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Once a coming-out party, unranked Huskies need to beat Stanford just to stay in Pac-12 race

A packed crowd at Husky Stadium two years ago helped the Huskies thump No. 7 Stanford, 44-6. Washington is anticipating another sellout Saturday night.

Husky Stadium was as loud as ever on Sept. 30, 2016. At the very least, it was louder than Chris Petersen has ever heard it — and felt it.

“There were a couple others that were close,” Petersen said this week, “but that (game) was one you could feel.”

In a Friday-night showdown of top-10 teams, a sellout crowd of 72,072 had Husky Stadium shaking throughout No. 10 Washington’s 44-6 victory over No. 7 Stanford, the coming-out party for the Huskies in their march to a Pac-12 championship and a College Football Playoff berth.

It was, and is, the Huskies’ most lopsided victory ever over a top-10 team.

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“That was wild. It was loud. Very loud,” UW junior center Nick Harris recalled. “That was a real fun game.”

There is a different feeling this week for Stanford’s return to Husky Stadium for Saturday’s 6 p.m. kickoff (Pac-12 Networks).

The Huskies (6-3, 4-2 Pac-12) and Cardinal (5-3, 3-2) each enter November with three losses, and each fell out of The Associated Press Top 25 poll after losses last week.

And yet, the stakes remain high for both teams.

Washington can claim the Pac-12 North with wins in its final three regular-season games. Stanford would need some help toward that end, but it is still alive in the conference-title chase.

Saturday is effectively a loser-out game in the North race.

After three October games on the road, the Huskies are back at Husky Stadium and expecting another sellout crowd Saturday night.

“I hope it’s one of those games like it’s been in the past,” Petersen said, “where there’s great energy and guys are fueled by that and have a great time out there playing the game of football.”

That wasn’t the case last week on the road against California, when the then-No. 15 Huskies were underwhelming (on offense) and upset (in more ways than one) by the Bears, 12-10.

Senior QB Jake Browning was benched for two second-half series in Berkeley, and redshirt freshman Jake Haener threw a pick-six for Cal’s only touchdown in the game. Petersen described Browning as “mad” after the game, then emphatically offered support — and the starting job — for the senior QB this week.

“He’s been awesome, and I would expect nothing different from that guy,” Petersen said Thursday. “I know him and I know what kind of competitor he is and I know what kind of chip on his shoulder he has. He’s a really awesome kid and a great competitor.”

The Huskies have vowed to fix their myriad issues on offense, and Petersen said he is confident answers are there to be found. One potential answer centers on senior running back Myles Gaskin, who has missed the past two games with a shoulder injury. He is questionable against Stanford.

Washington enters this weekend a half-game back of Washington State (4-1 Pac-12), which hosts Cal late Saturday. The Huskies have their lone bye week next week, then close out the season against Oregon State (Nov. 17) and with the Apple Cup in Pullman the day after Thanksgiving. There is indeed still much to play for for these Huskies.

“It’s huge that we still have the opportunity to hopefully play for the Pac-12 championship, if we can win out,” senior linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven said. “It’s good especially for the young guys. A lot of them come from high school programs where they maybe lost three games their whole careers, so it’s a unique thing for guys to be dealing with. But we have enough guys who understand that if we win out, we control our destiny and that’s all you can really ask for in college football, to have a chance to control what happens.”

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