- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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No. 5 Stanford hosts No. 15 Washington on Saturday. History scholars are not welcome.
Two years ago, Stanford ran all over Washington -- setting a school record with 446 rushing yards in a 65-21 win. That game was, for all intents and purposes, the beginning of Washington’s 2011 defensive downfall that crested with an Alamo Bowl embarrassment against Baylor.
Last year, in a rapid change of fortunes, it was Washington’s defense that rose to the occasion and held Stanford’s offense to 170 total yards, zero offensive touchdowns and just 65 rushing yards in a 17-13 win. The Cardinal were coming off of a then-shocking 21-14 win over No. 2 USC. That game might have been, for all intents and purposes, the beginning of the end of the Lane Kiffin era. But that's another story for another day.
So what does the recent history between these two teams mean? Squat. Diddly-squat, to be exact. This is a very different Washington defense than the one that rolled over two year ago. Just as Stanford’s offense is completely different than the one that struggled to move the ball last year in Seattle.
“We’re definitely a new football team,” Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. “From two years ago we’ve made some pretty significant changes on the defensive side of the football from the staff standpoint. And I think offensively we’ve made some significant changes in scheme and style of play that has changed us dramatically over a two-year period.”
Indeed, Washington’s defense under Justin Wilcox has improved dramatically over the last season and a half. Through four games this season the Huskies are allowing fewer than 11 points per game. Offensively, the new up-tempo scheme is producing almost 600 yards per game, and the Huskies average nearly 40 points per contest.
Though the feeling of last season's loss still lingers for some Stanford players, it won’t be a factor in Saturday’s matchup.
“Disappointment,” said Stanford defensive back Alex Carter in talking about last season's meeting. “I know we felt like we had really given up an opportunity for our team to make a statement. For us, I think we just realize that last year was last year. It happened. This year we’re a different team with a different mentality. We’re just focused on this game.”
As for finding little tricks and intricacies from last season's game? Stanford coach David Shaw said don’t count on it.
“I never take the previous year’s game too seriously,” he said. “We look at them from a schematic and personnel standpoint. They have a lot of film from this year. We go back and watch a lot of schematic things, but what actually happens in games, there’s never a carry over. Last year when we played them, we didn’t think we were going to go in there and rush for 300 yards cause we knew they were a more sound, physical, athletic defense. We knew it was going to be tough sledding, just like it was, and just like we believe this year is going to be tough sledding also.”
So far, things have gone according to plan for both teams. The Huskies (4-0 overall, 1-0 Pac-12) have successfully negotiated a nonconference slate that included a win over Boise State and road win against Illinois. And despite the weather last week, they handled Arizona 31-13.
Stanford (4-0, 2-0) has looked explosive offensively, averaging more than 41 points per game. Quarterback Kevin Hogan ranks fifth nationally in QBR and the offense -- while still run-based -- has become more wide receiver-centric in the passing attack.
“They’ve changed some,” Sarkisian said. "Two years ago Andrew Luck was the quarterback and they were doing their thing with Andrew. They've worked themselves into Kevin Hogan and they have a lot of variety. Defensively it’s a lot of the same faces, just more mature. They pose a great deal of challenges for us.”