It wasn’t pretty. This was a game Stanford was supposed to win. Well, Stanford got the victory, but it was not the cakewalk that was expected; it was a struggle.
Stanford’s all-too-familiar pattern appeared once again—consistently strong defense, especially against the run, and a sputtering offense. Sometimes the offense shows up (like in the Arizona game). This week, for the most part, it did not.
Facing one of the weakest teams in the Pac-12, and sporting a strong running game, one would have expected our truly great RB Stepfan Taylor (No. 33) to have a big day. He did not. One could have hoped QB Josh Nunes (No. 6) would have an up day in his up-and-down season. He did not. In fact, the whole offensive unit had a bad day, particularly in the first half.
Stanford was lucky to win this game. For whatever reason, Stanford played poorly, and Washington State played pretty well.
The game began well enough. Stanford got good field position on its first possession. After a 33-yard drive stalled, we had to settle for a 42-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Sadly, that was about it for Stanford’s offense for the rest of the half, except for one play. More on that in a minute.
Washington State (2-6 overall and 0-5 in the Pac-12) played well in the second quarter. An 88-yard drive ended with a couple very nice pass plays. The last one was to the corner of the end zone, and gave WSU a 7-3 lead. Fans in attendance (the stadium was only about half full) got very quiet.
Stanford bounced back right away. On the next possession, Taylor ran five yards to the Stanford 30. That set up Nunes for his one big moment.
On a play with clearly broken defensive coverage, Nunes found WR Jamal Rashad Patterson (No. 21) wide open about 25 yards down the field. He delivered a strike, and Patterson blazed down the field demonstrating his track and field speed for a 70-yard touchdown. Stanford was back on top 10-7.
Still, the second quarter belonged to WSU. In the closing minutes of the half they drove down the field, getting to the Stanford 6. With only a few seconds left, they were forced to kick a short field goal. Halftime score: 10-10.
Stanford was lucky the game was tied. WSU dominated first half time of possession (21 minutes vs. nine) and yardage (226 vs. 112). But it was worse than that. Subtract from Stanford’s total the 70 yards for the one TD pass and you get 42 yards for the entire first half on 20 plays. Simple math yields 2.1 yards per carry. That’s not going to win many games. What happened to Stanford’s offense?
Stanford fans felt better at the beginning of the second half when Nunes led the team on its only long sustained drive of the day. It ended with a short rushing touchdown providing Stanford with a 17-10 lead.
Fans felt even better in the beginning of the fourth quarter. WSU had the ball deep in its own territory. On a third down play, QB Jeff Tuel threw a pass down the middle. It got picked off by LB Ed Reynolds (No. 29), who ran it back untouched for a 25-yard TD. This was his fourth interception for the year, and second pick-six. Once again the defense came through with a scoring play. That gave us a 24-10 lead, which seemed pretty good.
But the fourth quarter also belonged to WSU, and they were not done. WSU came right back with a long sustained drive during which Tuel went 8-for-11. The 10-yard TD closed the gap to 24-17 and WSU still had more too come.
Stanford’s offense once again couldn’t do much, and had to punt. WSU started on its last drive on its own 20-yard-line, with 3:37 left in the game. They used most of that time marching down the field, and had a first-and-goal at the Stanford 9. There wasn’t much time left on the clock, and WSU was out of time outs.
Stanford D came up large.
First came a sack by NB Usua Amanam (No. 15). Then, with the seconds ticking away, Tuel was swarmed by Stanford’s defensive line. DE Henry Anderson (No. 91) came around the left side, bounced off a defender, and pulled down the QB for Stanford’s tenth sack of the day—a new school record.
There was nothing WSU could do but watch the clock run out and Stanford snuck out with a win. Yes, we won, but no, we did not cover the 24-and-a-half point spread.
Under the circumstances, Stanford’s D did well. Yes, they gave up a lot of passing yards. In fact, WSU's Tuel went 41-for-60 (68 percent) for 401 yards. He and his receivers were good. His arm must have been very tired at the end of the game.
Against the run, the D improved on last week’s stellar performance when they yielded a total of three net rushing yards to Cal. This week the total was minus 16. The sacks were impressive. Stanford also continued using liberal defensive substitutions without a drop-off in quality, showing the depth that allowed players to stay fresh. That was helpful since WSU used a no-huddle offense most of the game.
On the other hand, the offense was in disarray. We did see continued use of backup QB Kevin Hogan (No. 8) throughout the game, primarily to run option plays. He did not throw a pass. It’s good to have someone else taking snaps, but we’re still in trouble.
This game, Nunes was 7-for-15, which is 47 percent. That’s bad. For the year, he’s 121-for-230 with 7 interceptions. That’s 53%, which is not much better.
Stepfan Taylor became the all-time leader in carries for Stanford, surpassing Darrin Nelson. But he only had 58 yards rushing, far below his average.
On the other hand, WSU took a page out of Washington’s and Notre Dame’s playbooks by stacking the box, often with all eleven players. Even with our good offensive line, there was no way Taylor could get through. The defense keyed on him all day. We should be expecting that. In this case, the problem seemed to be unimaginative play-calling. There is a need to open things up a bit rather than go up the middle or off tackle on most plays.
It would also help to have wide receivers more involved, as well as the tight ends. We’ve done a good job with tight ends at times, but not wide receivers. We need to get more creative with our offense and we need to execute. Otherwise, Stanford risks the situation we had with WSU, where the offense is only on the field for a short amount of time, making it much harder for the defense to hang in there all game long.
Finally, we need to tighten up on discipline. The penalties were way down from last week. But we still had a delay-of-game penalty for not getting the snap off on time. Perhaps the good news is that it didn’t happen until late in the third quarter. This problem has been plaguing us all season long, and should be easily fixed with coaching and discipline.
Pac-12 Bowl Teams
It’s still a little early to get serious about bowl games. But there is one thing that’s pretty obvious. The more wins Stanford gets, the better the bowl game. Right now we are 6-2 overall and 4-1 in Pac-12 play, with four games to go.
Those games include one easy one next week against Colorado, and three tough ones, first at home against No. 13 Oregon State, then away against No. 2 Oregon and No. 25 UCLA. Thus we will end the season with somewhere between six and ten victories. Ten would bring a great bowl game like the Rose Bowl. Six would give us a very poor bowl game, or none at all.
Now it’s your turn to vote. How many victories do you think Stanford will have at season end? Vote below. Note that this is only through the Nov. 24 regular season, and does not take into account the Nov. 30 Pac-12 Championship Game.
This was an interesting weekend for other Pac-12 teams, too. Washington, who sent Stanford out of the top ten ranking when they beat us, knocked off Oregon State. That gave the Beavers their first loss, and knocked them out of the top ten.
Arizona knocked off USC, leaving three schools ranked fairly closely: No. 13. Oregon State, No. 15 Stanford and No. 18 USC.
Oregon remains the class of the Pac-12 for now. A few others have bowl possibilities, including UCLA and both Arizona schools. The next several weeks will make the picture much more clear.
The game next week against Colorado in Boulder will start at 11:00 AM Pacific time, and will be televised on Fox.