SEATTLE (AP) — Preparing to face Washington a season ago, Stanford thought they would need the arm of Andrew Luck to dispatch of the Huskies.
Then Stepfan Taylor and his teammates started running — and never were stopped.
“Everybody just executed everything together. It was like how our offense needs to be run,” Taylor recalled. “Once the line starts it off, fullbacks, tight ends, quarterbacks, receivers, it’s a group thing. After watching the film, everybody was on pace that night.”
The eighth-ranked Cardinal (3-0, 1-0 Pac-12) head out on the road for the first time in 2012 on Thursday night when they travel to Washington looking to keep on running over the Huskies like they did a year ago when Stanford set a school record with 446 yards rushing in the 65-21 victory.
It’s been a dramatic few weeks for Stanford, who has gone from being peppered with questions about how they would survive without Luck, to now cracking The AP Top 10 following its 21-14 upset of USC less than two weeks ago. That escape from San Jose State’s upset bid in a 20-17 win to open the season is now long in the memory banks.
These Cardinal seem to be doing just fine without the No. 1 pick from the NFL draft. The next challenge is moving past the upset of the Trojans and proving Stanford can win away from The Farm.
“I think with the bye week and the extra preparation, maybe it was 36 hours that we focused on USC and had a little fun with that,” Stanford tight end Zach Ertz said. “I think Tuesday of last week we were kind of on to Washington.”
The next four games all pose trouble for Stanford with three of them away from home. Following their road opener against Washington, the Cardinal return home for improved Arizona, and then have back-to-back road games against long-standing rivals tossed into the middle of the season — at No. 10 Notre Dame and across the bay at California.
That would be a difficult stretch if Luck was still around. This time, the Cardinal will be doing the road work with first-year starter Josh Nunes, and head coach David Shaw realizes going on the road is a vital step in the growth of his quarterback.
“You can’t simulate that environment. You can’t simulate the emotions and all that, but once again, Josh is not a young man,” Shaw said. “Josh is a (redshirt junior). But at the same time, he hasn’t been in this environment in college football yet, and this will be one of the next stages of his development.”
Washington (2-1, 0-0) might be one of the few teams with a schedule that compares to the difficult that Stanford faces the next few weeks. Four of the Huskies’ next five opponents are ranked and the first three are a brutal trio to face — vs. Stanford; at No. 2 Oregon and vs. No. 13 USC.
The Huskies were supposed to get a reprieve after that stretch at Arizona and home for Oregon State, but those appear decidedly more difficult than first thought with Arizona just outside the Top 25 and Oregon State ranked 18th this week. Washington did get the benefit of extra preparation for Stanford being off last weekend and get a couple of extra days to recover before going to Oregon.
“I think it was a good bye week,” Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. “We addressed things internally that I thought needed to be addressed that will help us Thursday night when we take the field.”
Washington got well its last time out against Portland State, finally discovering some offensive rhythm and getting the big plays that were lacking in its opener against San Diego State and in the blowout loss to LSU. Quarterback Keith Price didn’t have eye-popping numbers against the FCS squad, but didn’t need to with a blocked field goal and interception returned for touchdowns in the 52-13 rout.
Price is still seeking a breakout game after throwing for a school record 33 touchdowns last year. Through three games in 2011, Price already had 11 TD passes. This year, he’s thrown four.
“He’s the X-factor. Our secondary has done an extremely good job, but Price can make them have to cover for 3 more seconds,” Shaw said. “That’s tough. That’s really hard, particularly with a good receiving corps and good tight end.”
The key for Washington will be in the interior and if the Huskies can hold off Stanford’s defensive front, while also keep from getting bulled over by the Cardinal’s offensive line. Washington is down three expected starters on the offensive line due to injuries, while the 446 yards rushing allowed is still a fresh wound and just one of the many notches against the Huskies defense from a year ago.
“I try not to remember bad memories. I’m just excited for the game and ready to play,” Washington safety Sean Parker said.
AP Sports Writer Antonio Gonzalez in Stanford, Calif., contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.