Give Wazzu a Rude Awakening on the Ground
A year after limiting the Cardinal to under three yards per carry, Washington State was again determined to prevent Stanford's running game from establishing positive headway. The Cougars' problem: Kevin Hogan was the Farm Boys' quarterback this time, and he had explosive weapons with which he could make Wazzu pay for cheating up front.
Mike Leach's defense immediately committed safety help to the box in an effort to suffocate Stanford's ground assault, but David Shaw -- clearly anticipating that move -- had his vertical counterattack ready right out of the gate. Though Hogan's game-opening downfield attempt to Ty Montgomery skipped off the receiver's hands, the Cardinal tapped the well of aerial aggressiveness early and often often. The strategy worked: Hogan averaged over 23 yards per attempt in the first quarter. This eventually pried open the door for Stanford on the ground.
The Cardinal finished with 238 rushing yards on 40 carries (6.0 yards per carry). First, they burned Washington State with speed from Montgomery and Devon Cajuste. Then, they bludgeoned the Cougars the old fashioned way. Remound Wright (2 carries, 56 yards) was the team's leading rusher, but Stanford enjoyed contributions from its entire backfield stable. Jackson Cummings saw his earliest career action to complement the efforts of Tyler Gaffney, Anthony Wilkerson, and Barry Sanders, who scored his first career touchdown.
The Cougars had entered the game having surrendered only 17 points over the course of their previous three games. Their success against USC, Southern Utah, and Idaho might have temporarily erased the memory of the 297 rushing yards they gave up to Auburn in the season opener. But Stanford's performance quickly reminded everyone involved that the Cougars stood no chance against a balanced attack featuring elite size.
Grade: A (Washington State, so preoccupied with stopping the run, stood no chance of stopping Stanford's passing attack. Once demoralized, they couldn't stop the Cardinal's rush, either.)
Take Deone Bucannon Out of the Game
Washington State's strong safety, who entered as the Pac-12's top tackler (35), tacked on a team-leading nine more stops to go with his interception of Hogan's underthrown end zone fade intended for Devon Cajuste. Simply put, the guy is a stud. His team may have been overmatched, but Bucannon would not be denied his usual production.
Still, Stanford prevented him from making game-changing plays at critical junctures. Bucannon's interception came when the Cardinal was already leading by three scores. The Farm Boys came out of the gate firing downfield, and this prevented him from using his physical frame to disrupt Stanford's running game. This was a common theme Saturday evening: From the get-go, Shaw's club pushed the Cougars back on their heels. The Cardinal set their own tone. They never let Wazzu's primary defensive playmaker take center stage.
Grade: A- (One poor Hogan throw allowed Bucannon to snare a ball-hawking interception. Otherwise, Stanford's early full throttle approach never him to effectively utilize his aggressiveness)
Force the Cougars into Mistakes
Entering Saturday's game, Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday was an interception machine (eight picks on the season). Nothing changed this weekend at CenturyLink Field. Stanford shut down the Cougars' run game, leaving Leach's club no way to mitigate Derek Mason's ferocious pass rush. The Cardinal's two-sack effort didn't come close to matching the school record they racked up against Wazzu the year prior (10 sacks), but their pressure was again supremely effective this time around. Backfield matters reached a cringe-worthy status for Wazzu, as Trent Murphy ultimately knocked Halliday out of the game with one of his unit's many inhumane hits. That bone-crunching blast set up Jordan Richards' interception return for a touchdown on the back end.
In a fine deja vu moment, Murphy himself also got his chance to enjoy the end zone. After removing Wazzu's starting quarterback, he intercepted back-up Austin Apodaca and rumbled to the house. Just a year prior on the very same field, Murphy had also intercepted a backfield pass on his way to a lumbering score that featured plenty of speed considering his 6-6, 265-pound frame. This time, No. 93's six points came in the opposite end zone.
The Cardinal has now recorded a takeaway in 28 staight games.
Grade: A+ (Stanford returned two interceptions for touchdowns. They'd last done that in 1969, also against Washington State)
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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