Many Words About the Huskies

Andrew Luck is the perfect human.  He oozes off-the-field character that somehow applies to his on-the-field performance.  He has all the physical tools; he's the next Jim Plunkett.  No, the next John Elway.  No, the next Peyton Manning.  He's as smart as Steve Jobs and as athletically gifted as Bryan Clay. He motivates his teammates like Kennedy, yet is results-oriented like FDR.  

He's far and away the best player in college football — he transcends hyperbole.

Luck's final stats in the 65-21 victory over Washington: 16-21 for 169 yards and two touchdowns.

Andrew Luck, for all his ability, was not the reason why Stanford won Saturday's game by more than double the 20.5 point opening spread.  Jim Harbaugh is.  Yeah, the guy who has been picking fights with opposing NFL coaches while heading up the resurgent San Francisco 49ers all season.  Say what you want about Harbaugh (and people have been saying plenty; Husky play-by-play guy Bob Rondeau called him a "jerk" on the radio last week), but he knows physical.  Like Luck with character, Harbaugh oozes physicality. He brought it to the Stanford program that he built up from a 1-11 season and it has remained there in his absence.  I think Steve Sarkisian is a wonderful coach, great guy, and has done a tremendous job in his three years at the UW, but he has not instilled the physical mentality into the minds of his players that Harbaugh did. And that physical mentality, that desire to be more Smash Mouth than that early 2000s pop-rock band – that's the reason why Stanford piled it on against Washington.

The game reminded me of the first Nebraska game in 2010, when the Cornhuskers rolled into Husky Stadium and kept on rolling until the final whistle.  That team had three separate rushers go over 100 yards.  Had Stanford's Anthony Wilkerson managed seven more yards, then the Cardinal would have matched that effort.  The thing I took away from that game a year ago was how far Washington needed to go to match the physicality of Nebraska's offensive and defensive lines.  Those guys were like Monstars going up against the puny Looney Tunes gang before MJ strapped on his signature shoes to help them out.  On Saturday it was Space Jam all over again, except Washington's Jordan - Chris Polk - didn't have enough "secret juice" for the entire team.

Middle linebacker Cort Dennison said it himself, "We'd seen a lot of their stuff.  There's one play I can remember off the top of my head that we hadn't seen and that was when they gave the ball to the running back and then he ran a little option play – they hadn't shown that.  But other than that, they were running the power and counter and they did a good job."

Translation: Washington got the ball pounded down their throats.  They knew what was coming every single time but once, and were powerless to stop it.  The defense was dominated by an offensive line that was big and mean. Harbaugh-mean.  Dennison and company were consistently pushed 5-10 yards off the line of scrimmage, consistently pushed away from their gap responsibilities and the result was consistent big plays.  Stanford averaged a little more than a first down on each carry, and their backs carried 44 times.

Even when Washington was fortunate enough to see Luck drop back for a pass, he had all day to throw.  The Huskies managed zero sacks and only one hit on Luck.  Even the couple of times he split out wide and had a defensive back lined up across from him, the guy refrained from smacking him right in the mouth.  That's legal to do within five yards, but it's not in Washington's makeup to do so.  Had Keith Price lined up as a receiver, the Cardinal coaches would have been screaming at their corner to give him a piece of their mind, as well as a mouthful of shoulder pads.

Defensive Coordinator Nick Holt, who will have his name run through the mud, tarred, feathered, and tossed into an incinerator by fans reacting to the final scoreline and overall performance, admitted that Stanford was on a whole different plane physically than Washington. "You get behind, you can't get ‘em out of that personnel," he said. "Then they keep pounding you and pounding you, and we're not there yet physically in our program with our guys just staying toe-to-toe consistently."

Normally, I'd just deem that a lame excuse from a guy who got thoroughly out-coached, but if you watch the game, then you know exactly what he's talking about. The only gripe I have with his statement is the use of the word "physically." How could a team with a four-man rotation of 300-plus pound guys at defensive tackle, plus a 270 pounder at end get beat up so badly?

The answer is the mentality that the team plays with. Maybe they only play like this during big games; they sure handed Colorado a lesson in toughness. But, for some reason – be it coaches, nerves, fear, whatever – they were content to let Stanford push them around.

That's the difference between a team which will win 7-8-9 games and go to a bowl, and a team like Stanford which is a legitimate BCS contender.  Washington fans were hoping, given their ascension into the national rankings and steady improvement, that the game against Stanford would be a chance to publicly announce that they were back to where they were in the early '90s when they competed for Rose Bowls year-in and year-out.  Saturday on The Farm was a sobering reminder that there's still a long, long way to go.

The only guy who looked like he was truly on Stanford's level physically was Polk.  Polk banged heads with the best the Cardinal had to offer and looked the victor.  His two long touchdown runs were beyond impressive and he showed why he'll be a factor for someone on Sundays in the not-so-distant future.  When I watch him run, I can't help but think "Beast-Mode" junior, except calling him junior would only serve to demean him.  If the entire team played with Polk's ferocity, the tone of this story would be much different.

That's not to say some guys didn't show flashes: ASJ, Devin Aguilar, Kevin Smith, James Johnson, safety Sean Parker, and to a lesser extent, Will Shamburger, all displayed physicality that is necessary to taking this program to the next stage.  Keith Price also played with great courage, but he's not the guy who needs to be setting the physical tone.

Those guys are the boys on the lines.  The Dawgs up front came back from this game looking like pussycats. Or more to the point, fraidy cats, scared not only of the guy in cardinal across from them, but their shadow too. Looking like a bunch of Jim Schwartz's trying to lay a shoulder into someone after the fact, not when it mattered. One reason for hope, however, is Price's description of the plane ride home. He said it was different than any reaction he'd ever seen from the Huskies.

"I saw tears, I saw it all, you know, and I'm happy about that," he said. "That people actually care about that."

This loss will stick with the players and serve as a reminder of how far they have to go in their preparation. But it's safe to say that none of them want it to happen again.

It's on to the next one for the Huskies.  It's really our own faults for being so disappointed.  We expected too much.  We got caught up in the hype and thought that the Dawgs could jump up several steps instead of taking them one-by-one. Now we know better.


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