SEATTLE – Steve Sarkisian was blunt when it came to any talk about stopping or slowing down the Stanford offense on Saturday in California.
“We are not foolish enough to think that Stanford is not going to score,” Sarkisian said.
Indeed, the odds of the Huskies shutting out the Cardinal and its potent offense – led by all-everything quarterback Andrew Luck – aren’t quite lottery slim, but they are in the area.
Just look at the numbers. Stanford comes in averaging 45.8 points and 485.7 yards a game – both second in the Pacific-12 Conference. Though it relies on Luck and his passing – averaging 304 yards passing per game – the Cardinal balances the attack by rushing for 181.7 yards a game.
Meanwhile, the Washington defense has allowed its share of points this season, giving up 28.5 a game. The Huskies also rank last in the Pac-12 in pass defense, surrendering 303.7 yards a game, and second to last in third-down conversions at 51.2 percent (44-for-86).
On paper, it’s not a great matchup. On the field, it might be uglier for UW fans.
Fortunately for the Huskies, they’ve been in this situation. In their first four games – three of them victories – the offense made up for less-than-stellar performances from the defense.
“I think we’re in a pretty good rhythm,” Sarkisian said. “And I think we’ve been in a pretty good rhythm for a few weeks. We are understanding our own personnel – of who does what well and trying to get them in position to do those things that they do well.”
Washington’s offense is right behind Stanford in the Pac-12 leaders, averaging 37 points a game. The Huskies haven’t racked up quite the yardage, but are still cranking out 419.7 yards per game, averaging 246 yards passing and 173.7 yards rushing.
A year ago, the Huskies didn’t score against the Cardinal in a 41-0 thrashing, and were held to 107 yards of total offense – 19 rushing, 88 passing – and seven first downs.
“We need to score,” Sarkisian said.
Will 30 points be enough? Probably not.
How about 40? Possibly.
Seriously, 50? That would likely be plenty.
But the secret to having success in an offensive shootout is not to think of it as a shootout.
“The biggest thing for our guys is just to focus one play at a time and not worry about the scoreboard,” offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said. “The scoreboard is a result of what you are doing. You can’t look at the scoreboard and say, ‘We need 7 points.’ You have to focus on the task at hand.”
Players can’t get caught up in the idea of answering a Stanford score on the very next play.
“We have to just go out there and be us,” wide receiver James Johnson said. “We can’t allow what they do on offense dictate our game. We just have to stay calm, stay focused and worried about being consistent.”
But there is more than just a mental approach to it. There’s a methodical one as well.
“I think we have to learn from each drive as the game goes on,” Sarkisian said. “You can’t get caught up in what just happened and feel sorry for ourselves. You have to focus on the next drive and the emphasis of the next drive.”
A football offense can evolve as the game goes on. The playbook isn’t etched in stone. It’s fluid; it moves and changes.
And the best offenses usually will adjust to what a defense is doing to stop it.
“Something Stanford does really well is they figure out what your game plan is, and they teach it really well and they have smart players, who can adjust well,” Sarkisian said. “It’s important for us not to be one-dimensional in that sense. We have to keep it moving and we have to keep doing different things.”
Of course, it won’t be quite as easy for Washington to score the way it has in the past weeks. The Stanford defense is allowing just 11.2 points and 294.8 yards a game.
But the Huskies think they have an offense that will allow them to stay in the game and answer Stanford’s offensive output.
“In the back of our minds, we feel like we can score at any point and at any time,” Johnson said. “You have to believe that.”