SEATTLE - Who said Washington couldn’t play this kind of game? That the black-shirted Huskies couldn’t win a black-and-blue game? That Washington couldn’t win ugly with defense and a ground game? Couldn’t win unless quarterback Keith Price lit it up as if he were back in the Alamo Bowl?
The way in which Washington beat Stanford, 17-13, on Thursday night was as improbable as a Russell Wilson Hail Mary.
Improbable and resuscitating.
We won’t know until late November exactly how important this win was. The Huskies still have a forced march of an October schedule with Oregon, USC, Arizona and Oregon State. But this was as close to a must-win for this team as a Pac-12 Conference game in September can be.
And, to its credit, on a night when Price was constantly under siege, the Huskies found a way to make just enough offensive plays to complement a defense that looked like something out of the smash-mouth Steve Emtman era.
On the final play from scrimmage of the third quarter, Bishop Sankey broke a 61-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-short that cut Stanford’s lead to 13-10.
And late in the fourth, coach Steve Sarkisian made his best play call of the night, finding a way for wide receiver Kasen Williams to get some rare open space, allowing Price and Williams to connect on a 35-yard pass-and-catch touchdown.
This win, or at least the way Washington won, went against all conventional wisdom. This isn’t just a pretty, offensive team anymore. This team can win with fierce as well as finesse.
This team can win in ways none of the three previous Sarkisian-coached teams could. Remember this win, because as challenging as the next month will be, the Huskies found an identity on Thursday.
Let’s be honest, this game was supposed to be an aerial circus, right? The only way Washington could beat Stanford was to pile up the points through the air - or so we thought.
Sarkisian was going to put the game and perhaps the season on the arm of his gifted quarterback. He was going to let Price throw the ball all over CenturyLink Field and turn this football game against Stanford into a track meet.
It made sense. With the Huskies’ line broken and the running back corps depleted, the offense had to take to the air, didn’t it?
It wouldn’t have been surprising if Price had thrown the ball 50 or 60 times. After the Portland State win, Sarkisian even insinuated that if that was what it would take, he was willing to do it.
This looked like it would be a 21st-century game plan. It turned out to be something that might have come from the 1950s.
The aerial circus became a ground war. It was hard-nosed, leather-helmet football - more Jim Brown than RG III. On the CenturyLink turf, this game became a lot of three-yards and clouds of rubber. Woody Hayes would have loved it.
Defenses swarmed and hit like a couple of Klitschkos. Washington played with the kind of hunger that was missing at LSU. The Huskies played with the kind of discipline, toughness and, as Sarkisian likes to say, “want-to” that mirrored the importance of this game.
Against the notoriously nasty Cardinal, Washington gave as good as it had. The Huskies showed that they can play old-fashioned football. They can take a punch and they can deliver one.
If this was a test to see if Washington’s defense really has improved, and it passed the test. Freshman safety Shaq Thompson showed that he truly is a blue-chip recruit.
Safety Sean Parker and defensive lineman Semisi Tokolahi played as if this game was their statement that this defense, and this season, really was better. And linebackers Thomas Tutogi and John Timu smacked Stanford’s relentless running back Stepfan Taylor, making him earn every yard.
This was a statement win and the statement was that Washington can win with defense. Nick Holt isn’t here anymore and his replacement at defensive coordinator, Justin Wilcox, has installed a new mean-streak mentality.
The Huskies won uncharacteristically. They won ugly.
And it looked beautiful.