September 24, 2009

Inside Slant

So who would have ever thought there was a chance that the big problem for the Huskies heading into the Stanford game would be a letdown?

But that's the challenge facing UW after a shocking 16-13 win over Southern Cal Saturday led to a raucous on-field celebration and also seemed to announce Washington's return to college football relevance. After the win, UW finds itself not only 2-1 but also ranked No, 24 in the Associated Press poll, its first ranking since 2003.

Husky first-year coach Steve Sarkisian, however, said this week that he wasn't necessarily worried about a letdown, instead taking the stance that it's just another challenge to overcome.

"We've never done anything around here (out) of concern," he said. "It's about being aggressive in how we address things off the field and aggressive in how we attack things on the field, and that's how we are approaching this week. We have a very aggressive mentality about it that we are not trying to avoid a letdown, but put together a great game plan to go play a very tough and physical Stanford team."

And he said early in the week that he thought his players had done a good job of turning the page.

"I don't think it's been very difficult at all," he said. "Our kids understand that was a great win Saturday and I think they loved the feeling after that ball game of what it felt like to win a tight ball game in the fourth quarter when you do things right and I think they would like to recreate it. … The way to recreate it is through a great week of practice and preparation."

So if the team comes properly prepared the trick then will be stopping a Stanford offense that figures to pose some problems for the Huskies with its powerful running gamed led by rugged back Toby Gerhart.

The Huskies combated USC's running attack with some smaller, more athletic linemen but may go back to a more conventional front against the Cardinal.

Offensively, UW will look to pick up where it left off against USC when it drove down the field in the last four minutes to get the winning field goal.

Veteran Huskies will surely remember that Palo Alto is the last road venue the team left victorious, a 27-9 win in 2007 in Tyrone Willingham's only return to The Farm while coach of the Huskies.

UW rushed for 388 yards in that game. But Stanford returned the favor last season in Seattle in the last game Jake Locker played in 2008. He suffered a broken thumb in the second quarter that knocked him out for the season as Stanford went on to win 35-28 in a game that wasn't really that close as the Huskies scored in the last minute.

NOTES, QUOTES

• The Huskies are 1-0 in Pac-10 play for only the second time since 2003. UW has started off 2-0 in Pac-10 play only once in that span, in 2006, when the Huskies then lost their third game.

• The Huskies continue to be among the nation's leaders in third-down percentage hitting 29-of-48, 60.42 percent, third behind Florida and South Florida.

Series History: Washington leads 40-35-4.

Scouting The Offense: Jake Locker continues to be a revelation for the Huskies. He is hitting exactly 60 percent of his passes for the season. He hit just 48 percent his first two seasons at UW but new Husky coach Steve Sarkisian set a goal of 60 percent for this year and a new offense featuring more higher-percentage passes has helped Locker hit that number so far. The Huskies haven't been dominant running but tailback Chris Polk has proven to be a gritty runner, getting 71 yards on 25 carries against USC. But the front and Polk will be tested again Saturday against a solid Stanford front four. Locker hasn't run much this year but this could be a game where he might given that Stanford has proven vulnerable at times to mobile quarterbacks.

Scouting The Defense: UW played its best defensive game in at least two seasons in holding the Trojans to 13 points Saturday. They got stellar play from their linebackers, notably middle linebacker Donald Butler who earned national and conference awards for his play. Still, the Huskies are allowing a Pac-10 high 5.4 yards per rushing attempt and 154 rushing yards per game and will get a stiff test Saturday against a Stanford team averaging 204.7 yards per game and 5.7 per attempt. That matchup looms as the key battle to the game.

Quote To Note: "I want our kids to get used to the arena that we are in right now because this is where we are supposed to be. We are supposed to be playing big games and when you get used to and comfortable in that arena that's when letdowns don't occur that you feel comfortable where you are at you don't get caught looking at the last game, you enjoy why we won the last game and relish in the moment and then realize man I want to enjoy that same feeling again so let prepare really well so we can get back to that point."-UW Steve Sarkisian on getting past USC and preparing for Stanford.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

This Week 'S GAME: Washington at Stanford, Sept. 26-Surprising battle for first-place between the only two 1-0 teams in conference play.

Keys To The Game: Can the Huskies duplicate the emotion they had last week against USC? Letdowns are inevitable and UW will have to guard against it. Can the Huskies contain Toby Gerhart and Stanford's running game? UW has become a much better team against the run but playing on the road can present its own challenges there.

And can the Huskies continue to play as efficiently on offense? UW has converted 13-of-14 trips inside the red zone, eight for touchdowns, and also has hit on 29-of-48 third-down conversions, both keys to the season to date.

Players To Watch:

QB Jake Locker-He continues to be at exactly 60-percent passing for the season, and now that the Huskies have played both USC and LSU it takes on that much more validity. The worries that he might not adjust to Sarkisian's new offense seem far in the past now.

RB Chris Polk-The redshirt freshman is beginning to live up to all the hype, playing a gritty game against the Trojans with 71 yards on 25 carries despite rarely having a big hole to run through. Polk has shown both speed and power in the first three games.

LB Donald Butler-The senior middle linebacker played the best game of his career against the Trojans with 12 tackles, two for a loss, a forced fumble and an interception. Now he'll be called on to try to stop Stanford's punishing Toby Gerhart.

PK Erik Folk-After an erratic fall camp, the sophomore has solidified the place kicking job, hitting 6-7 for the season and 3-3 against USC, including the game-winner with three seconds left. But like a lot of guys on the team, this will be his first road trip.

Roster Report:

• Staring DE Darrion Jones may be able to play this week after sitting out the last two games with a knee bruise suffered against LSU. He returned to practice on Monday.

• LB E.J. Savannah suffered another broken bone in an already broken hand early on against USC, but continued to play and says he shouldn't be impacted this week.

• WR Devin Aguilar sprained his MCL at Wednesday's practice and will miss the game.

• WR James Johnson, Washington's leading receiver was also hurt at Wednesday's practice but Sarkisian believes he will be ready for Stanford.



 

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