What separates the good superheroes from the great ones? It has to be the quality and depth of the villains. Sure, most of the good guys have one major arch nemesis, but the best follow that up with more tough battles against respectable foes.
Superman may have Lex Luthor and Batman may have the Joker, but you can also count on General Zod, Bane, the Riddler, etc. to test our heroes, sometimes even to their limit.
In much the same way, when considering whether Stanford football belongs on the podium of national powerhouses, you have to consider the quality of the villains—the best teams should be playing in the biggest games. The University of Washington may not be Oregon, USC or Cal, but you can always count on a Cardinal-Huskies tilt to bring the intrigue, the emotion and the high stakes to any meeting.
With the two teams set to square off again in a battle that will determine the fate of the universe (or at least the Pac-12 North), let’s take a look back at the last three meetings between Stanford and Washington, a supremely entertaining rivalry in its own right.
2011: Power football at its finest
When Stanford has the power running game clicking on all cylinders, it’s a marvelous thing to watch; everyone in the building knows what’s coming as six, seven or even eight offensive linemen take the field and opposing defenses still can’t stop it.
We’ve seen Stanford dominate opponents with smash-mouth football countless times. And then there’s what the Card did to Washington back in 2011—it belongs in a category of its own. Propelled by a school record 446 yards on the ground, Stanford obliterated the Huskies 65-21.
Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney led the way with 138 and 117 yards on the ground, respectively, as they both recorded one touchdown and a laughably absurd mark of over 13 yards per carry. Jeremy Stewart also scored while Anthony Wilkerson found the goal line twice as one of the deepest backfields in Cardinal history steamrolled to victory at Stanford Stadium.
Andrew Luck was his usual unbelievably efficient self, finishing 16-for-21 for 169 yards and two touchdown passes, both coming in the red zone. His counterpart, Keith Price of the Huskies, finished 23-for-36 for 247 yards, but couldn’t do anything to slow down the Stanford rushing attack.
After the game, Stanford head coach David Shaw deflected the notion of Stanford trying to run up the score with one of his greatest press conference one-liners: “You can’t tell a runner not to run.”
2012: Did you say something?
A year after being trampled by Stanford’s power attack, the Huskies adjusted. Stacking eight or nine players in the box on nearly every play, Steve Sarkisian and the Washington coaching staff dared Luck’s replacement, Josh Nunes, to beat them with his arm.
The plan worked to perfection as Taylor could only manage 75 yards on 21 carries, a far cry from his 13.8 yards per carry in 2011. Interestingly, Stanford’s second leading rusher that day was an unknown backup quarterback named Kevin Hogan, who picked up five yards on one carry.
With the run-game stuffed, the ball was in Nunes’ hands and the senior struggled mightily. Nunes finished 18-for-37 for 170 yards and an interception as the Stanford offense struggled to communicate at the deafeningly loud CenturyLink Field in Seattle. The sputtering Cardinal offense failed to score a touchdown in the game and went through a 21-minute stretch in the first half without picking up a first down. This all came just a year after demolishing the Huskies to the tune of 65 points.
Statistically, Price’s numbers, 19-for-37 for 177 yards, were extremely similar to Nunes’, but the Huskies’ quarterback made the plays when it mattered, delivering a screen pass to Kasen Williams who did the rest, taking the ball 35 yards for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Stanford led 13-3 in the third quarter following a pick-six from linebacker Trent Murphy, but the tide shifted when Washington running back Bishop Sankey scored a 61-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-1 later in the quarter. After Stanford’s last-minute drive failed, the 17-13 upset was complete as Sarkisian earned his second ever win over a top-ten opponent.
2013: The Opening Statement
The 2013 rendition of the Stanford-UW showdown will be remembered for its opening statements. First, it was junior Ty Montgomery taking the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. In a game where Stanford’s offense failed to maintain any sort of consistency, Montgomery consistently bailed out the Card—catching a 34 yard touchdown pass at the end of the first half and continuing to dominate on kick returns to give the Cardinal short fields to work with.
However, the Huskies refused to go away. Down 17-7 at the half, Keith Price quickly marched his offense down the field for a 29-yard strike to Kevin Smith. After Stanford responded with a 4-yard Kevin Hogan touchdown run, Sankey crossed the goal line to cut the Stanford lead once again.
Down three points in the fourth quarter, Price and the Huskies had a couple promising opportunities to score, but the Stanford defense shut the door on each occasion and preserved a narrow, dramatic victory for the Cardinal.
Despite the loss, Price turned in his best performance against Stanford going 33-for-48 for 350 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Hogan, on the other hand, had an inconsistent day, finishing 12-for-20 for 100 yards with one touchdown and an interception.
But the fun did not stop at the final whistle as Sarkisian accused Stanford of faking injuries in a post-game radio show, alluding to Stanford defenders Ben Gardner and Shayne Skov going down in the fourth quarter as the Huskies were driving downfield.
On the following Tuesday, Shaw began his usual press conference with a prepared opening statement firing back at Sarkisian. At one point, Shaw even quipped, “We’ve never [faked injuries] and if we didn’t do it against Oregon why would we do it against Washington.”
While Sarkisian has left Washington to take over USC, the upcoming clash between the Card and the Huskies will undoubtedly have a little more fuel in the fire. This year’s game has a lot to live up to, but never underestimate the power of the rivalry—we should be in store for something unpredictable on Saturday.
Contact Vihan Lakshman at vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu.