SEATTLE — David Shaw shouldn’t have trouble getting Stanford’s attention on Washington State, even with a trio of potential Top 25 showdowns looming.
All he needs to do is put on the video of the Cougars’ near miss a year ago on The Farm.
“We know what kind of a team they are and we’ll focus on things the same way we have been,” Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan said.
The fifth-ranked Cardinal will put their 11-game winning streak on the line Saturday night at CenturyLink Field in Washington State’s annual game in Seattle. While it may appear to be a speed bump for the Cardinal before diving into a highly anticipated stretch beginning next week at home versus No. 16 Washington, Saturday night is a proving ground for Washington State.
Has Mike Leach worked his quirky magic and brought the Cougars back to competitiveness already, or is Washington State’s 3-1 start a matter of schedule and not substance? The Cougars have won three straight for the first time since 2006 and haven’t started 4-1 since 2003.
Washington State managed to be surprisingly competitive against the Cardinal a year ago. Even though quarterback Jeff Tuel spent much of the game on his back side, the Cougars had a chance to tie in the closing seconds before falling 24-17.
“They think they can stop a lot of people and we think we can score on a lot of people, so we’ll see who’s the better man,” Washington State wide receiver Gabe Marks said. “We’re built to score points.”
Here are five things to watch during the Cardinal’s trip to Seattle to face the Cougars:
FINISH ‘EM: Stanford criticized itself this week for a disappointing finish in its 42-28 win over Arizona State. The first half was overwhelmingly impressive as the Cardinal built a 29-0 halftime lead and led 32-7 after three quarters, only to see the Sun Devils make it uncomfortable in the fourth quarter, pulling within 39-28 late. “We always preach about finishing strong,” Hogan said. “We lost the fourth quarter (vs. ASU) and we need to get back to working hard.”
PALOUSE POSSE: The biggest surprise for Washington State this season has come on the defensive side. The Cougars posted their first shutout in a decade last Saturday in their 42-0 blanking of neighboring Idaho. They’ve allowed just one offensive touchdown in the past 10 quarters and two in the past 186 minutes of game action going back to the second quarter of the season opener at Auburn. The Cougars enter the week with the No. 13 scoring defense in the country. “They play hard, sound defense,” Shaw said. “Guys are where they are supposed to be, they can run, they’re aggressive and physical.”
MISSING PIECES: The depth Shaw has tried to build with the Cardinal will be tested early against Washington State. Free safety Ed Reynolds is suspended for the first half after being ejected for targeting last week versus Arizona State. Without Reynolds, the Cardinal will have Devon Carrington step in for the first half. Additionally, the Cardinal will be without All-American left guard David Yankey, who is away from the team due to a family issue. Joshua Garnett will make his first college start in Yankey’s place and just 30 miles from where he was a prep star. Stanford will also be without defensive end Henry Anderson due to a knee injury.
PROTECT THE QB: Stanford set a school record with 10 sacks and 15 tackles for loss last season against Washington State, making it even more remarkable that the Cougars were in the game until the very end. Washington State was dominated up front, but when he had the chance, Tuel was able to find receivers open downfield and threw for 403 yards. Keeping QB Connor Halliday upright will be critical if the Cougars are going to make it another uncomfortable night for the Cardinal. “The biggest thing you notice about Stanford is their size and strength,” Leach said.
BAD MEMORIES: Playing at CenturyLink Field doesn’t bring fond memories for Stanford. A year ago, as seven-point favorites, the Cardinal were upset 17-13 by Washington at the home of the Seattle Seahawks. QB Josh Nunes was awful in the loss, completing just 18 of 37 passes for 170 yards, and the Cardinal finished with only 238 yards of offense, their lowest total since early in the 2008 season. This time, Hogan won’t be a spectator as he mostly was— minus one carry — during his last trip to Seattle.