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Originally published September 27, 2009 at 5:19 PM | Page modified September 27, 2009 at 7:31 PM

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Huskies need to improve on their run defense

Stanford rushed for 321 yards against the Huskies on Saturday night

Seattle Times staff reporter

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There was no mystery to what Stanford did to the Washington Huskies on Saturday.

"They were running the same play at us — power left and power right," said UW linebacker Donald Butler.

And the Huskies could never stop it as Stanford rushed its way to a 34-14 victory. It left no mystery about the biggest challenge facing the Huskies as they strive to turn what has been evident improvement in the first third of the season into more wins — a leaky run defense.

Stanford rushed for 321 yards against the Huskies with Toby Gerhart getting 200 on his own.

Asked later if he was concerned about his team's rushing defense, first-year coach Steve Sarkisian said "there are issues."

Indeed, those were apparent to an extent even in the first three games as opponents rushed for 5.4 yards per carry against the Huskies. That two of those three teams were traditional powers Louisiana State and USC, and that the Huskies came up with a lot of key stops when needed, showed that Washington had improved from last season, when it gave up a school-record 240 rushing yards per game.

But Stanford exposed UW's run defense. The weekly NCAA stats released Sunday had UW ranked last in the Pac-10 and 106th in the nation in run defense, allowing 195.75 yards per game and 5.8 per attempt.

And the issue now is how quickly the Huskies can get it sorted out. Some UW players later called Stanford the most physical opponent they had played this season, and the Cardinal figures to finish the season ranked as one of the better running teams in the conference.

But the run-defense issues won't go away as the Pac-10 is loaded with good runners who will test UW week in and week out.

And up next for the Huskies is Notre Dame, which while maybe underachieving in some areas has an explosive offense and is averaging 154 yards per game on the ground.

"We play another pretty physical football team, so it doesn't get any easier for us," said UW defensive coordinator Nick Holt.

Particularly for Holt, who is being paid a possible $2.1 million over three years to revamp Washington's defense.

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Holt said the problem was the Huskies got pushed around up front.

"Our inside guys need to play better," Holt said. "When [an opponent runs] for that many yards, you are staying blocked inside. ... We need to have more production inside. We can't rely on [end] Daniel Te'o-Nesheim to make every play for us."

The Huskies tried a number of different linemen, rotating due to the heat but also to try to find a combination that worked. That included giving ample time to true freshmen ends Talia Crichton and Andru Pulu and that youth leads to its own issues. Holt said two of Stanford's TDs — a 60-yard run by Gerhart and a 9-yard run by Andrew Luck — were due in part to assignment errors.

But the game also revealed what appear to be some basic physical issues up front that aren't easy to fix during a season.

"It's hard because you need more bodies, but you've got to play with what you have," Holt said. "So we've got to get what we have better because we can't make new ones. It's hard to see where the breakdown was all the time. But we just got blocked and stayed blocked and didn't do a very good job up front. The front four and the linebackers are getting blocked, and it starts up front."

If there was a bright spot. Holt thought the defense played better in the second half, particularly in terms of cleaning up some assignment mistakes.

But by then Stanford's dominance up front extended to the other side of the ball as UW rushed for just 38 yards on 14 carries in the second half. Washington had drives that reached the Stanford 33 and 38, but each ended when the Huskies went for it and failed on fourth down.

Washington finished with 290 total yards, the second straight game it has been held under 300 after going for 478 an 374 in the first two.

"We needed to help our defense more and keep them off the field and we weren't able to that tonight," Sarkisian said.

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

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