Lower the Better: UW Seeks to Cut Down Rugged Stanford
Sept. 25, 2012
Sept. 25, 2012
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - This time for the Huskies, lower is better.
Not that Washington (2-1) is slinking into CenturyLink Field for Thursday's nationally televised Pac-12 opener at 6 p.m. against eighth-ranked Stanford (3-0) (ESPN, the Washington IMG College radio network and here on GoHuskies.com with another exclusive, real-time game chat).
Not while coming off a 52-13 runaway past Portland State that restored UW's confidence and style of play. Not with a Huskies "blackout" that will be effect in downtown Seattle. And not following a bye that has boosted the Huskies' trust in the game plan through two weeks of practicing it.
No, the key to UW ending its four-game losing streak to the rugged Cardinal is getting low. Way low. Lower than Stanford's big, physical offensive and defensive lines are on the majority of plays.
In the unforgiving, pad-smacking world along the line of scrimmage, the low man wins.
It's not sexy, but it's how Washington-Stanford games are usually won.
"We want to be 1-0 in Pac-12 play. That's been the goal now for two weeks, a week-and-a-half ... Obviously we have to beat Stanford to make that happen," Sarkisian said following the final full practice of the altered week on Tuesday morning.
"To beat Stanford we have to execute and we have to play a brand of football in which we don't have penalties and we play hard and physical, we've got good pad level, we throw and catch the ball, we tackle really well. ... I want to see our pad level right. I want to see us tackling well with the proper technique and form."
Given how one-sided the series has been recently being sound fundamentally in Thursday's first quarter will be important to establishing a belief in the young Huskies that this indeed is a different season, that these are different teams.
"I want to see a sense of urgency on offense in executing the things we are trying to get done," Sarkisian said. "That's what I'd like to see at the start of the game. Not wait until the second or third quarter, but really come out and start fast the way we are capable of doing."
Washington was 5-1 and ranked 22nd in the country late last October before Stanford's power offense ran wild in a 65-21 rout on The Farm.
"It was embarrassing last time," UW quarterback Keith Price said this week.
But that loss isn't what the Huskies are using to get them amped this time.
"This is a different (Stanford) team. We are a different team," Sarkisian said. "We shouldn't have to use those sorts of things to motivate our guys. We should be pretty well motivated internally."
Not only is quarterback Andrew Luck gone to the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, Stanford's standout offensive line has changed plenty since these teams last met. Left guard David DeCastro from Bellevue High School is now on the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers. Left tackle Jonathan Martin is now with the Miami Dolphins. And 2011 right tackle Tyler Mabry graduated.
The Cardinal's three new starters up front are directed by fifth-year senior center Sam Schwartzstein.
This week, Stanford coach David Shaw said he expects his team to be more balanced than the 44 runs and 22 passes it ran against Washington last year, when the Huskies were preoccupied with Luck's shrewd play-action passing. Shaw said Luck called most of those runs himself at the line on well-read audibles, many of them the same power play inside on run-pass options before the snap.
Stanford has run 104 times and thrown 91 passes with Luck's successor, Josh Nunes, through its wins against San Jose State, Duke and USC.
Whether they end up being more balanced or not, the Cardinal still has Stepfan Taylor. He has 338 yards rushing through three games. The Huskies are going to try 900-plus pounds inside as an answer to him: Defensive tackles Danny Shelton and Semisi Tokolahi plus Thomas Tutogi, their biggest linebacker at 240 pounds.
Tokolahi already sounds like he's in the required, physical frame of mind.
"Those are good things, don't get me wrong. It's good to have our fans there, the blackout, national TV," Tokolahi said. "But that doesn't have anything to do with the way we play.
"What matters to me is that we come together and play Husky football."
Sarkisian indicated Tuesday his defense may get additional reinforcements. The coach expects converted safety Nate Fellner, known for his tackling, and Jamaal Kearse to make their season debuts at linebackers. The starters got hurt in preseason camp last month.
Offensively, the Huskies could use some steady yardage in the running game. Sophomore Bishop Sankey is coming off his first 100-yard rushing game. He will be running behind an offensive line that will have for first-year starters again on Thursday, with guard Colin Tanigawa now out for the season.
Success in the run would keep Stanford's from doing what UW's first three opponents have done: focusing their energy and schemes on attacking Price's passing game. It would force Stanford to honor the play-action passes the Huskies would like to use to slow the Cardinal pass rush.
The Huskies are 2-1 all-time in the black uniforms they will be wearing Thursday. They beat UCLA in their last Thursday night game and then Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl in 2010. They lost last November to Oregon while in black for the finale of pre-renovated Husky Stadium.
UW knows it will need to take the low road to make it 3-1 in black.
"I'm fired up for the atmosphere Thursday night at CenturyLink Field with the blackout, the Dawg Pack in full effect. Should make for a great atmosphere on national television," Sarkisian said. "I know our kids are looking forward to the challenge -- and can't wait to get started."