By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — The Stanford Cardinal will be in town this week, and that can mean only one thing for the University of Washington football team.
The Huskies can expect a 3½-hour bear hug. Three consecutive one-sided losses, each more devastating than the last, have left UW feeling like an overmatched little brother.
And so the biggest question surrounding the Huskies this week is this: Is UW tough enough to stand up to the Cardinal?
“We’ve got the toughness to match up with anybody,” Huskies linebacker John Timu said Sunday. “We’ve just got to perform when Thursday night comes.”
The topic of toughness wasn’t exactly taboo when UW came off the practice field Sunday afternoon, and it was apparent the Huskies aren’t expecting to get pushed around again.
Sophomore defensive tackle Danny Shelton admitted that he got his lunch handed to him at times last season while playing against a line that featured two first-round NFL draft picks in David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin, but he said it will be a different story Thursday night.
“With a year of experience, I’ll be ready for this game,” he said. “I definitely think our line will be ready to go against this young offensive line.”
Stanford ran for 446 yards against the Huskies in a 65-21 victory last year. The Cardinal run game was so dominant that the first overall draft pick in April, quarterback Andrew Luck, had a very non-Heisman afternoon of handing the ball off. Stanford’s front continually pushed back the UW linemen in that game.
“That was probably the toughest o-line I faced,” Shelton said. “But I feel pretty good about this game. They have a young o-line, and we’ll be ready to play against them.”
Asked more specifically about this year’s line, Shelton said: “I see the potential in them, but I don’t think they’re the same as last year.”
The bigger question is whether the Huskies are the same as last year. Or the year before that. Or the year before that year.
Stanford has hammered UW by a total margin of 105 points over the past three meetings, piling up 1,045 rushing yards in the process.
The 2012 Huskies had a chance to answer some questions just over two weeks ago when a date with third-ranked LSU gave UW an opportunity to square off with a team featuring multiple future NFL players, and the Huskies got manhandled in that game.
This year’s UW team has a rebuilt defense that features speed over size, with two converted safeties starting at linebacker and an undersized defensive end in Josh Shirley. That look might help against a spread team like Washington State, but the bigger Cardinal offer a whole different set of challenges.
Add in a UW offensive line that will be without three starters for the foreseeable future, and the Huskies are looking like the little brother again when it comes to Thursday’s game against ninth-ranked Stanford.
Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian on Sunday tried not to make too much of the past, and he added that he doesn’t want his players to be gearing up for a more physical game than usual.
“We should never change the way we prepare, whether it’s mentally, physically, emotionally — no matter who our opponent is,” he said.
And yet it’s pretty clear that a date with Stanford means 3½ hours of cage fighting. The UW players said part of the key to Thursday night is making sure they throw the first punch.
“It starts with the first play, to play 73, to 80,” Timu said. “However long it goes, we’ve got to be ready from the first play to the fourth quarter.”
Said Shelton: “It’s definitely going to be a physical game. Whoever comes out in the trenches the most physical, I feel like that’s where it’s going to start.”
While the tough, physical nature of Stanford seems to be a hot topic for outsiders heading into Thursday’s nationally televised game, the Huskies aren’t into flexing their muscles in front of the mirror.
“We know they’re a good team,” Shelton said. “We watched (Stanford’s win over USC), and that was a pretty good game. We know what to expect, so we’ll be ready.”