STANFORD, Calif. — Early this week, Washington defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox joked with his youngest defenders that he would have to teach them how to huddle.
The Huskies have yet to play against an offense that uses a traditional huddle — you know, that weird ritual between snaps when 10 players gather ’round the quarterback, who calls out the play.
No. 5 Stanford will indeed slow things down when the Cardinal (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) hosts No. 15 UW (4-0, 1-0) on Saturday night at Stanford Stadium in what amounts to something of a Pac-12 North semifinal championship game. The huddle will hardly be a break for the Huskies, though.
The brief breather between snaps will be about the only respite the Huskies get over the next three Saturdays. These next 15 days will define this UW season, good or bad, with Stanford, No. 2 Oregon and No. 22 Arizona State all looking to derail the Huskies’ best start to a season since 2001.
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“This is right where we want to be, contending for a Pac-12 championship, and this is the first obstacle — one of the best teams in the country,” UW senior quarterback Keith Price said.
Since the “Whammy in Miami” in 1994, Washington is 1-9 on the road against top-five teams. The Huskies’ last win in that span was over No. 3 Washington State in the 2002 Apple Cup.
Further, the Huskies are 3-6 in Pac-12 road games the past two seasons, though they did win their first road game of the season, over Illinois, 34-24, at Chicago’s Soldier Field last month.
“It’s a whole new season, a whole new team,” Price said. “We understand the challenge. We’ve been in stretches like this before. We had Stanford and Oregon in back-to-back weeks (last year), so it’s a big test for us. I think we’re ready for it, though.”
UW’s 4-0 start has brought national attention upon the Huskies, with some wondering if the program is headed back to its glory days of the Don James era. The past few years, UW coach Steve Sarkisian said some of his players might have gotten caught up in all the positive attention. Not so this year, he said.
Even the speculation linking Sarkisian to the USC head-coaching job hasn’t been a distraction this week, he insisted.
“I feel more much more confident with this group,” Sarkisian said, “having the maturity, the leadership to withstand … the back-to-back weeks of these two opponents (Stanford and Oregon) and focusing on the task at hand.”
The task is immense Saturday. Stanford, the reigning Pac-12 champion, has won 12 games in a row, and led a ranked Arizona State team 29-0 at home two weeks ago. The Cardinal routed Washington State 55-17 last week, with the Stanford defense knocking out WSU quarterback Connor Halliday.
The Huskies, no doubt, are hoping their up-tempo offense can offset a Stanford front seven that might be the best they’ll see all season.
“We understand that Stanford is a very good football team, a very disciplined football team,” Price said. “We have to be sound fundamentally.”
Stanford QB Kevin Hogan played sparingly against UW last season, finishing with one rushing attempt for 5 yards to spell then-starter Josh Nunes. Since taking over for Nunes, Hogan is 9-0 as the Stanford starter, and he showed against WSU that the Cardinal is capable of beating teams with big plays in the passing game.
“The ‘explosives’ they’re creating (are) pretty significant,” Wilcox said.
UW counters with a defense ranked atop the Pac-12 after the first month, allowing just 3.8 yards per play, third-fewest in the nation.
Then again, the Huskies haven’t faced a team like Stanford, and they haven’t faced a three-game stretch this daunting.
“I think this is when the team plays better, when we feel like we have something to prove,” Price said. “We know this is just the next step in our journey to becoming a team that we know we can be.”
|Tough stretch for Huskies|
|Washington’s next three opponents are Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State, with two of the games on the road.|
|at Stanford, Saturday||2-0||4-0||41.2||19.5|
|vs. Oregon, Oct. 12||1-0||4-0||59.8||10.8|
|at Arizona State, Oct. 19||1-1||3-1||44.2||28.2|
Adam Jude: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org