For years, no make that decades, the Stanford Indians turned Cardinal, were one of the pushover teams in the Pac-10 conference. Even under the legendary coach, Bill Walsh, they were amongst the paddy-cakes of the conference. From 1977 to 2003 the Huskies beat them like a drum winning 20 times and losing only twice. They were soft, they were a finesse team, and they were a passing team with a passing interest in the sport of football.
Now granted from 1967 to 1976 they ran off 10 straight victories over the Huskies but that was right after losing 8 straight to the Dawgs. Then Don James arrived on the scene at Washington and turned the Huskies into a national contender while Stanford became the champion of all the non-revenue sports. They barely half-filled their 80,000 seats for football with most of their fans having tea and wine tasting at their pre-game parties. The Huskies knew they could pound the Cardinal and did so regularly with defense and a punishing rushing game. The formula was simple; Keep grinding and pretty soon the smart kids from the “farm” would fold their tents.
Tyrone Willingham succeeded in taking Stanford to the Rose Bowl but even that year they lost to the Huskies. The Huskies were a football power and the Cardinal were the masters of tennis, field hockey, fencing, swimming and occasionally basketball and baseball but football simply wasn’t important. Then along came Jim Harbaugh and everything changed. Fortunately, Harbaugh was lured to the NFL, partially because Stanford refuses to pay the price for a big-time college coach, but he had succeeded in turning the “intellectuals” into a formidable football program.
Harbaugh turned the program over to his assistant David Shaw who had played for the Cardinal in the early 90’s and they haven’t missed a beat. The last few years they have been one of the best teams in America and had 4 first round draft picks this last year including Andrew Luck, the first player selected in the draft. The last seven years the Cardinal have won six and the Huskies have won one. Now they are the pounders and the Dawgs have regularly become the pounded. That has to change next Thursday night and this is easily the biggest game of the season.
They have made it possible by changing their admissions, by changing their weight and strength program, and by having their players and fans buy into the concepts of winning football games by running the football, playing great defense and being solid in the kicking game. Of course, having Andrew Luck also helped but the modern day Cardinal football teams win by playing smash-mouth football and often employ two and even three or four tight-ends while doing so. Stanford has become the tough guys on the block. They leave you black and blue and they come at you every play for the whole game. Exactly what Washington had done to them for decades.
They have always been a great academic institution and are commonly referred to as the Harvard of the West and their reputation is probably a little over-inflated but there is no doubting their academic appeal. Heck my own daughter applied there and despite only having one “B” in her whole schooling which included mostly honors classes was denied admission. I know personally from recruiting against them that they were really difficult to beat when it came to academics. They were just so pathetic in football that I only have to take a kid to a Husky game and he would understand the difference between the two schools. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work anymore because Stanford changed their stadium from a half full rotting wooden structure into a modern 50,000 seat bowl stadium with a more intimate and capacity filled environment.
Oh, they still sip wine in their parking lot, but their fans have come to expect Stanford to physically crush any of their opponents and for the past five years or so they have done just that. They have also loosened up their rigid admissions by allowing football to get a pre-approval on recruiting prospective student athletes. Years ago they wouldn’t even consider a football kid for admissions until December or even January of their senior year in high school. This was happening even though they were accepting basketball players for an early-signing in November. When Harbaugh arrived on the scene he convinced then to open up the football window thereby allowing them to recruit and get earlier commitments. It worked and when smart football kids saw their style and their success which was enhanced with their great academics it made them a tough school to beat in recruiting as well as on the field.
Harbaugh then hired Randy Hart to coach their defensive line and he too came from the tough guy school of football. Hart, who coached at Washington for over 20 years, helped instill a toughness to their defense just as he had at Washington and just as he learned the game from the legendary Woody Hayes at The Ohio State. Randy is a no-nonsense drill instructor who just happens to coach football. He has produced dozens of NFL players and although he is demanding and stern he always gains the respect and eventually the love of his players. Any kid who ever played for Randy will tell you he is what toughness is all about.
Harbaugh has now taken his tough guy approach to the professional level with the San Francisco 49’ers and they have become one of the best teams in that league. Still, he left behind a mindset and a great quarterback and Stanford barely missed a beat last year and ended the season as one of the best and toughest teams in America.
Last weekend Stanford stayed with their smash-mouth style and beat a USC team which many considered to be one of the top two or three teams in the country. They did it in the second half when they simply crushed the will of the mighty Trojans by a relentless pass rush on defense and a power running attack on offense. They forced the Trojans’ All-American quarterback, Matt Barkley, to hurry his throws and besides sacking him four times also intercepted him twice on consecutive possessions. They stuffed the Trojans’ running attack and over matched the USC secondary with their bevy of huge tight ends and simply ran the ball right down their throats.
With their new stadium and their new but old approach to the game of football the Cardinal of Stanford have suddenly become a big bully on the west coast. Last year they ran it up on the Huskies and put a beating on the Dawgs like few I have ever seen. They won the game 65-21 right after Washington had finally become a ranked team and they showed no mercy rushing 44 times for 446 yards and 5 touchdowns. They totally dominated the line of scrimmage and I am positive many of these Huskies will remember that game. A Husky victory this year will never erase that drubbing but it would signify one of the greatest turnarounds by any Husky team over the past decade. This will be a grudge match and there will be lots of sore bodies on Friday morning. This game is going to be a slugfest and Washington will have to stand toe to toe with the bullies if they want to stay in the game.
Stanford is not as good at quarterback this year, Duh! They are not as good in their offensive line either. They are questionable in the kicking game and they could be overconfident. Washington only has a chance if they can match the toughness. Hit them in the mouth and see how they like it. Get your pad level down and make it a war in the trenches otherwise they will try to run right over you. Win the line of scrimmage and by doing so win the game. It will be an upset but Washington has a chance if they can simply keep it close and play from the front. Get the lead and watch out for their play-action passes. The Cardinal show you when they are coming after you on defense and when they are going to throw on offense. Go after their quarterback and their running back like mad-dogs because the only way to beat a bully is to stand up to him. Go dawgs!