What a Difference One Year Can Make

SEATTLE - After allowing 615 total yards to the No. 8 Stanford Cardinal last year, the Washington Huskies defense were stout in every aspect of their rematch Thursday night, giving up just 235 yards – 182 less than No. 2 USC gave up – en route to a 17-14 upset victory at CenturyLink Field.

The 235 is also the lowest yards the Cardinal offense has been held to since Sept. 13, 2008 when TCU held the Tavita Pritchard led Stanford offense to just 193 yards in a 31-14 defeat in Texas.

This year, while the Cardinal lost five big offensive pieces (Andrew Luck, Coby Fleener, Chris Owusu, Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro), Stanford is still very dangerous with the ball.

For Husky head coach Steve Sarkisian, the dramatic improvement has come from something as simple as belief in the new system implemented by defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox.

"Tremendous, the kids are believing. They're buying into what we're trying to get done," said Sarkisian, whose team didn't allow an offensive touchdown. "I think that's one of the biggest keys. It's one thing for everybody to know X's and O's, and obviously are guys are pretty bright. They get the kids to believe. They're excellent teachers. They communicate well and at the end of the day, guys are doing what they're supposed to do."

In the run game, Stanford wasn't hiding their plan of attack. The Cardinal lined up in the Power-I – sometimes up to eight men on the line – and tried to out physical the Husky front seven like in previous years.

However Thursday night, Tosh Lupoi's defensive line created enough penetration to allow the second level defensive players to come up for huge stops, severely limiting what the Cardinal offense could accomplish. The rush game, centered around senior Stepfan Taylor, finished the game with just 86 yards on 28 carries (446 yards on 44 carries last year).

As for the star, Taylor had just 79 yards on 21 carries with a long of seven yards (shortest since Dec. 31, 2009 when he was a freshman and had a long of five yards against Oklahoma in the Sun Bowl).

"We played extremely hard with great technique," said Husky defense coordinator Justin Wilcox of Washington's front seven. "Tosh Lupoi and Johnny Nansen got them ready to play. They knew what they were looking at and I thought they brought it every snap. We weren't perfect, but we played extremely hard and I think those guys reaped some of the benefits of all the work they put in."

The Josh Nunes-led passing game also felt the wrath of the newly found bruising defense.

A first-year starter, Nunes finished with just 170 yards on 18 of 37 with one interception. The 6-foot-4 junior also had a career low 81.8 passer rating, marking one of the worst quarterback performances for the Cardinal since the Pritchard era.

With Nunes and the Stanford offense locked down (best performance by the Husky defense against the Cardinal since Nov. 11, 2006 when Stanford edged out Washington for a 20-3 upset victory) and the Washington offense ineffective, Sarkisian said this is the type of game the fans like to see.

"Part of me thinks that our fans probably appreciate these types of games more so than 48-45," Sarkisian said. "There's something gritty about our mentality here. This was a black and blue type of game and I think our fans appreciated that."

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