SEATTLE — Steve Sarkisian insisted afterward he just wanted to be 1-0 in Pac-12 play. That it was Stanford, he said, didn’t matter all that much.
Tell that to the players.
After the Huskies finally shed the curse of the Cardinal with a 17-13 victory at CenturyLink Field, the players were happy to join in a celebration with fans at midfield and shed four years of frustration against the Cardinal. Particularly the past three years, when Stanford beat UW by a combined 140-35 with a punishing running game.
“I wanted to beat them more than anyone else,” said fifth-year safety Justin Glenn. “Just as much as I’ve wanted to beat anyone else. Just the fact that they have physically been beating us. The last couple of years it’s just been beatdowns, especially on the defensive side of the ball. And I feel like they didn’t really respect us. But they have to after tonight.”
That it came in the fashion it did — with the Huskies using a hard-hitting defense feeling revived under coordinator Justin Wilcox, in his first year at UW, to carry an offense struggling with injuries up front — might have made it all the better.
“Part of me thinks that our fans probably appreciate these types of games more so than 48-45,” Sarkisian said. “There is something gritty about our mentality there and this was a black-and-blue type of game and I think our fans appreciated that.”
UW’s defense — other than a couple of breakdowns — executed its strategy almost perfectly in stopping Stanford’s running game and forcing Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes to make plays.
Nunes had looked like a suitable replacement for the departed Andrew Luck when he led the Cardinal to a 21-14 victory over USC on Sept. 15. But the Cardinal looked lost without Luck on this night.
“We wanted to limit the run game and put the game in the quarterback’s hands in a hostile environment, something he hasn’t dealt with yet,” said Glenn.
UW held the Cardinal to 65 yards rushing, a shocking turnaround from last season when the Cardinal rushed for 446.
And the Stanford passing game couldn’t compensate as Nunes was just 18-for-37 passing for 170 yards, statistics hurt by a few key drops.
Still, it looked like Stanford might get the victory when linebacker Trent Murphy picked off a Keith Price pass and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown to put the Cardinal ahead 13-3 in the third quarter.
But while the crowd hushed, likely feeling another disappointment on the way, Price went up and down the sidelines telling his teammates, “We are going to win this game.”
And a UW offense kept in check by a tough Stanford front seven to that point finally broke loose on the next series.
Facing a fourth-and-one at his own 39, Sarkisian decided to go for it. Bishop Sankey raced through a hole on the right and through the tackle attempt of Terrence Brown for a touchdown that turned the momentum.
The Huskies scored again with 4:53 left when Price, facing a third-and-two at the Stanford 35, checked out of a possible run play and flicked the ball quickly to Kasen Williams on the sideline.
Williams burst through Brown and down the sideline, bobbling the ball as he went. Stanford safety Ed Reynolds caught up to Williams near the goal line, but Williams carried him into the end zone for the go-ahead score.
Price said the offense “kept fighting and fighting. Their front seven played good. They really challenged our offensive lines. But our guys really fought.”
With a CenturyLink Field crowd of 55,941 at full throat, the Cardinal drove to the UW 40.
But fittingly, the defense was able to make one last stop when Desmond Trufant picked off a pass on fourth down with 1:46 left.
Sarkisian downplayed the significance, knowing that tough tasks await, such as a game next Saturday at No. 2 Oregon.
But Williams said he was glad a national television audience got to see a Husky team that not only looked so much different than last season, but also from just a few weeks ago, when a 41-3 defeat at Louisiana State brought back some bad memories of defeats gone past.
“We made a statement,” Williams said. “People were paying attention and watching this game, and I think people are starting to look at us now.”