SEATTLE – The simplest math produces a most telling number: 381.
That’s the difference in rushing yards for Stanford from last year’s game against Washington (a school-record 446 yards in a win) to Thursday night’s loss (65 yards).
Minimal evidence entering the game indicated a chance of that occurring during Washington’s 17-13 upset.
The Huskies, despite a new defensive scheme and coordinator, Justin Wilcox, were still 11th in the conference against the rush entering the game.
The eighth-ranked Cardinal had the conference’s second-leading rusher, Stepfan Taylor. In addition, Stanford uses multiple sets to run play-action passes or try to mask a running lane.
Washington used personnel shifts and grit to stuff it all. Defensive lineman Talia Crichton at times moved to a hybrid linebacker spot. Linebacker Travis Feeney retreated to a safety position. There were scenarios when Desmond Trufant was Washington’s lone cornerback on the field. The Huskies started their biggest linebacker, Thomas Tutogi. They even moved strong safety Sean Parker, their most consistent hitter, into a cornerback spot on occasion.
The groupings, coupled with discipline, ended Stanford’s four-year run of pummeling Washington.
“Hopefully, it’s not surprising,” Wilcox said. “We need to expect to play well like that.”
Washington didn’t just stop the run. Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes had been sacked twice in three games coming into Thursday, yet the Huskies sacked him two more times. Josh Shirley’s chop of Nunes’ throwing arm in the third quarter caused a fumble Andrew Hudson recovered.
Trufant’s fourth-quarter interception gave Washington a 2-0 turnover advantage, a must for any upset. The Cardinal was 5-for-18 on third-down conversions and 0-for-1 on fourth-down tries.
“We’re a running football team, which means we’re going to be in third-and-5, third-and-4, third-and-2,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “We’ve got to convert those third downs.”
The Cardinal didn’t, which forced Stanford out of its shell and into a pass-first offense.
“You’re not going to play cover 2 all night,” Wilcox said. “You’re going to try and make them beat you throwing the ball outside, and that’s what we tried to do.”
Stanford couldn’t do that. Nunes was 18-for-37 passing in his first road start, missed several open throws. His performance was erratic enough that reporters asked if he lost his starting job after Stanford failed to score an offensive touchdown for the first time since 2007.
“No,” Shaw said. “Only took you a minute and a half to get to that. We are not changing quarterbacks.”
Shortly after Shaw explained his team has no quarterback controversy, Washington coach Steve Sarkisian stood on the podium throwing analytics aside.
“The kids are believing in what we are trying to get done,” said Sarkisian, who watched his team allow a school-record 467 points last season. “I think that is one of the biggest keys. It’s one thing everybody knows X’s and O’s. Obviously our guys are pretty bright. (The defensive coaches) get the kids to believe, they are excellent teachers, and at the end of the day, guys are doing what they are supposed to do, and they tackle when they are getting there.”
If only the crux of all upsets was so simple.
Defensive lineman Lawrence Lagafuaina did not play Thursday and walked with a large brace and limp on the sidelines. Sarkisian said on 950-AM that offensive lineman Ben Riva, who fractured his forearm against San Diego State, could be back next week against Oregon.email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @Todd_Dybas