Stanford (5-2, 3-1 in the Pac-12) kept its Rose Bowl hopes alive by smothering Cal’s offense in a 21-3 victory last weekend, and the Cardinal simply needs to avoid a major letdown to beat Washington State at Stanford on Saturday and stay in the Pac-12 Conference title race.
This should be the easiest conference game of the season for the Cardinal. Not only has Washington State lost four in a row to drop to 0-4 in the Pac-12, but the Cardinal will be at home, where its offense has been much better than it’s been on the road.
Specifically, quarterback Josh Nunes has been better at home. Even though he had his best road game of the season against Cal, he barely completed more than 50 percent of his passes (16-for-31), and he hasn’t demonstrated a control of the situation on the road like he has at home.
The Cougars rank near the bottom of the Pac-12 in all defensive categories, so Nunes and the rest of the Cardinal offense should be able to do virtually anything they want.
Stanford will simply try to pound the Cougars into submission early with its power running game, hoping to take the life out of the Cougars, who could give up the fight if they get behind.
Washington State’s offense has not been particularly effective under first-year coach Mike Leach, and Stanford’s defense should be able handle anything the Cougars offer.
However, WSU’s Marquess Wilson is the kind of big-play wide receiver who can give the Cardinal secondary problems. And the Cougars could use two quarterbacks — either Connor Halliday or Jeff Tuel — presenting a preparation problem for the Cardinal defense. Tuel is expected to start against the Cardinal, and he has been the more productive of the two.
One final issue is that Stanford has played a lot of close, low-scoring games, relying on its defense to keep it in games while its offense does just enough to get a victory. That does not leave much room for error, so a few mistakes could be costly, even against Washington State.