Huskies' Mantras At Stanford: 'Keep Climbing, Don't Change'
Oct. 21, 2011
Weekly Game Notes
By Gregg Bell
STANFORD, Calif. - "Keep climbing."
"Do what you do."
The mantras by which the 22nd-ranked Huskies (5-1, 3-0 Pac-12) are living right now - the words that dominated practices and film sessions all week - made Friday's trip from Seattle to Stanford.
"This is an intelligent group of kids. They know it's about us. It's not about Stanford," UW coach Steve Sarkisian said outside Stanford Stadium following his team's walkthrough practice Friday evening. "That's not a slight to Stanford, either.
"It took 2 ½ years to get to get our guys to this point that they think that way."
Sarkisian's message: It doesn't matter that Stanford (6-0, 4-0) has won 14 consecutive games, the nation's longest winning streak. Or that the last nine of those victories have been by 25 points or more. It doesn't matter that the Cardinal has Andrew Luck, the precise, athletic and cerebral quarterback presumed to become the Heisman Trophy winner and first overall pick in next spring's NFL draft.
All that matters is that the Huskies do what has gotten them nine wins in their last 10 games. Do what has them 5-1 for the first time in 10 years, 3-0 in the conference for the first time in 14 seasons and ranked for just the second time since 2003. UW is 22nd in the country just 2 ½ seasons after the program finished winless.
This showdown for the lead in the Pac-12 North is at 5 p.m. on ABC television regionally, espn3.com, the Washington IMG College radio network and here again at GoHuskies.com for the live game chat, play-by-play, photos and analysis. It is the first time Washington and its opponent are both ranked since Aug. 30, 2003, at Ohio State.
An upset of Stanford would push Washington toward league heights it hasn't seen since its last Rose Bowl appearance that ended the 2000 season.
Yet Sarkisian wants his Huskies seeing this opportunity as merely the next - albeit bigger - step on their mountain ascent back to championships.
"We are just really trying to take this one step at a time. And this next step happens to be Stanford," he said.
The climbing theme came to Sarkisian during a venerable news magazine show on CBS recently.
"I was watching a 60 Minutes episode on a climber that uses no ropes and no cables," the coach explained. "Pretty fascinating.
"We have talked to that analogy even more and even shown some videos to that analogy ... because this challenge is maybe a little bigger -- or appears to be bigger. (It's so) we don't lose our fundamentals. We don't lose who we are. We don't lose our preparation. We don't get caught up in the anxiety of the game.
"We stick to what we know and we believe in what we know and that's good enough to take the next step, just like any mountain climber that reaches his toughest moment. He's got to go rely on his techniques and fundamentals that have gotten him that far."
These Huskies are relying on a high-flying offense that has scored 30 points or more in the first six games for the first time in the 120-season history of UW football. They are relying on the wondrous Keith Price, who has 21 touchdown passes, fourth most in any Huskies season, and a completion rate of 69 percent despite playing on two sprained knees and a twisted ankle.
They are relying on bullish runner Chris Polk, who is needs one more 100-yard rushing day to tie Napoleon Kaufman's UW career record of 17.
And they are relying upon the belief their defense is improving. It has set season lows in points allowed and yards allowed the last two games, against Utah and Colorado.
"We're right where we need to be," defensive coordinator Nick Holt said of the improvement from September.
Now comes this defense's toughest challenge yet: Luck and Stanford's physical and opportunistic offense that has beaten UW 41-0 and 34-14 the last two seasons.
So what, Sarkisian is telling his Dawgs. Don't look up. Don't look down. Don't change.
"It's fitting for us from where we've begun to where we've gotten to," Sarkisian said. "I think that teams make mistakes that are new to this of looking and saying 'Wow, look at all we've accomplished!' And you slide back down because you feel like you've made it. And I think teams make mistakes when they look up and look ahead and say 'I can't wait until I get to there, get to there, get to there' -- and they miss what's right in front of them."
Washington has three keys to pulling the road upset that might be right in front of them:
Force turnovers from a team that's committed just five in six games
Stanford uses a mix of the pounding run - "Power. Power. Power," is what Huskies defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu calls it - and Luck throwing over the top of run-stopping defenses for back-breaking plays.
Blitzing might not be the answer. The Huskies have struggled this season with timid blitzes that have often failed to reach the passer. Stanford's offensive line starts three seniors and has allowed just two sacks in 193 pass plays, as Luck seemingly always beats blitzes with better audibles.
"We've got to do a nice job in our base stuff," Holt said. "And we've got to get some turnovers.
"We've got to be sound."
That means doing their own jobs -- and no one else's. Ta'amu said he got burned in these teams' previous meeting by wandering into the guard-tackle gap on Stanford's running plays instead of his assigned center-guard gap. The Cardinal romped for 278 yards on the ground that day.
The Huskies likely can't bring safeties such as physical Sean Parker closer to the line to help against Stanford's power runs. Because that's when Luck sends one of his three fast, tall tight ends over the top of the defense for huge gains.
Coby Fleener is 6-feet-6 and leads the Cardinal with six touchdown receptions. He's fast enough to beat cornerbacks. Zach Ertz is tied for second on the team with 20 catches. Levine Toilolo scored two touchdowns last week in Stanford's blowout of Washington State. The 6-8 junior is averaging 21.8 yards per catch.
"They lull you into thinking it's going to be a big, physical game," Holt said. "Then they start throwing the ball."
If all that fails for Washington, there's always Price and Polk. UW sure needs more than the 19 yards it got on 25 rushes against Stanford last year.
It may take the Huskies outscoring the Cardinal to keep these Dawgs marching up its mountain.
"If we need chalk on our hands, then put chalk on our hands," Sarkisian said Friday before he boarded the team bus at Stanford Stadium bound for the team's hotel.
"Then, let's go. Keep climbing."