By J.T. Menard
It’s a “home game” for the Washington State Cougars as they head to CenturyLink Field in Seattle to take on the No. 5 ranked Stanford Cardinal this weekend.
Washington State carries into the matchup a 3-1 record after a season-opening loss to Auburn and three successive wins against No. 25 USC, Southern Utah and Idaho. The Washington State defense has been dominant the last three weeks. Giving up only 7 points to USC, 10 to Southern Utah, and no points to Idaho; the first shutout for the Cougars since 2003 (also against the Vandals), and the first home shutout for the Cougars since 1999.
Having faced only two power six conference teams, it’s still a little early to pass judgment on the Cougar defense, but they’ve been very impressive so far. They’re allowing only 12 points per game, good enough to place them 13th best in the nation. The secondary has been fantastic, with corner DaMonte Horton and safety Deon Buchannon already combining for five interceptions, including two pick sixes by Horton. The Cougar defensive line had its best performance last week against Idaho, blowing up Idaho’s pass protection for a total of five sacks. They also stuffed the Idaho running game at the line, allowing only 79 yards rushing. The continued stinginess of the Cougar defense is going to be essential if they are going to hang tough with Stanford, which has shown a tendency to run up the score early in games. The Cardinal running game, led by seniors Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson, have gashed opposing defenses for an average of 211 yards per game. Junior quarterback Kevin Hogan has proved competent as well, sporting a 62.9 percent completion rating and a 7-2 touchdown/interception ratio.
On the offensive side of the ball, Washington State needs strong play from quarterback Connor Halliday. Halliday has excelled at times in running head coach Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense, having thrown for 1288 yards, and 10 touchdowns so far this year – including 346 yards and 4 touchdowns last week versus Idaho. The one knock on Halliday is his consistency. He seems to get frustrated easily, and has been prone to making poor throws into double or even triple coverage. Naturally, this foible is reflected in the 8 interceptions he’s thrown so far this season. For WSU to have a shot, Halliday will need to keep his cool in the pocket, and focus on spreading the ball around to Gabe Marks, Dom Williams, Kristoff Williams and Rickey Galvin, all of whom have proven to be competent and reliable targets for Halliday to throw to – provided they aren’t caught in double coverage.
On the ground, the Cougars have been essentially non-existent, averaging only 63 yards per game. That doesn’t mean the ground game is lacking as much as it is underutilized by Mike Leach. Running back Teondray Caldwell has been averaging 5.7 yards per carry on a mere 21 carries, and Jeremiah Laufasa has proven himself a powerful running back in short yardage situations.
The Cougars will face Stanford Saturday at 7:00 PM on ESPN. The game will take place a mere 366 days after then 3-0 No. 8 ranked Stanford lost to unranked UW in a 17-13 shocker at CenturyLink field. Perhaps CenturyLink still has some magic left in it for the Cougs.