What a victory! That was a complete game where in complete contrast to the Arizona game, all phases were executed at a high level the entire game. This was the moment we've all been waiting for. Truly dominant football. The first real sign that maybe we're back.
Since the beginning of the season Husky fans have been split into two camps – those who have felt we were trending up but were skeptical we had made the leap, and those who thought we were ready (we will discount anyone who thought the season was over before it started or anyone who had already proclaimed we were elite – both were baseless views). That is behind us now. The Huskies have shown what everyone was looking for. Not just a victory, but truly championship caliber play. Those who wanted to wait and see have seen, those who have held on to optimism have been vindicated for the first time in the past 15 years.
I look back again to my keys to the Arizona game (domination, OL, OLBs/DEs, and coaching) and those proved to be the keys to the Stanford game.
We dominated. We simply showed we were the better team in all aspects. This team did the things that good teams do that add up to runaway games. For example, something that is hugely different between our current wide receivers and those of past years is that we finally have guys who will lower their shoulders to pick up a yard instead of just prancing out of bounds. By the end of the game Stanford was the team that didn't want to get hit anymore.
The offensive line played well and the offense generally moved at will. You don't run a 10 minute fourth quarter drive like we did without the offensive line playing well. This unit has tremendous upside and if they continue playing well will become one of the best of the nation.
Our favorite player to hate Psalm Wooching came through with the game of his life and the unit kept Stanford (i.e. McCaffrey) contained all game long. Our front 7 as a whole just played lights out including 8 sacks. Sacking the QB is my favorite part of football (when the Huskies are doing it) and the rush generated with just four players is a characterstic of a top defense. The only teams that beat Oregon in its prime were those with elite defensive lines that could break up the play at the line without exposing gaps. The trick now will be to carry this performance forward and contain spread teams with mobile quarterbacks. Wooching earned most of the ire directed towards him previously. He doesn't need to be national player of the week every week. He just needs to keep playing well. Containing Royce Freeman next week will be a good start to showing that the Stanford game was not just a fluke performance.
This was a shockingly well-called game offensively. There were a few questionable plays but by and large this game utilized our strengths and didn't get too cute. I don't even have issues with the 3rd down pass to Psalm other than that it was a pass to Psalm instead of one of our tight ends. Not even worth railing on Smith this week.
On to Oregon.
The team whose greatest success has been coincident with our greatest failure. We will have never managed to once upset, let alone beat, Oregon while they were in their prime. They have their duckade+, which has reduced our all-time winning percentage over them from .630 to .560. We will have to win 21 straight to get back to that all-time mark. The rivalry is forever changed.
Overcoming Oregon is the last test for this team. That triumph will define the true arrival of this team. They have now proven the capability to contend with the nation's elite but the physical capability has long been secondary to the mental fortitude for the Huskies - since Tui left the program. Playing your best every week, winning on the road in hostile environments, overcoming the previous mental blocks is what separates glorious victory from woulda, shoulda, coulda. If this team follows up another "signature" victory with a loss to Oregon it will just be the next in a long line of lucky games followed by exposure. If this team grits out a win versus Arizona, dominates Stanford, then takes care of business in Autzen stadium, that is what will show they are the team we need them to be.
The program needs this victory. The program has been effectively dead since 2003. That is the last time I can really remember the crowd being loud. Loud enough to disrupt the enemy. Loud enough to remind you that you are contributing in some tiny way to something bigger. The level of play witnessed Friday, the atmosphere in Husky stadium, that is what builds fan bases. It reminds the fans of their heritage, that they are a part of something greater. Something with a long history of majesty and eminence. Something that is not a flash in the pan, not a bandwagon, not just a few weekends a year, but a way of life. I am ok with rushing the field against Stanford. Not because this was some magnificent single victory but because it was a cathartic moment of release for a fanbase venting their frustrations on so much failure and the first true sign of hope. We like to say act like you've been there before but many Husky fans have never been there before. This win does not mean we're back, but it was undeniably different than all of the other omens that portended nothing.
However the only path where we progress is winning in Autzen. A win gets the monkey off the back and makes a less than 10 win season a not-credible scenario. It sets the stage for running the table. A victory over Oregon does herald that we are indeed back. A loss shows we have more of the same old same old, just with a higher high than last time. Unlike many games this one is all or nothing. Beat Oregon. Nothing else matters.