If you’re a fan of college football, grab your remote and click over to ESPN Saturday night at 7pm PST.
The Washington State Cougars (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) will play host to the Stanford Cardinal (3-0, 1-0 Pac-12) in their annual gridiron tilt on the westside of Washington.
The only legitimate way the term “upset” could be applied to this game is if it isn’t a barn-burner.
Here’s an overview of the two Pac-12 squads.
Ranked No. 5 in the nation, Stanford will bring it’s in-your-face style of play to CenturyLink Field in Seattle. Coach David Shaw and his no-nonsense approach to the game of football will likely implement a basic game plan to defeat the Cougars.
‘Let’s meet at the line of scrimmage, snap the ball and see who can execute fundamentals best.’
In a nutshell, that is what you can expect from the Cardinal.
And why not?
Stanford is loaded with size and talent. Especially size. The offensive line averages 305 with four of the five starters playing in their senior campaign. OK, let’s add experience in the plus column for the Cardinal.
Over the first three games of their schedule, Stanford is giving up just 334 yards of offense to opponents. Most of those yards have been racked up in the second half.
Un-ranked Washington State is a team showing steady improvement. If they are to earn a victory over Stanford, significant improvement offensively is a must.
Through four games the Cougs are surprising everyone week in and week out.
Coach Mike Leach is a highly regarded offensive genius, yet when looking for the strength of this team, surprise, it’s the WSU defense leading the way.
In their first upset of 2013, a 10-7 win over then ranked USC, the Cougar defense outscored their own offense. And with players flying to the ball on every play, it’s their high energy effort that has provided both the identity and inspiration for the entire football team.
The offensive line for WSU has shown solid improvement over last season. That can be attributed to better depth, experience and size. Heck, Stanford racked up 10 quarterback sacks in this conference matchup last year played in Palo Alto. Through four games, opponents have registered just 7 sacks.
Can Washington State win their fourth consecutive game by knocking off one the best teams in the country?
Here’s some comments from the staff at The Stanford Daily where all three writers have Coach Shaw notching a fourth consecutive Cardinal win:
“This game scares me…”
– Sam Fisher, The Stanford Daily
“Given the fact that Stanford has somewhat surprisingly struggled against an overmatched Washington State program in the past three seasons, it’s difficult to see the Cardinal blowing out the Cougars at CenturyLink Field this Saturday.”
– George Chen, The Stanford Daily
“It would be difficult to dream up a bigger trap game than Washington State Saturday.”
– Winston Shi, The Stanford Daily
There is a huge window of opportunity here for WSU starting QB Connor Halliday.
Opponents have been able to move the ball through the air against the Cardinal when settling for short and mid-range passes. And when is Coach Leach’s Air Raid offense at it’s best? You know the answer.
This game boils down to whether or not Halliday will efficiently use a one-step dropback and rifle short passes repeatedly.
Don’t expect many plays changed into runs based on what the Stanford defense is showing.
In other words, Stanford will try to force Washington State to beat them with a short passing game. Their advantage is to patiently wait for chances to jump a Cougar route for an interception.
When it comes to comparing these two coaches, there is clearly an interesting storyline.
Coach Shaw focuses on developing players who will successfully block and tackle better than the rest. His offensive scheme doesn’t require trickery or finesse.
Coach Leach is a master at coming up with innovative game plans to maximize the talent of his roster. That said, defenses know ‘what’ Leach is going to do in the passing game. It’s the ‘where’ that drives opposing defensive coordinators crazy.
Coach Shaw might run a few ‘heavy’ set plays Saturday night, inserting eight offensive linemen along with a tight end into a formation.
Coach Leach might run a few ‘speed’ sets where five players will run patterns designed to confuse the defense.
You can be certain about a couple of things in this game.
One team will go home with a four-game winning streak and a 2-0 mark in Pac-12 play.
Fans can look forward to 60-minutes of great college football.
WASHINGTON STATE NOTES
- The Cougars have started eight sophomores in each of the first four games, four on each side of the ball. Through four games, four true freshman and five redshirt-freshmen have made their collegiate debuts.
- The Cougars enter Saturday’s contest against Stanford trailing the all-time series 37-25-1 with the Cardinal owning wins in the last five meetings. WSU’s last win in the series came in 2007, 33-17 in Pullman.
- The Cougar’s 3-4 defense has seen its linebackers fill up the stat sheet through the
first four weeks. Linebackers Darryl Monroe (31 tackles), Justin Sagote (30 tackles) and Cyrus Coen (27 tackles) currently rank fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively, among the Pac-12’s tackle leaders. Each player has registered a double digit tackle performance this season with Sagote making 10 stops at USC, Coen tallying 10 against Southern Utah and Monroe setting a career high with 12 tackles against Idaho. WSU’s linebackers have combined for 14.5 tackles for loss including four sacks.