Ryan Grubb has pad-locked the metaphorical fridge.
Even now, his Huskies are hungry.
On Monday, two days after Washington produced a decisive 39-28 win over No. 11 Michigan State, the first-year UW offensive coordinator said: “Honestly, when I met with them I said that I felt like we potentially played a team (MSU) where their fridge was full. They weren’t as hungry. We’ve just got to keep the pad lock on that fridge and stay frickin’ hungry, man. That’s going to be important.”
OK, to ask the obvious: if Michigan State’s fridge was indeed full, wouldn’t the Spartans be starving? And isn’t that the purpose of the pad lock, to ensure UW maintains the same state?
It’s an imperfect metaphor.
But you get the point.
After a 3-0 start, Washington is suddenly the No. 18 team in the nation — set to host Stanford (1-1) in its Pac-12 opener on Saturday. The last four times UW was ranked in the AP poll, the Huskies immediately fell the following week.
Oh, and two of those losses came to the Cardinal.
In 2019, the No. 15 Huskies pulled off impressive wins over BYU and USC … only to surrender 189 rushing yards in a 23-13 defeat on “The Farm.” The following fall, UW erased a 21-0 halftime deficit to dramatically down Utah in the final minute, 24-21. As a result, Washington received a No. 23 AP ranking, while 1-2 Stanford was forced to spend the week in Seattle and practice at a local high school due to its county’s covid policies.
You already know what happened next: Stanford rushed for 191 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-26 win.
The lesson, of course, is that Kalen DeBoer’s crew can’t take Stanford lightly and expect to stay ranked.
DeBoer doesn’t believe that will be an issue.
“This is a totally different staff, a lot of new players,” he said this week. “To me, what has happened in the past isn’t about now. But I know the fan base and I understand why that’s discussed and talked about. That’s fair. I think it’s about the experiences you’ve been through and how you set it up. We’ve set this (program) up not just for this week, for this moment. We’ve set this up ever since we got here, the 1-0 mindset and just moving forward.
“We’ve set this up to make sure we have a good week. We don’t take anything for granted. All those principles and concepts that we discuss from day one are built into these moments (of handling success) too, not just in the moments where our backs are up against the wall.”
So how will the Huskies handle success?
And, perhaps more importantly: how will they handle a Stanford offense that rushed for 221 yards, 4.9 yards per carry and three touchdowns two weeks ago against USC?
“You can tell that they are very innovative,” UW co-defensive coordinator William Inge said of a Stanford attack that has tinkered with RPO concepts this season. “There’s some things that they do that really, really, really stress you. So everyone has to be on guard for being able to play your fundamental technique, and then they also combine that with some RPO scenarios to where they can get guys open.
“The one thing we told our players about here yesterday is, ‘We know we’re going to be playing against a top-tier, elite quarterback.’ (Junior Tanner McKee) can make throws that probably two or three quarterbacks in the country can make, and we have a lot of respect for McKee from what we’ve seen on film.”
The aforementioned McKee has gotten off to somewhat of an erratic start, completing 67.7% of his passes while throwing for 528 yards with four total touchdowns and three interceptions. McKee may be more of an emphasis this week, considering UW surrendered 71% completions, 323 passing yards and three touchdowns to Michigan State’s Payton Thorne; and Stanford’s starting running back, E.J. Smith (206 rushing yards, 6.9 yards per carry, 3 TD), is out for the game with an injury.
Still, after limiting Michigan State to 42 rushing yards and 1.4 yards per carry (plus an eye-popping -0.5 rushing yards before contact, per ESPN), UW must again prove it can stop the run.
So far, UW’s “stocking stuffers” — one of Inge’s favorite phrases — have gotten it done.
“When it came down to what Michigan State was trying to do, run the football? We were pretty locked in and loaded on being where we needed to be, understanding who was going where and how we all needed to play off each other and just being physical when it came down to it,” DeBoer said. “A lot of gang tackling that I saw, even a back spinning out or trying to fight loose and more guys are there … that’s knowledge of what we’re trying to accomplish and how we do it, but also just effort and desire.
“I thought we really rose to the occasion. I love it, because that’s going to be an important piece of us going through conference play starting this weekend, to be able to stop the run and make teams one-dimensional. I still feel like a huge strength of ours is getting after the quarterback. We’ll be able to do that as we go through the season making teams one-dimensional.”
Opponents were one-dimensional a season ago … but in all the wrong ways. While Washington ranked first in the nation in passing defense (142.9 yards per game) and yards per pass attempt (5.4), opposing offenses simply ran wild instead. UW finished 10th in the Pac-12 in opponent yards per carry (4.76) and 11th in rushing defense (194 yards allowed per game).
Through three games this fall, the Huskies lead the Pac-12 in rushing defense (90 yards allowed per game) and rank second in opponent yards per carry (2.73).
Up front, the players are the same.
But not the preparation.
“When you have the opportunity to go through and endure an offseason by one of the best strength and conditioning coaches in the country, in coach Ron McKeefery, your mindset, your physical body, everything’s going to change,” Inge said. “I think there’s some things we’re probably able to do systematically and structurally that put them in position to be successful.
“I don’t know what their preparation level was like a year ago, but I do know seeing the individuals from a preparation standpoint, we can see why they’re playing fairly confident. Because they’re knowing what’s about to occur, they’re understanding what can happen and they’re all applying and playing with good technique.”
That goes for defensive linemen Tuli Letuligasenoa, Faatui Tuitele, Ulumoo Ale, Voi Tunuufi, Jacob Bandes and Kuao Peihopa, as well as linebackers Alphonzo Tuputala, Cam Bright, Carson Bruener, Kristopher Moll and more.
In the wake of success, Stanford has wreaked recent havoc on the Huskies.
Come Saturday, the UW defense’s fridge better still be full.