast.
|Three Keys For UW at Stanford|
|Dawgs defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha said it best this week: Stanford is going to “challenge our manhood” with downhill, power running . Huskies defensive tackle Danny Shelton lives for these games, when the best, toughest and most experienced men inside win control of the line of scrimmage. UW’s third-year starter will be banging all night into Stanford center Khalil Wilkes, who is making his fifth career start. If 71 in white consistently wins that battle and spends much of the game in Stanford’s backfield, the Huskies will be a long way toward 5-0 for the first time since 1992.|
|Move Sankey Around|
|This is the first time this season that UW’s resurgent offensive line does not have a size advantage on the edges and off the tackles. That could mean more shifting, pulling of linemen and creativity in the play calls, to get national rushing leader Bishop Sankey the ball in space instead of through a possibly clogged middle. Sankey’s been great in any role he’s been asked to fill this season -- a 31-yard catch and run at Illinois, a school-record 40 carries last week in the rain against Arizona. Look for a new 2013 role this time, as a speed guy outside.|
|Weather The Storm|
|No, it’s going to be a repeat of last week for the Huskies. It’s going to be in the 60s and clear by kickoff Saturday. The “storm” will be Stanford making big plays. The Cardinal has won 12 in a row and are No. 5 in the land; it’s what it does. Quarterback Keith Price and his coaches have emphasized this week the importance of playing through those inevitable setbacks and remaining poised. And mental makeup has been this team’s strength so far.|
This is the highest UW has been ranked in the Associated Press poll while playing Stanford since being 11th in 2011. This is the highest the Cardinal has ever been while meeting the Huskies.
“This is right where we want to be, contending for a Pac-12 championship,” Price said. “And this is one of our biggest obstacles, one of the best teams in the country.”
Stanford has the country's fourth-longest home winning streak, 11 games. It is 9-1 against ranked opponents at home since 2009. The Cardinal has won 12 consecutive games over all, including last season’s Rose Bowl.
“We understand the challenge. I think we are ready for it, though,” Price said. “We understand the preparation it took to get to this point.
“And we are not going to forget what happened last season.”
Four games into 2013, Price is still motivated by 2012. A 7-4 start and chance at a 9-4 finish dissolved amid late-game mistakes in losses at Washington State and to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
So complacency with being 4-0? That didn’t make this trip.
“I think this team still has a chip on its shoulder. I know I do, personally,” Price said. “So it should be a fun game.”
Forget all the attention that Price, the nation’s 12th-ranked QB in passing efficiency who set UW’s record for career touchdown throws last month, is getting. Forget his ESPN video shoots and sit-down interview for its College GameDay pregame show. The Sports illustrated interview he had with those this week. The Los Angeles Times, the Jim Rome and Tim Brando national radio shows – even the Wall Street Journal – coming to talk to the Huskies over the last week.
Part of what drives Price is the Dawgs’ win over then-No. 8 Stanford in Seattle last season. Not because the Huskies avenged a blowout loss in 2011 at Stanford while getting the first of two wins over top-10 teams in 2012. Because of his pass in the third quarter last September that Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy tipped to himself for a 40-yard interception return and touchdown.
That’s what is fueling the Huskies’ trigger man to a fast-then-faster, no-huddle offense, one that is ranked fifth in the nation and has yet to score fewer than 31 points in a game this season.
“I think that’s what driven me this last season. I’m not going to forget it,” Price said of Murphy’s pick-six last season.
“I feel like that’s when I perform my best, when I have something to prove. I think this is when the team plays better, when we feel we have something to prove.
“This is the next step in our journey to becoming the team we know we can be.”
We’ll all see how Saturday night goes for the Huskies in the fifth meeting since 1940 of UW and Stanford with both ranked in the top 15.
But in maturity, mentality and makeup, this is a far different Huskies team than the last one that came onto “The Farm.”
“It’s the culture of our team,” senior defensive end and co-captain Hau’oli Kikaha said. “The expectations of ourselves and of the team have grown tremendously. And the confidence in each other and in ourselves. Overall, the culture has changed a lot in that way. There was some of it with a few players (before) – Mason Foster, Nate Williams – now it’s almost every one.
“This is why I came here. Yeah,” he said with a chuckle, “one of life’s great decisions.”
That’s how UW is better coming into this huge test.
Here’s how the Huskies can be victorious coming out of it.
As Kikaha said this week, Stanford will once again provide “a test of our manhood.” The Cardinal offensive line averages 6 feet 5 and 305 pounds. It runs in smash-mouth packages of extra offensive linemen and tight ends for power running.
“It’s going to be another physical game. We’ve got to bring it,” senior safety Will Shamburger said.
The job for him and the Huskies’ defense, ranked fourth in country in points allowed per game (10.8) and third in the nation in yards allowed per play (3.80), doesn’t stop there.
Since Kevin Hogan took over at quarterback nine wins in nine games ago, Stanford is a far more dynamic and dangerous passing team.
“One, we have to prepare for Stanford’s big personnel groupings that they put on the field, the extra linemen. The tight ends,” Sarkisian said.
“But Stanford has a lot of offense that is similar to ours, as well. There is a lot of variety to what they do that is different to what they did a year ago. There’s quarterback runs involved. There’s zone reads involved, shovel passes. There’s a lot of open, spread-out sets. So it’s not just lining up against the big guys.
“(A) year ago they were so prevalent on those big guys.”
And, hey, coordinator Justin Wilcox’s Husky defense will actually huddle on Saturday night.
"It was funny, Coach Wilcox jokingly said to the freshmen (that he) taught them what a huddle was," Sarkisian said. "These guys have been here since training camp and through four games of no-huddle offenses.
"One of our keys against Stanford: they tax you physically. So that rest between plays is critical," Sarkisian said. "They give you so many different things on the offensive side of the ball that that information we have to sort through is important to us. So that time is necessary, even if it is just 10 more seconds.
"We can use that 10 seconds to collect our thoughts from the last play, gather information on the upcoming play — and then hunker down and player really good, hard-nosed football."
Offensively, the Huskies’ intact, surging line has allowed Price to be sacked just three times in four games. It’s been a complete turnaround from last season, when injuries and ineffectiveness on the line put Price on his back 37 times in 13 games.
Those blockers are now meeting a varied, rugged Stanford front seven that blitzes from all sides at any time.
“I mean, it’s nothing we have seen before,” center Mike Criste said. “The biggest problem I think we are going to have is catching their blitzes. They run a lot of blitzes.
“The biggest thing for us is keep Keith up, keep the running back up, catch the blitzers off guard.”
That running back is the nation’s leading rusher at 151.8 yards per game, UW junior Bishop Sankey.
A possible X-factor in the Huskies’ favor: the reemergence of Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The preseason All-American tight end has yet to become a primary threat this season, after sitting out the first game and being off his usually dominant game in Week 2 against Illinois. He has 10 catches in three games, though two have been for touchdowns.
Sarkisian praised him for being an overlooked factor in Sankey’s rushing rampage.
“He’s a great weapon for us,” Sarkisian said of ASJ.
One you would expect UW to employ here Saturday night.
And so far, these Huskies are proving just fine with expectations.