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Originally published Sunday, September 23, 2012 at 9:30 PM

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Cardinal present hefty challenge up front for UW

The Huskies hope to avoid a similar performance to last year, when they gave up 446 rushing yards to the Cardinal.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Thursday

Stanford @ UW, 6 p.m., ESPN

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Would love to have Fellner and Kearse back for this one. We need all the muscle we can... MORE
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With a little free time due to Washington's bye, Husky coach Steve Sarkisian watched a few other Pac-12 games over the weekend.

"I think there is a lot of parity in our conference," he said. "Maybe much more than people realize."

He hopes his Huskies can soon become another of those teams to buck conventional wisdom.

The Huskies were back on the field Sunday, going through a full-pads workout in preparation for their Thursday night game against Stanford, which moved up from No. 9 to No. 8 in the Associated Press poll without playing.

Sarkisian said he thought Washington's practice — which resembled a usual Tuesday workout for a Saturday game — was especially physical.

"It sounded that way," he said, referring to the constant knocking of helmets and pads.

And it's no secret that's how the Huskies will have to play Thursday to have a chance against the Cardinal, which re-established itself as one of the premier smashmouth teams in college football with a 21-14 win over USC on Sept. 15.

Stanford rushed for 202 yards against the Trojans in what was a breakthrough performance for an offense that has had to undergo some significant rebuilding from last season.

A year ago, Stanford rushed for 446 yards against the Huskies — the fifth-most ever allowed by UW — in a 65-21 win in Palo Alto, Calif.

But that game came with quarterback Andrew Luck calling the shots behind an offensive line that featured two high draft picks — guard David DeCastro, who went to the Steelers with the No. 12 pick of the first round, and tackle Jonathan Martin, selected by the Dolphins in the second round.

"That was probably the toughest O-line I faced," said UW sophomore defensive tackle Danny Shelton. "... That was just as a freshman perspective going against two great offensive linemen, and I just felt like that just made it real tough on me going against them."

Shelton, though, said he thinks the Huskies will be able to have more success against the rebuilt Stanford offensive line.

"I see the potential in them, but I don't think they are the same as last year," Shelton said "I feel pretty good about this game. They have a young O-line and we'll be ready to play against them."

Young, though, can be partially in the eye of the beholder.

While the losses were significant, the Cardinal returns three starters up front in right tackle Cameron Fleming, left guard David Yankey and center Sam Schwartzstein. And it could start a pair of fourth-year juniors at the other two spots.

Regardless of whether the personnel is different up front, Stanford's offensive philosophy has remained the same.

As much as any team in the conference, Sarkisian said, the Cardinal is "committed to the running game."

"They don't go out and run and get gains of 10 yards every time. They have some one- and two-yard runs, but they stick with it."

Indeed, Stanford has run the ball 104 times to 91 passes. In contrast, Stanford's opponents have attempted 139 passes to 78 rushing attempts.

"They are able to stick with (the run) because they have a good defense and the game never gets away from them too much that they feel like they have to start really just throwing the ball," Sarkisian said. "So they have a cohesive approach to the game — play really good, sound defense against the run and then have the ability to run the football and utilize play-action pass when you get the lead, and teams are really selling out to stop the run.

"The challenge for everybody that plays them — us this week — is how do you get them out of that cohesive game plan that they approach every game with."

While UW's defense has shown improvement in the first three games under first-year coordinator Justin Wilcox, stopping the run has remained an issue. Washington is allowing an average of 174.67 rushing yards per game, which is 11th in the conference and 83rd nationally. If there's any consolation, two of those games came against teams that rank among the top 16 in the country in rushing in San Diego State (248.75, 15th in the nation) and LSU (247.50, 16th).

LSU rushed for 242 yards against UW in a 41-3 win that many will consider a possible template for what the Cardinal will try to do against UW on Thursday.

Shelton, though, expects UW to play better against the Cardinal.

"I feel like we just took that as a learning experience going down to the south and playing a pretty big team in LSU, and I feel like we will be ready with our toughness and physicality," he said.

"... It's definitely going to be a physical game and whoever comes out in the trenches the most physical, I feel like that's where it's going to start, and we'll see what happens in the end."

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


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