STANFORD, Calif. – Walking by himself, Steve Sarkisian made his way up the ramp to the visiting locker room. With his visor in one hand, he placed both arms on his hips, perhaps stunned more than perplexed.
Tough days – bad games – would surely come with this job as the first-year coach of the Washington Huskies in what should still be labeled a rebuilding effort.
Stanford manhandled the 24th-ranked Huskies from the get-go Saturday, starting with an opening kickoff return for a score, and riding the bullish effort of standout tailback Toby Gerhart to a 34-14 victory.
Whenever the Cardinal needed to put the UW on its heels, it turned to Gerhart, who rushed for a career-high 200 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown run that gave Stanford the lead for good late in the first quarter.
In all, the Cardinal amassed 321 yards on the ground – which doesn’t come anywhere close to the school-record 566 the Huskies gave up in 1973. But the effect was just as convincing.
“There’s issues (with the run defense),” Sarkisian said afterward. “We knew coming in this was a really good rushing offense. That kid (Gerhart) was a stud … not that we weren’t right there, he just has the ability to bounce off tackles. We’re not the first team he’s done that to. He’s been doing it for years in this conference.”
Sarkisian was asked if he sensed a letdown. No, he answered. What happened was the UW was introduced to an old-fashioned spanking by a physically superior team.
Three turnovers, including a pair of Jake Locker interceptions, didn’t make matters any better for the Huskies.
“Yeah, it’s pretty shocking,” said Huskies receiver Jermaine Kearse, who hauled in a 19-yard TD pass in the second quarter. “We’re not that kind of football team. We knew they were a physical football team. We just never responded to that.”
And yet, after Kearse went over the top of cornerback Corey Gatewood along the left sideline to grab the ball and waltz in for the 19-yard TD from Locker, the Huskies were within 17-14.
Stanford kept the ball the next seven minutes, feeding Gerhart at will. He ripped off runs of 12 and 16 yards on the same sweep play to the right side, carrying defenders draped all over him.
“They were running the same play on us – power – (but) it really came down to guys doing their responsibility,” UW linebacker Donald Butler said. “We had guys out of their gaps, guys not playing sound, fundamental football that we’ve been taught since day one.”
Stepfan Taylor scored on a 1-yard plunge with 2:41 to go in the first half to give the Cardinal a 24-14 lead.
The Huskies reached the Stanford 33 on their first second-half possession, and went for it on fourth-and-5. But when UW linemen Senio Kelemete and Ryan Tolar ended up blocking the same man, Erik Lorig came free through the middle to sack Locker to end the drive.
“I liked the opportunity we had,” said Sarkisian about going for it on fourth down. “We just didn’t execute.”
Lost in Gerhart’s electric outing was the wild beginning in the first quarter.
Electing to defer, then test the nation’s top kick returner, the Huskies’ strategy backfired. Chris Owusu was barely touched rumbling up the middle, and put a head-fake on the last remaining tackler – kicker Erik Folk – in his way en route to a 91-yard touchdown return.
It was Owusu’s third kickoff return score – second to open the game on back-to-back weekends – and it tied a Pacific-10 Conference mark.
The two teams traded red-zone turnovers – one on Locker’s errant pass into double coverage at the Stanford goal line and the other on Gerhart’s fumble at the Huskies’ 16-yard line that was recovered by E.J. Savannah – before the UW scored its first TD on a strange sequence.
On third-and-9, Stanford’s Andrew Luck took off toward midfield. Seeing a defender coming up, the quarterback glanced to his left at tight end Jim Dray. But before Luck unloaded the ball, he was a good 11/2 yards ahead of Dray.
The ball skidded on the turf, and right to free safety Justin Glenn, who was unaware the ball was live – until coaches on the sideline hollered for him to take off running.
Glenn did, turning the play into a 51-yard fumble return for a score to tie the game at 7 at the 1:48 mark of the first quarter.
One play later, Gerhart broke two tackles and rumbled a career-long 60 yards for a TD, and never looked back
“Our guys didn’t leave any doubt out there tonight,” Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said.
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442