University of Washington

No. 16 Stanford first opponent capable of exposing real Huskies, for better or worse

Chris Petersen is certain of very little when it comes to discussing publicly what he believes to be true about his Washington Huskies football team.

Namely: Who are they, exactly? And will Saturday’s 1:15 p.m. game against No. 16 Stanford at Husky Stadium tell him more than UW’s previous four games about what direction this team might be headed?

Yeah, nice try.

“That’s hard to know. I really don’t know the answer to that question,” the Huskies coach said. “Totally different beasts than we’ve seen in the past. So it’s going to be a lot tougher sledding, for sure. We’ll learn some things. Learn more than we’ve learned? I don’t know.”

Considering who the Huskies played in the season’s first four weeks, it seems two-time defending Pac-12 champion Stanford will be most capable of illustrating exactly where Washington stands as it journeys into Pac-12 play.

A close call against Hawaii in the Huskies’ opener elicited little more than grumbling from fans hoping for better. Allowing 52 points in a close win over Eastern Washington presented a different set of concerns, specifically UW’s inexperienced secondary.

The Huskies blew away Illinois, 44-19, but the Illini have won exactly one Big Ten conference game in the past two seasons and don’t look great this year, either. And UW’s 45-14 win over Georgia State would look better if not for the fact that, for one, the Huskies trailed 14-0 at halftime, and two, GSU isn’t any good, either.

So, it’s hard to know exactly what to expect from these Huskies, who lead the country in sacks but rank 106th nationally in passing yards allowed, who score 41.3 points per game but rank 73rd in total offense.

Here comes Stanford, with the No. 1 scoring defense in the country (thanks in part to shutouts against UC-Davis and Army, but still), a fourth-year junior quarterback in Kevin Hogan and big, mean offensive and defensive linemen who, while not as experienced as recent Cardinal squads, have still been bred in the physical, bruise-applying manner to which Stanford has become accustomed.

“This is going to be a completely new challenge to us that we haven’t seen in these first four games. We’re well aware of that,” Petersen said. “We have to step our game up. We have to play at a level we haven’t played at yet to compete with these guys. Hopefully those first four games helped us somehow, some way.”

What will certainly help is regaining the services of sophomore receiver John Ross, who sat out the Georgia State game while nursing a leg injury. Ross, who returns kickoffs and has scored four touchdowns this season despite touching the ball only nine times on plays from scrimmage — he leads the team with 224 yards receiving on six catches — is expected to play against Stanford, though Petersen has been characteristically tight-lipped about the extent of Ross’ availability.

The Huskies might not know where they stand, but they know what they’re getting themselves into. Two years ago, across town at CenturyLink Field, the Huskies upset the Cardinal, ranked No. 8 at the time, 17-13. Last season, Stanford exacted revenge in a down-to-the-wire, 31-28 win in California.

“They’re big, strong, tough guys. The same every year,” said junior offensive lineman Dexter Charles. “They battle, they fight. We’ve got to move our feet and come off the ball strong and hard and fight them because they’re coming to fight us.”

“They come right at you,” linebacker John Timu said, “and they want to see how consistent you can be.”

Them and everyone else who watched this team the last four weeks.