Stanford vs. Washington State: How Cardinal Can Secure Another Big Win

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistSeptember 27, 2013

STANFORD, CA - SEPTEMBER 21: Running back Anthony Wilkerson #32 of the Stanford Cardinal scores a touchdown during the second quarter against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Stanford Stadium on September 21, 2013 in Stanford, California. (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)
Stephen Lam/Getty Images

Flying high after a big win over Arizona State, Stanford will look to continue building its BCS title chase by beating Washington State.

Arizona State entered the bout ranked No. 23, but Stanford jumped to a 29-0 halftime lead, quickly putting the game out of reach with two Ty Montgomery receiving touchdowns and a blocked punt converted into a safety.

The Cardinal improved to 3-0 with the win and have outscored their opponents by a combined 49 points, but they remain stuck at No. 5 in the AP Top 25 poll. Could a decisive triumph over a Pac-12 adversary help them climb up a spot or two?

While that depends on how the other premier teams perform, Stanford must only concern itself with doing its job. The Cougars enter Saturday's showdown with three straight wins, most recently a 42-0 whooping over Idaho.

Here's what Stanford must do to emerge victorious.


Win Turnover Battle

AUBURN, AL - AUGUST 31:  Quarterback Connor Halliday #12 of the Washington State Cougars throws a pass over defensive tackle Montravius Adams #1 of the Auburn Tigers during the first half of play on August 31, 2013 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabam
Michael Chang/Getty Images

Connor Halliday has done a commendable job under center for the Cougars, completing 66.3 percent of his passes for 1,288 passing yards and 10 touchdowns.

Unfortunately, he also has been credited with eight interceptions in four games.

The turnovers haven't come back to bite him lately, but his three picks played a key role in Washington State's 31-24 loss to Auburn during Week 1. The Cougars compiled 70 more yards and 12 more first downs, but the giveaways cost them a potential 4-0 start.

Halliday has attempted 46 throws per game under Mike Leach's air-heavy scheme, which leads to more mistakes for a young quarterback. 

Stanford has only orchestrated four takeaways through three games, but it must force Washington State to commit errors to avoid a shootout scenario.


Keep Running the Ball

WEST POINT, NY - SEPTEMBER 14: Running back Tyler Gaffney #25 of Stanford runs the ball in the 2nd half September 14, 2013 at Michie Stadium in West Point, New York. Stanford defeated Army 24-20. (Photo by Ron Antonelli/Getty Images)
Ron Antonelli/Getty Images

Junior Kevin Hogan is 9-0 as a starter and has averaged 8.8 yards per attempt. Yet he has only attempted 62 passed this season.

Hogan could handle a larger share of responsibility, but the matchup indicates that they should keep feeding the ball to Tyler Gaffney.

Washington State has limited opponents to a meager 118.2 passing yards per game, tossing six picks without a single touchdown. That bodes poorly for Hogan, but the rushing defense is far more exploitable.

The defense has allowed 146.5 rushing yards and four touchdowns this season, which has a lot to do with opponents running with regularity. Stanford should adapt a similar plan on Saturday behind Gaffney, who has averaged 5.6 yards per carry this season.

The Cardinal produce 211.3 rushing yards per contest, a number they must sustain to prevail.


Don't Look Ahead

EUGENE, OR - SEPTEMBER 14:  Players of the Oregon Ducks run on to the field before the game against the Tennessee Volunteers on September 14, 2013 at the Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

The schedule gets tougher from here, with three ranked opponents on Stanford's slate after this week.

Stanford can't set its sights on No. 16 Washington next weekend, No. 13 UCLA on Oct. 19 or a pivotal matchup versus Oregon on Nov. 7 that could bear title implications.

In the end, those are the games that matter. A victory over Oregon especially provides Stanford with a realistic shot at stealing the No. 2 spot down the road, but it's all moot without a win on Saturday.

Washington State has a lot to prove at CenturyLink Field with ample talent to pull off a surprising upset. Stanford must control the game's tempo by keeping it at a snail's pace in order to frustrate its uptempo opponent.

The Cardinal should bruise their way to a victory over the Cougars this weekend as long as they don't fall for the trap game.