The story has been told in so many losses over the years. Ten men get the play right, yet it falls apart if one man misses an assignment.
Since the 2001 season, the last time Stanford celebrated an invitation to a bowl game, the slim margin of error has been broken many times over.
Things seem to be changing for the better as the Cardinal (1-1, 2-2) head to Washington for Saturday's 7 p.m. scheduled kickoff against the Huskies (0-1, 0-3) in a Pac-10 contest. Washington had a bye last week.
Two years ago, Stanford established a low for rushing defense, giving up an average of over 210 yards a game while winning one of its 12 football contests.
The Cardinal showed progress last season, both in stopping the run and in winning a few more games.
This season, it seems the defensive front seven are prepared for a quantum leap. After four games, Stanford has allowed 125 rushing yards a game, a pace that would result in the lowest totals since the 2001 team gave up 109.6 rushing yards a contest en route to a 9-3 season.
For fifth-year senior defensive end Pannel Egboh the improvement is a result of making things simple again.
"We went back to basics and didn't do anything crazy," he said. "We've been pretty solid and I think this will continue to carry over."
The incentive for stopping the run is the fun of going after the quarterback with near reckless abandon.
"That's what our coaches keep telling us, and that's the best part of being a defensive end" Egboh said. "We put in the work on first down and second down and when there's an obvious passing situation on third down we can go out and have fun. I'm able to come off the end and get after the quarterback."
Stanford limited San Jose State to 54 rushing yards, which led to eight quarterback sacks.
"This is the best defensive line — the best front seven — I've played with since I've been here. We have some great athletes and we just keep working on basic things."
The Cardinal return to the scene of its lone victory in 2006, and against its former coach in Tyrone Willingham, who left Stanford following the 2001 season and headed for South Bend. Two years later he was in Seattle.
"It's a hostile environment," Egboh said. "I love that. It's a huge stadium and I can feed off that. We don't take them lightly. We really need to get this one. It's a great opportunity."
Egboh has 12 tackles on the season, including a sack. Fifth-year senior linebacker Pat Maynor leads the team with 35 tackles, including 3 1/2 sacks. He's among the top 20 nationally with 0.88 sacks a game.
Egboh and nose tackle Ekom Udofia are the only seniors among the top eight defensive linemen, giving Stanford the opportunity to establish a tradition. In an area that used lack depth, the Cardinal has plenty.
Juniors Erik Lorig (who recovered two fumbles against the Spartans), Tom McAndrew and Brian Bulcke lend experience while sophomore Sione Fua and redshirt freshmen Tom Keiser and Matt Masifilo add depth and talent.
Keiser, who appeared in 20 plays against San Jose State, was Stanford's Defensive Player of the Game.
"His productivity was off the charts," Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said. "Last year he earned many Scout team 'Player of the Week' awards. He's continued to work his tail off and show he's a playmaker. He'll be on the field more with that kind of productivity."
The Stanford-Washington series dates to 1893, making the Huskies Stanford's second oldest rival to California. The Cardinal lost 12 straight in Seattle until ending that streak in its last visit.
Stanford has lost its past four road games, dating to last year's contest at Arizona. A win on Saturday would give the Cardinal its first 3-2 start since 2005.