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Originally published Saturday, September 26, 2009 at 9:19 PM

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Stanford sends Huskies crashing back to earth

Cardinal, led by Toby Gerhart, runs over Washington, 34-14

Seattle Times staff reporter

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STANFORD, Calif. — There was no dramatic finish this Saturday. No raucous celebration.

Instead, as the Huskies left the field as 34-14 losers to Stanford, there was only the realization that for as far as the Huskies might have come in the first year under coach Steve Sarkisian, there is still a long way to go.

"There's plenty of work to do," Sarkisian said. "A lot of work to do. We are a young football team, but the goal is to continually get better and strive to get better day in and day out, week in and week out. I don't know if we did that today."

What they did, instead, was get manhandled on both sides of the ball by Stanford. Cardinal running back Toby Gerhart ran for 200 yards — more than double Washington's total of 99 yards as a team. The Huskies fell to 2-2 overall, 1-1 in Pac-10 play.

"We couldn't get them to stop running the football," said Sarkisian of the Cardinal, which rushed for 321 yards on 50 carries while throwing just 14 passes. "They controlled the game that way, and in turn we couldn't get the momentum back in our favor by being able to run the ball and being able to control the game."

Sarkisian said he didn't think that was a result of any sort of letdown after the historic upset of USC last Saturday, however.

"I think our kids were ready to play," he said. "We've just got to do a better job of coaching and getting right."

The Huskies came into the game ranked No. 24 in The Associated Press poll on the strength of their win over USC, but now will certainly drop out of the top 25.

Saturday, with UW unable to mount a rushing attack, quarterback Jake Locker was often left trying to create something. And that resulted in his most ragged performance of the season. Two of Locker's passes were intercepted — both by Stanford safety Delano Howell, the brother of former Huskies linebacker Dan Howell. Locker also lost a fumble. He completed 16 of 31 passes for 190 yards as UW scored just one offensive touchdown.

"I made a couple of poor decisions and we just weren't able to execute like we wanted to," Locker said.

The Huskies were on their heels from the start as Stanford's Chris Owusu returned the opening kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown, his third of the young season, tying a Pac-10 record.

"It got them going but I don't think the opening kickoff set the stage for the rest of the game," Sarkisian said. "They were just the more physical football team on both sides of the ball."

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Washington drove quickly down the field after Owusu's return, but Locker threw a pass that was intercepted near the goal line and said later, "I think if we score on that drive it's a whole different ballgame."

Washington tied the game on a crazy play later in the quarter when cornerback Justin Glenn picked up what the Stanford players thought was an incomplete pass, but instead was ruled a fumble, and returned it 51 yards for a touchdown.

But on the first play of Stanford's next possession, Gerhart broke over the right side for a 60-yard touchdown run that put the Cardinal ahead to stay.

Later in the half, after UW's only offensive TD on a 19-yard pass from Locker to Jermaine Kearse, Gerhart helped spark a 14-play, 68-yard drive that put the Cardinal up 24-14 and swung control Stanford's way for good.

"We knew what they were going to run at us and we couldn't stop it because we had guys out of their gaps, guys not playing sound football like we have been taught since day one," said UW middle linebacker Donald Butler.

Asked why that might have been, Butler said, "Maybe because guys were scared, because guys weren't confident in their abilities. I don't know what it was."

In what was a quick-moving second half, Washington had just four possessions and never got past Stanford's 38-yard line, turning the ball over on downs twice in Cardinal territory and losing it once on an interception.

The Cardinal, meanwhile, kept running it right at the Huskies, attempting just three passes in the second half.

"Our guys left no doubt out there tonight," said Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh.

The Huskies, meanwhile, are left with questions as they prepare for a trip to Notre Dame, a team they have never beaten in seven tries.

The Huskies tried a number of personnel combinations up front to try to stem Stanford's run but could never find one that worked, leaving the question of whether the answers can be easily found.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

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