Back to the Drawing Board

PALO ALTO - With six minutes left in the game and Stanford up 34-14, out came the obligatory 'OVERRATED' chant, courtesy of the Red Zone, Stanford's student section. They were right. The No. 24 Washington Huskies came into Saturday night's game riding a wave of emotion after beating No. 3 USC, and in turn they took a Toby Gerhart uppercut right on the chin at Stanford Stadium.

Chalk it up to life in the Pac-10.

"These are good football teams," Washington Head Coach Steve Sarkisian said after the Huskies' 20-point shellacking at the hands of the Cardinal. "Every week, you've got to practice and prepare every week. Across the board in this conference, it's a battle."

And after the game, the Cardinal could be heard in their locker room, whooping it up with chants and songs and all the things that come from a sound thrashing. Roughly 30 feet stood between the door to Stanford's locker room and Washington's, but there was nothing coming from UW's door. Not a peep.

Sarkisian had an answer for it. "I think they are pissed," he said of his team. "They don't like the feeling. I think there's an expectation level around here. We didn't play that way tonight."

They didn't even sound the bell for the opening kickoff, as Chris Owusu tied a Pac-10 mark held by Anthony Davis of USC and UCLA's Matt Slater by taking his return 91 yards. "I thought we had a great plan for where we were going to kick deep," Sarkisian said. "We called a deep left kick and we kicked it to the right. I know our guys were covering one side of the ball, and he was on the other side."

It never really got any better, even though the Huskies never lost their fight. Justin Glenn scored his first career touchdown after a pass-turned-lateral was scooped up by the redshirt freshman and returned 51 yards for a score. And Joshua Gage prevented a touchdown on the last play of the game with a tackle for loss on Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney.

But in-between it was a horror show. Big, bruising Toby Gerhart had slashed and dashed his way to 200 yards, 60 of those yards for six to give Stanford a 14-7 lead in what became a topsy-turvy first quarter of action. Washington's Jake Locker connected with receiver Jermaine Kearse for a pretty 19-yard pitch-and-catch to keep the score reasonable, but the Cardinal running attack could not be stopped. In fact, it was rarely contained. Stanford's Stepfan Taylor scored from 1-yard out to cap a 68-yard, 7-plus minute drive to break the Huskies' backs before they even had a chance to regroup at half.

"We already knew they were going to be a physical team coming in," said UW linebacker Cort Dennison, who saw extended minutes after E.J. Savannah was diagnosed with plantar faciitis. "They were probably the most physical team we've seen so far. We knew we had to bring our big boy pads."

And while the Huskies' season has already been a bit of a roller-coaster, the loss couldn't be pinned on all the normal things you'd expect: The didn't lose because of a let-down. They didn't lose because they weren't prepared. They didn't lose because it just happened to be their first trip on the road.

They lost because they got hit in the mouth and weren't able to find the counter. The Owusu return wasn't the knockout blow, but it definitely appeared to create a delayed reaction.

And the more the Cardinal kept running at them, the less the Huskies had in the way of an answer.

"They ran the same play at us - power left and power right," senior linebacker Donald Butler said afterward. "We knew what they were going to run at us and we couldn't stop it. We had guys out of their gaps, guys not playing sound, fundamental football like we've been taught since Day One. You can't take anything away from (Gerhart). He was capitalizing on guys not being in our gaps. I put it on the players. I put it on me and the other players out there. We got gashed."

The Huskies tried to move bodies up front, but it was like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. They were trying to keep guys fresh, but they were also searching high and low for answers.

"Our inside guys need to play better, I think," Washington Defensive Coordinator Nick Holt said. "When you run for that many yards, you're staying blocked inside. We need to have more production inside. We can't rely on Daniel Te'o-Nesheim to make every play for us. And we're trying to find the right fit. So that's why you saw so many guys playing.

"It comes back to having physical players. We need to find those kind of guys that can hang in there and go toe-to-toe with guys. We have a couple, and we have to find a couple other guys."

Offensively, the table was set for Jake Locker to take that next step toward possibly becoming the first overall draft pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. He had just put together the drive of his life the week before, and his star was going through the roof. Saturday night, it ended up being a tale of two games. Locker was hurried and harassed from the jump. His passes weren't connecting like they have so far this season. And when he tried to put the offense on his shoulders, he couldn't stay away from the turnover bug.

"He tried really hard, and sometimes that gets you in trouble," Sarkisian said. "It's OK to punt. It's a maturation process we'll continue to work on."

Ultimately, that last sentence says it all; can the Huskies take this experience and draw from it? Can they maintain their gap integrity? Can they execute and put themselves in positions where they can sustain drives and keep the other team's offense off the field? For all that went wrong Saturday night, the offense was still better than 50 percent in third-down conversions, for instance.

"We'll regroup," Sarkisian said. "We have to learn from the mistakes that we made. We have to keep our morale up and understand that each week is different. It's the mentality of preparation, the mentality of practice and coming out and executing when you have the opportunity."

Butler was even more succinct. He had three words to his team: Do your job. "I don't know if guys were mentally ready or physically ready to play," he added. "But it's not a step back. This is something we're going to learn from."

"Overall, it's obviously not what you want at the University of Washington," Holt added. "We'll get that corrected. We'll find players and we'll go back to work tomorrow and see what went wrong.

"It doesn't come easy here."

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