STANFORD, Calif. — Keith Price sat in a chair with a cellphone to his ear, still wearing his yellow practice jersey after the conclusion of Washington’s workout on Wednesday.
As UW coach Steve Sarkisian strolled past, he asked his quarterback: “Who are you talking to?”
“Sports Illustrated,” Price responded.
An ESPN photo shoot also awaited Price after the fifth-year senior quarterback spent a few minutes answering questions from local media.
These are the spoils — attention, national headlines and such — that accompany an unbeaten start and top-15 national ranking. Both of those achievements are on the line Saturday night when the Huskies travel to face No. 5 Stanford, a Pac-12 North and national championship contender that also boasts a 4-0 record. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on ESPN.
If Sarkisian had his way, the
Huskies would remain blissfully unaware of any of the aforementioned stakes. That has been the goal for the fifth-year coach since the beginning of preseason camp: no distractions, no looking past each repetition, each practice, each meeting.
“I don’t feel like they’re making this game out to be bigger than it is,” Sarkisian said Thursday. “It’s a football game that we get to play at 7:30 on Saturday.”
That hasn’t always been the attitude of Sarkisian’s teams as they’ve prepared for big games. In years past, he said, there might have been too many players worrying about the ramifications of wins or losses against high-profile opponents such as Stanford or Oregon.
But Sarkisian thinks the Huskies have grown up. He credits players such as Price for that turnaround, and the fact that the team is led by seniors and juniors.
“I think this is where we should be, getting a lot of attention,” Price said as ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi watched from the track inside the Dempsey indoor facility. “But we understand that’s not what’s going to make us win games. We understand the preparation it took to get to this point. We’re not going to forget what happened last season. I think this team still has a chip on their shoulder. I know I still do, personally.”
Last year, there was a 41-3 pasting at No. 3 LSU and a 52-21 loss at No. 2 Oregon. The year before, the Huskies’ performance in big-time road games against top-25 teams was no different: a 51-38 loss at No. 11 Nebraska, a 65-21 drubbing at No. 7 Stanford and a 67-56 shootout loss to No. 12 Baylor in the Alamo Bowl.
Those teams were loaded with talent, and each was favored to beat the Huskies. But it’s hard to argue there were a couple in which UW simply didn’t look ready to play.
“I feel like we’d get into some of these games, we’d like to listen to what people had to say about us, or if we were supposed to win or not supposed to win,” Sarkisian said. “Any of those types of things are potential distractions — what if we win, what if we lose? Those are all things that I think used to get in our way a little bit. I think now our team doesn’t think like that.”
There’s certainly plenty to think about. The Huskies barely have time to breathe, win or lose, after playing Stanford. A visit from No. 2 Oregon is on the schedule for next week, and a trip to No. 22 Arizona State follows.
It’s a gauntlet that will test whether the Huskies’ offense can continue its fourth-in-the-nation pace against defenses more talented than Idaho State and Illinois.
And whether the defense looks as fast and imposing as it has through four weeks, a span in which it has limited opponents to 10.8 points per game.
And, too, whether the Huskies’ approach changes based on who they’re playing.
“It shouldn’t,” fourth-year junior defensive end Hauoli Kikaha said. “I’m not going to say that it doesn’t for some people. If everybody’s buying into what the coach is preaching and instilling, we should be treating it like anyone else.”
NO. 15 WASHINGTON (4-0 OVERALL, 1-0 PACIFIC-12) AT NO. 5 STANFORD (4-0, 2-0)
7:30 p.m., Stanford Stadium, Stanford, Calif.
TV: ESPN. Radio: 950-AM.
The series: Washington leads, 41-38-4. Washington won, 17-13, in Seattle in 2012.
What to watch: Stanford’s defensive front seven features six seniors and one junior, and knocked WSU quarterback Connor Halliday out of last week’s game. ... The Cardinal’s running game hasn’t suffered much after the graduation of all-time leading rusher Stepfan Taylor. Former baseball player Tyler Gaffney has been an admirable replacement (72 carries, 377 yards) and is complemented by Anthony Wilkerson (41 carries, 191 yards). ... This is the biggest test of the season for Washington’s defense, which ranks fourth nationally in scoring defense (10.8 points per game) and second in pass efficiency defense.
The pick: Stanford, 31-28.
25 Bishop SankeyRB5-10203Jr.
UW coach Steve Sarkisian said Sankey, the nation’s leader in rushing yards per game, looked fine in practice this week after carrying the ball a school-record 40 times against Arizona.
17 Keith PriceQB6-1202Sr.
Had a heck of a time trying to throw against Stanford pass rush last season, but is completing 72.3 percent of passes this season and looks like the Price of 2011.
71 Danny SheltonNT6-1327Jr.
Hulking nose tackle has his hands full with Cardinal offensive line considered one of the best in the country.
88 Austin Seferian-JenkinsTE6-6276Jr.
Star tight end has just 10 catches in three games. Run blocking will be key, though, against Stanford.
8 Kevin HoganQB6-4228So.
He’s 9-0 as a collegiate starter, and his mobility makes him particularly dangerous in third-and-medium situations.
11 Shayne SkovLB6-3245Sr.
One of the best LBs in the country punishes ballcarriers and quarterbacks.
93 Trent MurphyLB6-6261Sr.
Returned a Price interception for a TD last season. Did the same to WSU last week. Big guy, big wheels.
89 Devon CajusteWR6-4228R-So.
Caught two TD passes a week ago. Has size to bully corners and enough speed to outrun some safeties.
firstname.lastname@example.org@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @ChristianCaple