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Originally published September 29, 2009 at 5:54 PM | Page modified September 29, 2009 at 8:01 PM

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Steve Kelley

Washington must add muscle to trade punches with heavyweight opponents

Stanford showed why the Washington Huskies still have a lot more work to do before new coach Steve Sarkisian can erase the problems from the Tyrone Willingham era.

Seattle Times staff columnist

On a sultry Saturday night at Stanford, the Washington Huskies got punched in the mouth. As the TV commentators like to say, they were, "out-physicalled" in their 34-14 loss."

When freshman safety Justin Glenn and sophomore cornerback Quentin Richardson dived at the ankles of Toby Gerhart, trying to bring the talented Cardinal running back to the grass, they were going much lower than they were for, say, the Idaho backs.

They sacrificed technique because they didn't feel confident hitting the 6-foot-1, 235-pound Gerhart in the thighs or waist. He was too strong for the young Washington defenders.

Team strength was the biggest difference between Stanford and Washington. The Cardinal offensive line was stronger than the Huskies' defense. The Cardinal defensive line was stronger than the Huskies' offense.

It was obvious that players like junior linebacker Chike Amajoyi, senior safety Bo McNally, senior linebacker Clinton Snyder and everyone along Stanford's veteran offensive line had lived for years in the weight room.

They looked as if they had made the weight room their living room. They were more cut than Washington.

The differences were stark and sobering. The differences were reflected in the statistics. Stanford ran for 321 yards. Washington ran for 100 yards. Washington wore down. The Huskies managed only five first downs in the second half.

At his Monday news conference, new coach Steve Sarkisian said his staff will get to "the truth of the [Stanford] game." The truth was in the Stanford muscle.

There is a naked honesty to football. It is almost impossible to hide weakness on the field. Strength and conditioning wins.

For all of former coach Tyrone Willingham's many faults none was greater than his lack of attention in the weight room. For all his clench-jawed, military bearing, Willingham's teams weren't disciplined. They weren't strong.

The loss to Stanford was part of the leftover effect of Willingham's negligence. The loss was a reminder that going from 0 and 12, to the Rose Bowl takes time.

Even though coach Steve Sarkisian said after the USC win that he believed the Huskies turnaround will happen faster than a lot of people think, it still doesn't happen in the blink of one offseason.

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Sarkisian has fixed the broken culture of Washington football. He brought together a team that redshirt freshman running back Chris Polk has said was "segregated" last season.

He has made Washington competitive again. He has recruited well and slowly he has given his talented freshmen playing time. Sarkisian has breathed hope into the program.

This isn't to say the Huskies are the 90-pound weaklings of the Pac-10. Far from it. Ask USC.

Among Sarkisian's string of good hires, was strength coach Ivan Lewis, who has restructured workouts and demanded much more from his players. He has begun the process of removing the pudge from last season's team.

Players like senior linebacker Josh Gage, sophomore linebacker Cort Dennison and the entire offensive line have markedly improved their strength.

But many of the Huskies still have to get stronger. The players have to mature into their bodies. They have to grow up the way Stanford has grown up.

That doesn't happen in one winter.

Washington is the most improved team in the country, but Stanford punched the Huskies in the chops Saturday night and that punch is part of a program's growing pains.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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