The University of Washington touted the Huskies’ game against No. 8 Stanford on Thursday night as the “Blackout of the Century.”
The blackout was executed without a hitch – the Huskies wore black jerseys with black pants – but what 55,941 fans saw at CenturyLink Field was an effort that drew from the school’s Purple and Gold football heritage.
Washington’s swarming defense took the field with a dual agenda: to daze and confuse junior quarterback Josh Nunes, the former Andrew Luck understudy making the first road start of his career.
Washington’s offense, meanwhile, was as cutting edge as a potato baler. Oh, the formations varied – there were times the Huskies lined up in a look that resembled 21st century football – but the players weren’t doing anything different from what their UW predecessors were doing 50 years ago.
Distilled to its essence, the game plan behind Washington’s 17-13 victory can be explained in five words:
Hit ’em again, harder, harder.
“There’s something gritty about a game like this that our fans appreciate more than a 48-45 game,” UW coach Steve Sarkisian said. “There’s a black-and-blue mentality our fans appreciate.”
That the Huskies decided to ignore Stanford’s obvious physical edge was surprising. Even more surprising – to the point of shocking – is that the aim-and-smash strategy worked against a Cardinal team renowned for the strength and size of its linemen on both sides of the ball.
Momentum for the upset was generated by the Huskies’ defense, which forced Stanford into a three-and-out on its first possession. A pattern was established in the first half.
A week after the Cardinal likely knocked USC from the national-championship race with its no-nonsense combination of power and smarts, Stanford had been held to four first downs, 152 offensive yards and, most telling, six points.
Nunes and his teammates never would find an answer for the Huskies’ resolve. The only Stanford touchdown was scored when linebacker Trent Murphy picked off a Keith Price swing pass in the third quarter and raced 40 yards to the end zone.
Contrast that to the previous two Stanford games, when a defense supervised by former assistant coach Nick Holt played the role of punching bag for a Cardinal team that ran where it wanted, and passed when it wanted, and scored pretty much at will. Stanford’s 41-0 shutout of the Huskies in 2010 preceded last season’s barnyard-mess effort at The Farm, where the visitors surrendered 65 points.
A year ago, Cardinal running back Stepfan Taylor pummeled the Huskies for 138 yards on 10 carries – part of a Stanford school-record 446 rushing yards. Taylor’s numbers on Thursday night? The 215-pound senior, expected to be a first-day selection in the NFL draft next spring, finished with 75 yards on 21 carries. His long gain was 7 yards.
“They’re a totally different team,” Taylor said of a UW defense that took its cue from new coordinator Justin Wilcox. “They came out here to play. They adjusted. Last year, they didn’t adjust too much, but this year they were on the ball. We made mistakes and they capitalized. They made plays and we didn’t.”
As for the offense, the Huskies, in their finest moments, resembled the sometimes plodding but ultimately efficient groups that went to Rose Bowls and competed for national championships under Jim Owens and, later, Don James.
Sophomore running back Bishop Sankey picked up a career-high 144 yards. Sankey’s night was highlighted by a 61-yard scoring run – complete with an open-field fake – that put the Huskies within striking distance at 13-10.
The touchdown came on the final play of the third quarter, and set the stage for the fourth-quarter game winner: Price’s 35-yard touchdown pass to Kasen Williams, the amazingly athletic sophomore who has no match once he’s isolated in single coverage.
“We struggled,” acknowledged Sarkisian, who had hoped Price would be able to throw deep. But pass protection was spotty, and Price never was able to set up and consistently plant his feet.
So there’s that to work on: A few more middle-to-deep passes completed to Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins figure to create more room for the ground game.
But while it wasn’t always a model of beauty, the offense accomplished something consistent with the Huskies’ old-school tradition.
It scored enough points to beat a Top 10 opponent.
“I told them that at the end of the day, it’s about competing,” said Sarkisian. “Fight, scratch, claw; just do what you gotta do.”
For those craving 48-45 shootouts, the 2012 Huskies aren’t going to be entertaining. But if you like your football the way it used to be played – and will be played again – keep your eyes on these guys.
They represent the Huskies’ football future. It looks a lot like the email@example.com