Hau'oli Kikaha could only watch last season as his defensive teammates put forth their best performance of the season against Stanford, an effort that helped Washington to a 17-13 victory at CenturyLink Field.
It also helped reinforce the notion of the Huskies as an improved, physical defense. That's something Kikaha -- whose last name was "Jamora" back then -- hopes to partake in this season, when the fourth-year junior defensive end takes the field against the Cardinal for the first time since 2010, before two ACL injuries wiped out his next two seasons.
"Watching Stanford, they always have that smashmouth football, very physical team," Kikaha said. "So it’s exciting to see our team compete at that same level with a physical team like Stanford. Analyzing the film, it just makes me want to play lower, have a better base and be more disciplined and stout in my techniques. I’m excited for them to challenge us (and) our manhood again, and bring their same physicality."
That seems to be the source of Kikah's excitement for this game -- not necessarily the fact that Stanford is the No. 5 team in the country and a win would likely propel the Huskies into the top 10, but the mere fact that the Cardinal provide such a grueling challenge for every defense they face.
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"If everybody’s buying into what the coach is preaching and instilling, we should be treating it like anyone else," Kikaha said. "I’m just excited by the way they play and I’m sure there’s much more guys on the team that feel the same way. They love the competition."
Three years ago, Kikaha and UW's defense chased Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck to little avail at Husky Stadium, where they lost 41-0 in the rain. Two years ago, UW's defense had similar trouble in a 65-21 loss in Palo Alto. With Luck gone and Josh Nunes starting at quarterback last season, the Huskies stifled Stanford's running game and forced Nunes into non-factor status.
Now, they face a different challenge in quarterback Kevin Hogan, a strong runner who throws the ball much better than Nunes, if not as well as Luck.
"I feel like that makes them a lot more dynamic, having that balanced offense," Kikaha said. "That’s also exciting. You get a changeup. You get to play really hard, physical ball, and then you get to rush the passer. It’s a good thing for us."
Christian Caple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ChristianCaple