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Calm Before Stanford: Huddling. Then Date Night

Oct 3, 2013

The Huskies’ defense works on something it hasn’t done since before spring practice started: huddling. And their coaches get their weekly free night before Friday’s trip to the Bay Area.

By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing

SEATTLE – The 15th-ranked Huskies had their final game plan-preparation practice for Saturday night’s Pac-12 North division showdown at No. 5 Stanford.

Not that the Dawgs are looking even two days ahead. Not just yet.

That alone is a change from the last time the Huskies played at Stanford, a 65-21 loss two seasons ago.

“I didn’t even think about that until you just mentioned it,” coach Steve Sarkisian said Thursday of the last visit to “The Farm.”

"I just don’t think we were mature enough,” he said when asked about huge road tests in previous seasons, when UW was still developing a relatively thin, young roster. “We’d get into some of these games and like to listen to what people said about us …. ‘What if we win? What if we lose?’ Those are all things I think used to get in our way a little bit.

"Now, our team doesn’t think like that. … Today was about Thursday, and Thursday’s practice. (It was about) our ability to execute on Thursday and understand the game plan to make all of us coaches feel good about it so we enjoy ‘date night’ with our wives.

"That’s the focus of our team. They aren’t at 7:30 on Saturday night yet. It’s 11 o’clock on Thursday morning to these guys. They are going to get ready to go to school.

So, yes, players are students and football coaches are husbands, too. (For Thursday night each week, anyway).

“That’s what’s unique about this team. All of the stuff that everyone else would like to talk about, our guys really don’t talk about,” Sarkisian said. “They are just happy that we’ve won the games we’ve won, and that we have a chance to play a really good football team, as well.”

This week has been a different one for coordinator Justin Wilcox's  defense. It is third in the nation allowing 3.80 yards per play through wins over Boise State, Illinois, Idaho State and Arizona, but now gets something way different in the varied, rugged — and slower-paced — Cardinal.

Heck, Stanford even – gasp! -- huddles.

Remember those?

But that doesn’t mean Stanford doesn’t run some of the same plays Washington does, such as zone reads, quarterback runs, bubble screens, shovel passes and quick plays outside. It has been doing all that while going 9-0 with Kevin Hogan playing quarterback, dating to last season when he took over for Josh Nunes. That was many weeks after UW beat a struggling Nunes and then-No. 8 Stanford in Seattle last September, 17-13.

The Cardinal offense is much more varied and unpredictable now with Hogan, who has proven to be the better runner and passer than the erratic Nunes. Hogan is 11th in the nation in passer rating, one place in front of Keith Price.

Yet Stanford hasn’t lost its smash-mouth, power-running style, either. Not when it still has a veteran offensive line that includes three seniors and a fourth-year junior and averages 308 pounds.

“That makes them a lot more dynamic, the balanced offense,” Huskies senior defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha said. “That’s exciting for me, to play that hard, physical ball – and also to get to pass rush.”

Kikaha could become a huge factor Saturday night, if he continues his last two games: 2½ sacks in the first half against Idaho State; a second half spent in Arizona’s backfield last week.

“Yeah,” he said, “I’m excited.”

INSIDE THE DAWGS: Connor Cree was missing on the defensive line last week because of injury. Sarkisian said he hopes Cree can play for depth against Stanford’s big offensive front Saturday. … This is the first conference road game, which means the Huskies have a Pac-12 mandated travel limit of 70 players. Sarkisian said that list is tougher to make this season, with a deeper roster and many more contributing across special teams and on offense and defense. “Sometimes I like to bring guys who are redshirting, just for the sake of that experience,” the coach said. “There’s been years past when we were six or seven short and I was just bringing guys knowing that couldn’t play – they were redshirting or injured – just for the sake of filling out the 70 spots. Now we are at a place where we are bringing 70 guys who all can have a role in our success on Saturday.”