Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Huskies get extra time to solve Stanford
By Ted Miller
Washington is off this weekend. Here's a guess there won't be much chill time for Steve Sarkisian and his staff.
The Huskies play No. 9 Stanford on Thursday of next week. You might have heard that Stanford folks are grinning ear-to-ear these days. The following Saturday Washington visits No. 3 Oregon. Huskies and Ducks have a warm and friendly regard for each other. And then the Huskies play host to poor ol', now-13th ranked USC.
(If you throw in the 41-3 loss at No. 2 LSU on Sept. 8, it's possible the Huskies are playing one of the most difficult five-week stretches in the history of college football.)
Of course, the Huskies can't afford to look ahead at the big picture (and who'd want to anyway). Stanford offers plenty. Not only are the Cardinal coming off a rugged performance against the Trojans that suggests they again are among the nation's most physically imposing football teams, there's a bit of history here, too.
No team over the past three years -- not even those hated Ducks -- has manhandled the Huskies like Stanford. In 2009, Washington yielded 321 yards rushing in a 34-14 loss. In 2010, they were humiliated 41-zip at home, outgained 470 yards to 107. Last year, they surrendered 446 yards rushing, a Stanford school record, in a 65-21 defeat.
After that 2011 defeat, Sarkisian said, "They wear you out and they wear you down."
So how can things be different this go-around as Washington tries to climb out of the Pac-12's muddled middle?
The Huskies were brutalized at LSU, gaining just 183 total yards while the Tigers rushed for 242. The offense has been inconsistent both on the ground and through the air. The offensive line has struggled, giving up eight sacks. The defensive front has been poor against the run, yielding 174.7 yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry.
Washington's Bishop Sankey said he's focusing this spring on becoming a more complete running back.
Stanford, you might have noticed, likes to run and stop the run. And then pound your quarterback. Ask Matt Barkley, who was sacked four times in the 21-14 loss and hit repeatedly.
Sarkisian said Monday he's concerned about the Huskies' lack of a pass rush, but he's probably more worried about the Cardinal's pass rush against quarterback Keith Price.
Washington's retooled offensive line played better against Portland State, an FCS team -- "Not bad, not bad," Sarkisian said -- as the Huskies rushed for 209 yards and gave up just one sack. But the Vikings are not Stanford.
"We have an idea of the runs we like now," Sarkisian said. "I think we are starting to figure out what our guys do well, so now we can get a little more creative as far as running the ball."
The Huskies ran the ball well in the first half against Stanford last year, particularly on 46- and 61-yard touchdown runs from Chris Polk. Polk is gone, though, and sophomore Bishop Sankey is now the No. 1 run option. He rushed for 103 yards and two scores on 14 carries against Portland State. The Huskies will need to create some sort of run threat to keep the Cardinal's deep and capable defensive front from completely zeroing in on Price.
And then the Huskies defense is going to need to figure out a way to contain Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor better than the Trojans did. The one area in their favor is this will be new Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes' first road start.
Still, preparing for Stanford probably merits a few extra days.
Sarkisian spent a lot of time lauding Stanford in two different news conferences, particularly its size. He then was asked how he planned to counter it.
"We'll find out next Thursday," he said. "We've got some work to do.''