The Huskies face four straight games against currently ranked opponents after rolling past the easiest team on their schedule.
It didn’t take long after Washington’s 52-13 win over Portland State Saturday for the conversation to turn to the next game on UW’s schedule — a home date with Stanford on Sept. 27.
The Cardinal has been, along with Oregon, the biggest nemesis for the Huskies during Steve Sarkisian’s three-plus years as coach, having beaten UW a combined 140-35.
That includes two losses that came in the only two weeks UW has been ranked under Sarkisian, on each occasion sending the Huskies skidding out of the polls — a 34-14 loss in Palo Alto in 2009 when UW was ranked No. 24, and a 65-21 defeat in Palo Alto last year when the Huskies were ranked 22nd.
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Last year’s game was particularly disheartening for the Huskies, having entered the game 5-1 on the season and winning of nine of its previous 10 games. But UW allowed 615 yards overall and 446 on the ground, and the game was never close after halftime. It sent the Huskies on a tailspin of five losses in their last seven games.
Last year’s loss at Stanford also highlighted UW’s recent inability to compete with — much less beat — highly-ranked teams.
The Huskies have lost six in a row to teams ranked in the Top 25 after their 2010 win over No. 18 Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl, losing by an average of 24.3 points, with none closer than 11.
UW tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, though, said the Huskies aren’t worried about any of the history associated with the Stanford series.
“This isn’t about last year,” he said. “We are playing a different Stanford team and we’ve got to focus on the team that we play this year and not the one we played last year.
“I think we are a better team than last year.”
As Seferian-Jenkins said those words, Stanford’s game with USC was just kicking off, and how good the Cardinal was still debatable.
A few hours later, though, the Cardinal suddenly looked as good as ever, having thrown a major disruption into the college football season with a 21-14 win over the Trojans.
Stanford got the win in typical Cardinal style, even if Andrew Luck was no longer the team’s quarterback, replaced by junior Josh Nunes.
The Cardinal, which the past few years has developed a reputation as the most punishing team in the Pac-12, pounded USC for 202 rushing yards on 37 carries while holding the Trojans to just 26 yards rushing on 28 attempts. With USC’s running game closed off, the Trojans were forced to throw but had little success as quarterback Matt Barkley threw two interceptions and no touchdowns.
Stanford figures to employ a similar strategy against a UW team whose ability to run and stop the run remains in question.
After playing a nonconference schedule that featured one elite team (Louisiana State), one middling team (San Diego State, which Saturday allowed 41 points to FBS North Dakota) and one lower-division foe (Portland State), the Huskies are 97th nationally in rushing at 113.67 yards per game, and 79th defending the run, allowing 174.67 yards per game.
The Huskies, at least, will have a bit more time to prepare for the Cardinal, as well as to get healthy. While the Huskies are no longer commenting in detail on injuries, the assumption is that a few players who sat out Saturday (such as defensive end Talia Crichton and receiver Kevin Smith) will be back for the Stanford game.
The Huskies, though, may continue to have to go with the rebuilt offensive line that played against Portland State, with Erik Kohler and Colin Tanigawa each battling knee injuries that could be long-term. The injuries had UW starting four first-year players up front against the Vikings.
It worked fine Saturday against an already-struggling Vikings team that also was jumping up in class against the Huskies.
The game had been strategically placed by UW to follow the trip to LSU and precede the opening of Pac-12 play, a breather in which the Huskies could get healthy mentally and physically before entering the rigors of play in a conference that this week features five ranked teams, including the first four on UW’s schedule — Stanford (ninth in this week’s AP poll), Oregon (third), USC (13th) and Arizona (22nd).
“This (the Portland State win) puts that bruised pride behind us,” said safety Sean Parker.
With, of course, the knowledge that the real bruising tests have only just begun.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bcondotta.