BACK, IN BLACK! Huskies Shock No. 8 Stanford
Sept. 27, 2012
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Back in black indeed!
Steve Sarkisian stood engulfed in a sea of black and bedlam at midfield. His Huskies had just held a Stanford team that had walloped them 65-21 and rolled up 446 yards rushing alone last year to 13 points and just 235 total yards Thursday night - its fewest in four years.
He was asked about his remade, reborn defense amid the pandemonium. And he just smiled wryly.
"Our defense," the fourth-year coach deadpanned, "we are pretty tough."
Tough. And suddenly very trendy.
Kasen Williams' bobbling, 35-yard catch and run for a touchdown from Keith Price on third and 2 with 4:53 left brought UW all the way back from 13-3 down in the third quarter. Then Desmond Trufant intercepted Josh Nunes on fourth down deep in Huskies territory in the final 2 minutes to seal Washington's first win over a top-10 team in three years, 17-13 over the stunned, No. 8 Cardinal at delirious CenturyLink Field.
"I've never heard Husky fans scream like that. They did it from the beginning of the game 'till the end of the game. And I've never been a part of a rush of the field like that!" marveled Williams, son of former Huskies star receiver Aaron Williams who had a career-high 10 catches for 129 of Price's 177 passing yards.
"Yeah," Williams said, coolly nodding his head, "we made a statement tonight."
Bishop Sankey did, too. The sophomore making his third UW start romped for a career-high 144 yards - 20 more than Stanford had allowed all season coming in. Those blue-collar yards came despite UW having four first-year starters on its offensive line because of injuries.
And the Huskies (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12), wearing all-black uniforms for the fifth time ever, chopped down The Tree after losing to Stanford four consecutive times. The last three were stinging, blowout defeats.
Washington won for the 28th time in 104 all-time meetings against teams ranked in The Associated Press top 10. The Huskies last beat a top-10 team in September 2009 when it upset No. 3 USC at Husky Stadium, prompting a wild postgame mosh-pit scene like the one duplicated downtown Thursday night. The Huskies had been 0-5 since against top-10 foes, including a 41-3 loss at No. 3 LSU this month.
That seems like centuries ago right now, doesn't it?
Fifth-year senior safety Justin Glenn was in the program when Washington was 0-12 in 2008, the nightmare that drew Sarkisian north from being a Rose Bowl-winning USC coordinator. Glenn played as a freshman in that '09 upset of USC and then got trampled in the fans' rampage of Husky Stadium's turf that day.
Yet he says Thursday night's upset was likely his best win yet.
"This is up there," Glenn said, with a big grin. "Especially personally. I wanted this one as much if not more than any other one, just because every game that we've played against Stanford has kind of just been a beatdown, really.
"I almost felt like they didn't respect us. They definitely respect us tonight."
First-year defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox has turned around defenses at Boise State and at Tennessee before arriving at UW days after it lost 67-56 to Baylor in a zany, maddening Alamo Bowl last December 30. After his guys took it to Stanford by jamming eight and even nine defenders in the box to stop the run, Wilcox looked puzzled at all the postgame fuss and surprise.
"Obviously, a win like this is great for our university. It's great for our fans. But hopefully it's not surprising," Wilcox said. "That's what we need to expect, to play well like this."
It is, after all, about belief as much as it is about talent and scheme.
And that's what Thursday showed has changed the most on the Huskies' defense over nine months.
"What you want in your locker room and what you want on your sidelines every time you take the field is belief," Sarkisian said. "This gives our guys more belief than they would have had if we wouldn't have won. And that's probably the biggest thing."
One senior leader that has been through so much here at UW has it.
"I always believe," Trufant said.
Before his game-sealing interception - his second one in two seasons after an end-zone one in the final minute of the 2011 opening victory over Eastern Washington - Glenn and fellow safety Sean Parker continually crowded the line to throttle Stanford's running game.
That worked as well as if Steve Emtman was back in black. The Stanford offense that rolled to 446 yards on the ground in that runaway from UW 11 months ago behind Stepfan Taylor managed just 65 yards on 28 runs with Taylor there Thursday.
The Huskies' aggressive D used tweaks such as pass-rush specialist Josh Shirley at linebacker, linebacker Travis Feeney dropping back at his former safety spot and sometimes leaving just one cornerback, Trufant, on the field. It forced Stanford, which had beaten No. 2 USC in its last game, into five three-and-out drives in the first half alone.
Stanford had 247 yards rushing last season in the first half against Washington. They had 47 at halftime Thursday.
And, as Stanford coach David Shaw promised, the Cardinal didn't focus solely on running the ball this year. Stanford passed 37 times and ran it 28.
"Absolutely, that's the way to make them try to beat you, by throwing the ball," Wilcox said.
It worked marvelously.
Josh Nunes kept throwing the ball into the ground in front of receivers, who were often covered by Trufant, Feeney, Parker and the aggressive defensive backs, anyway. The replacement for departed Andrew Luck, missed on nine of his first 13 throws and finished 18 for 37 for 170 yards. The Huskies sacked Nunes twice, once for fumble Shirley caused on a hit from behind and Andrew Hudson recovered at the Stanford 35.
But UW couldn't get a first down from there. On 4th and 8, Price threw to DiAndre Campbell on a 3-yard drag route. Stanford tackled Campbell immediately to give the Cardinal back the ball with its 6-3 lead intact.
Trent Murphy then made the game's first big play -- but he plays for Stanford. The linebacker jumped to tap Price's short pass into the air in the third quarter. He caught his own deflection and ran 40 yards for an interception touchdown. The Cardinal led 13-3, and the crowd was as stunned as the Huskies.
That's when Trufant came up to his good friend Price on the sideline.
"Desmond came up to me and just said, `Keep going,'" said Price, who was 19 for 37 passing - when he wasn't getting sacked three times, hit a half dozen more and basically running for his life.
"It's crazy, because I knew we were going to win this game. (Even down 13-3) I kept telling the guys, `We are going to win this game!'"
UW faced at fourth and a half yard in its own territory on the final play of the third quarter, and it felt almost like desperation that Sarkisian was choosing to go for it.
And they went - 61 yards for a startling touchdown on a run through the parted right side by Sankey. The crowd and UW players were back in full frenzy, and the Huskies were back within 13-10 entering the wild final period.
Sarkisian said he liked the matchups coming in of Sankey on some of Stanford's second-level defenders, "but the challenge was getting to that second level."
It took them until the final play of the third quarter to get there.
When he did, Sankey could hardly compute how wide-open his running lane was. Once he got through the defensive line, he could have kept running untouched north to the Canadian border - though, of course, he then would have missed the wild celebration the ultimately ended this unforgettable blackout night.
"It happened so fast. The whole was there!" Sankey said. "It was just off to the races."
And now it's off to the rest of UW's gauntlet for the suddenly current co-leader of the Pac-12's North Division: A trip to another kingpin, at No. 2 Oregon on Oct. 6; a visit by No. 13 USC to CenturyLink on Oct. 13; an Oct. 20 test at Arizona; and a home game against No. 18 Oregon State.
"Our guys our going to enjoy it, as well they should. But I'm not into the, `Now we don't have to win the next two or three because we won this won and everyone going to think that's great,'" Sarkisian said. "These guys, they are hungry. That's a hungry group. We'll get back on the horse Saturday and start preparing for Oregon and fixing things we need to fix about us and go to work.
"I don't think this is some `monumental' victory. It's a great win for our program and our kids - they deserve it - for the university. But it equals the same. It's one win in conference play."
INSIDE THE DAWGS: Williams' previous career highs were six receptions for 79 yards last November against Oregon. He said he hasn't liked "what I've been putting on film so far this season." He'll love viewing this one Friday. ... LB Thomas Tutogi went over 10 tackles for the second time in three games, following 12 stops at LSU. ... Freshman G Shane Brostek made his first career start. ... There were 18 total punts, nine by each team. PK Travis Coons did all the punting for the first time for UW, in place of struggling Korey Durkee. Coons' best one was after the snap got past him and he booted it with his left, off foot 30 yards to pin Stanford deep in its own end. He became the first Husky to make a field goal and punt in the same game since Jared Ballman Oct. 18, 2008 against Oregon State. ... UW is now 4-1 all time in the all blacks.