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Originally published September 25, 2009 at 4:18 PM | Page modified September 26, 2009 at 6:52 PM

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Huskies find out how they'll respond after USC upset

One week after shocking the nation, Washington faces a key early Pac-10 game against physical Stanford.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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STANFORD, Calif. — The schedule says the Washington Huskies are playing the Stanford Cardinal tody. But in some ways, the opponent is really LAB-USC — Life After Beating the USC Trojans.

What do the Huskies become after one of the biggest upsets in school history? USA Today research this week showed just how historic a day that was, revealing that it was first time since 1957 that a team winless the previous year beat a team ranked as high as No. 3 (Northwestern over Ohio State).

There's little doubt the win over the Trojans shows that new coach Steve Sarkisian is on the right track, just as that Northwestern win 51 years ago heralded good things ahead for a young coach named Ara Parseghian.

But will the Huskies take a step back after the upset of the Trojans and reveal that there is still lots of rebuilding left? Or will Washington keep marching back up the college football ladder and get a win today that could take them halfway to postseason eligibility?

Some Huskies remember the 2006 squad starting 4-1, including a marquee win over UCLA. The program seemed to turn the corner in the second year of former coach Tyrone Willingham, only to stall.

"Back then, we were just happy to win," said linebacker E.J. Savannah, a freshman on that team. "This year we are not satisfied with just winning. We want to go to a bowl and play in a bowl. Right now, shoot, that's all we care about. So we expect to win."

Sarkisian spent the week being asked whether he was worried about a letdown. But Sarkisian is not one to wait for problems to arise. Instead, he addressed the letdown issue Monday upfront, and coaches announced they wouldn't let players be satisfied.

That seemed evident in practices. With the music turned off to replicate the more placid atmosphere at Stanford Stadium, the coaches' voices could be heard loudly and often.

"I want our kids to get used to the arena that we are in right now because this is where we are supposed to be," Sarkisian said. "We are supposed to be playing big games, and when you get used to and comfortable in that arena, that's when letdowns don't occur. ... You don't get caught looking at the last game. You enjoy why we won the last game and relish in the moment and then realize, 'Man, I want to enjoy that same feeling again. So let's prepare really well so we can get back to that point.' "

Simply putting on the Stanford film was enough to slap coaches out of any USC-induced hangover.

Sarkisian said he expects Stanford to be one of the most physical teams the Huskies will face. The Cardinal, led by 6-foot-1, 235-pound running back Toby Gerhart, often operates behind two-tight-end formations. If Gerhart can run, that will open things up for redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck, one of the most heralded signal-callers to sign with the Cardinal in years.

Sarkisian used the same "very physical" phrase to describe Stanford's front seven on defense. It includes four seniors and two juniors, led by 6-2, 315-pound nose tackle Ekom Udofia.

And some have given Stanford a substantial special-teams edge, thanks in large part to receiver/returner Chris Owusu. He leads the nation with a 52.8-yard kickoff return average and has returned two for touchdowns.

Stanford blew out struggling Washington State and San Jose State, but blew a 17-0 lead to lose at Wake Forest.

Still, it comes into today's game at 1-0 in Pac-10 play, just like the Huskies. And after beating USC, UW players admit the goals have changed.

"Any time you can compete and beat a really good team, it's hard not to think about that bowl game," said linebacker Donald Butler. "But we are just taking it day-by-day and going from there."

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

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