|he Associated Press|
| STANFORD — As rivalries go, Washington against Stanford will never be compared to some of the Pac-10’s fiercer battles waged each year in the Apple Cup, the Civil War in Oregon or the Big Game. |
But for Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard, his first game against the Huskies will have special meaning. With a father and uncle who both played at Washington State, Pritchard was raised in Tacoma, Wash., to cheer against Washington.
“To be honest, I grew up hating the Huskies,” Pritchard said. “I was a big Cougars fan and made a lot of trips to Pullman. When I was a kid, my dad wouldn’t even allow purple and gold in the house.”
That will be especially true Saturday, when Washington (2-6, 0-5 Pac-10) visits Stanford (2-4, 3-5) for the first time under former Cardinal coach Tyrone Willingham.
Despite his childhood hatred of the Huskies stoked by his father David and uncle Jack Thompson, Pritchard said he won’t bring any baggage from those old Apple Cup games between Washington and Washington State into Saturday’s game. At Stanford, the main rivalry is the Big Game against California.
“I’m a Stanford guy through and through now,” Pritchard said. “Except for my cousin playing there, now most of my Cougars ties are pretty much cut. I kind of look at this as another Pac-10 game.”
This year’s meeting between the teams has the reverse scenario of last year’s game, when Stanford surprised Washington in a 20-3 victory.
The Cardinal came into that game with an 0-9 record and helped deny the Huskies a bowl bid with the upset victory. It also ended the talk of a winless season.
“It was a great feeling,” defensive back Austin Yancy said. “We were able to execute that day in a lot of ways we hadn’t been able to previously. To watch it all come together like that was a big release. It was a lot of fun.”
This year, it’s Washington that is looking for its first conference win, while Stanford needs a victory to improve its slim chances to make a bowl for the first time since Willingham was the coach in 2001.
“It’s a big game, as big a game as we’ve played and maybe the defining game for the season,” coach Jim Harbaugh said. “We understand how important it is.”
For the Huskies, revenge for their first home loss to Stanford since 1975 will be a factor in this game. Willingham expects his players to be motivated to avenge that defeat and end a six-game losing streak.
“I think the way things are playing out, our guys are at that point where, ’Gosh, let’s change this thing, let’s do something, let’s make it happen,”’ Willingham said.
The biggest issues for the Huskies have been on defense. They have allowed at least 44 points in four of the last five games and are 102nd in the nation allowing 34.1 points per game.
Washington has the worst defense in the Pac-10 and is hoping that a game against the league’s least productive offense will help cure the problems.
“We just got to play angry, man,” cornerback Byron Davenport said. “What else can we do? We can have meetings and stuff and say we have to do this and have to do that. I’m tired of all that stuff. We know what we got to do. We just have to go out there and do it. We’ve got to go out there and finish these games off. It’s frustrating.”
The game also marks Willigham’s first in the remodeled Stanford Stadium. Willingham was head coach for seven years and assistant for three at the old stadium, leading the team to its last winning season in 2001 and the Rose Bowl at the end of the 1999 season. His 44 wins with the Cardinal are second most for a coach since Pop Warner left Stanford following the 1932 season.
Willingham came back to the old stadium once as Notre Dame’s coach, beating the Cardinal 57-7 on Nov. 29, 2003.
“For me there are a lot of fond memories going back,” Willingham said. “I spent a total of 10 years, at, in and around the Farm and had some wonderful days there.”