SEATTLE — The generalized story line leading up to the Pac-12 Conference’s game of the week will flow something like this: No. 15 Washington and its overwhelming fast pace looks to knock off No. 5 Stanford and its overbearing brute strength.
It’s not a characterization the Huskies are accepting at face value.
“I think we’re a pretty physical team ourselves,” UW coach Steve Sarkisian said after the Huskies’ 31-13 victory over Arizona on Saturday. “We may not line up with four tight ends on the field, but we do pride ourselves on running the football and stopping the run. We do it in our own unique ways, but I think that’s what makes this matchup (with Stanford) an intriguing one.”
The Huskies (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12), up one spot to No. 15 in The Associated Press poll Sunday, begin the most-daunting stretch of their schedule with a trip to Stanford Stadium for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff Saturday. The game will air on ESPN.
It doesn’t get any easier the next two weeks, with No. 2 Oregon coming to Husky Stadium on Oct. 12 and UW heading to No. 22 Arizona State on Oct. 19.
Washington’s win over Arizona came in a constant downpour and swirling winds.
“My favorite part tonight was before the game and you had the rain coming down sideways into your face,” Washington defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. “You hear stories about this place and how the weather makes it a great place to play defense.
“You saw some of that tonight.”
Truth be told, Husky fans hadn’t seen defense like this in over a decade.
Not since the 2000 team that finished 11-1 with a Rose Bowl win has Washington been this dominant defensively.
The undefeated Huskies (4-0) held then-No. 19 Boise State to six points. They surrendered just three points to Illinois in the first half before allowing 21 in the second half in a game that was closer than maybe it should have been.
Last week Washington blanked overmatched Idaho State and for a few moments in this Pac-12 opener, you had the feeling they might do the same against Arizona.
Early on the Huskies snuffed the life out of a Wildcats offense that scored 52 points against UW last year in a lopsided win.
Led by junior running back Ka’Deem Carey, who led the nation in rushing last year, Arizona scored in every quarter of its previous three games.
On Saturday, Arizona didn’t gain a first down until early in the second quarter.
“The way we started the game was key,” said sophomore linebacker Shaq Thompson, who finished with a team-high tying 13 tackles. “We wanted to keep them in front of us and tackle the running back.”
Carey ran wild against the Huskies last season for 172 yards. On Saturday, he finished with 132 yards on 30 carries.
Through four games, UW opponents are averaging 10.8 points, which ranks UW among the best in the nation in points allowed.
The Cardinal (4-0, 2-0) has opened as a 7-point betting favorite over UW after its 55-17 dismantling of Washington State on Saturday at CenturyLink Field.
“They are a really good football team. We have the utmost respect for what they’ve done and what they’re doing right now,” Sarkisian said. “Hopefully we can put our best foot forward against them.”
The Huskies, with their new lightning-quick offense, haven’t trailed all season en route to their first 4-0 start since 2001, and their defense ranks No. 1 overall in the Pac-12 after the first month.
Stanford, the reigning conference champion, has won 12 games in a row and features the Pac-12’s top-rated quarterback in Kevin Hogan, whose passer rating of 174.6 is just ahead of UW’s Keith Price (173.6).
Hogan, then a redshirt freshman, made only a brief appearance against the Huskies last year, when then-No. 8 Stanford was upset 17-13 on Sept. 27, 2012, in one of the most memorable wins of the Sarkisian era at UW. Five weeks later, Stanford turned to Hogan to replace Josh Nunes as the starting quarterback, and Hogan helped lead the Cardinal to a Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin.
“They’re a lot more well-versed offensively now with Kevin Hogan,” Sarkisian said. “They’re not nearly as one-dimensional as they were maybe a year ago. We’re going to have to defend everything.”
Stanford, with perhaps the most revered, and feared, offensive line in the Pac-12, has used an old-school approach to run roughshod over many of the new-age teams in the conference. And against the Cougars on Saturday, Stanford unveiled a new wrinkle: a big-play, quick-strike offense that featured four touchdown plays of 33 yards or longer.
“That’s the difference between us this year and last year,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “When people drop their safeties down, we’ve got the ability to go deep. We had some opportunities tonight. We didn’t hit all of them, but we hit a good portion.”
UW counters with an improving defense — which is allowing just 3.80 yards per play this season, third-best in the nation — and a potent run game featuring Bishop Sankey, who leads the nation with an average of 151.8 yards rushing per game.
“This team’s really cool,” Sarkisian said. “It’s not about what might occur down the road, the what-ifs. It’s about what is occurring right now.”
And right now, with their schedule as tough as it gets, the Huskies hope to be even tougher.