The Washington State Cougars (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12) where taken to school by the No. 5 ranked Stanford Cardinal (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) Saturday night at CenturyLink Field.
Playing against an improved WSU team, Stanford made a statement to the rest of the Pac-12 and the nation that they are definitely worthy of being ranked No. 5…or higher.
This game was determined by play in the trenches, and it was Stanford winning most battles at the line of scrimmage. Coach David Shaw will likely be pleased when he reviews the play of his experienced and talented offensive line.
For Coach Mike Leach, the list of things that didn’t go his way would be extensive. Let’s not attempt to enumerate what went wrong.
Foreshadowing a disappointing performance, the opening kickoff by WSU fluttered well short of the end zone allowing the Cardinal to begin their opening possession on their own 28. Two plays later Kevin Hogan connected with Michael Rector for a 48-yard completion setting up their offense on the WSU 17. The Cougar defense shook off getting bombed and held Stanford to a 28-yard field goal.
The Cougs answered with an impressive 12-play drive ending with a game-tying field goal.
With steady, consistent, mind-numbing play, Stanford never allowed Washington State to get back on the scoreboard until the outcome was foregone conclusion.
What went wrong?
On offense, when Cougar starting quarterback Connor Halliday pulled the trigger quickly, he enjoyed a measure of success. But when he tried to look for deeper pass routes the results were disastrous.
On defense, WSU continued their aggressive style of play. However, virtually all the blitzes and line stunts attempted by the front seven were nullified by outstanding play by the Stanford offensive line and multi-talented QB Kevin Hogan efficiently managing the game.
This conference contest was decided early in the third quarter.
On the opening possession of the second half, the Cougs struggled to move the ball 22-yards out to their own 39. Coach Leach opted to go for it on 4th and 3 sensing his team needed to make something happen if they were to gain momentum.
Didn’t work out well. WSU failed to convert.
Once again the WSU defense ran out on the field to not just shut down Stanford, they were determined to reshape the look of this Pac-12 Northern Division war. And they seized the moment. Not the day.
When the Cardinal offense sputtered for three plays, their punting unit pinned the Cougs deep in their own territory. From there, WSU quarterbacks would go on to endure two nightmarish series.
First, Halliday was driven into the turf by an untouched Trent Murphy inevitably trying to force something to happen hoisting a misguided wounded-duck. Jordan Richards picked the pass and sprinted down the sideline for a touchdown.
Halliday was clearly hurt on the play, though valiantly tried to go back in on the ensuing series. There would be no comparisons to a similar hit delivered in the ASU game two years ago lacerating his liver. Not this time around. In obvious pain, Halliday was helped to the locker room with 25-minutes of football remaining.
Next, freshman Austin Apodaca came off the bench to receive a similar blow leaving him spread out on the field wondering if anyone got the license plate number of the truck that hit him.
Cougar Nation held their collective breath after seeing two quarterbacks go down within a matter of minutes.
Apodoca would return.
The Cougs belief they could win didn’t return.
With 9:27 left in the third quarter, a 24-3 lead by Stanford shouldn’t have seemed insurmountable.
After gathering himself on the sideline, Apodoca came back out for the next WSU series. His fourth pass of the game was yet another pick-6 for Stanford.
Coach Leach knew his team would have to play near flawless football if they were to earn a victory. His Cougars fell well short of perfection this time around. Two interceptions run back to the house were as devastating as the physical beating dealt to Halliday and Apodoca.
Make no mistake, looking at the core of the Cougs reveals a young team. They took it on the chin from a football team which could quite possibly be playing for a national championship in January.
The ride back home for Washington State players will be a long one. But after a night of rest, expect these determined student-athletes to take the lessons learned from this loss to heart.
The Cougs have played their only opponent this week.
Tomorrow will begin the process of preparing for the next opponent.
And tomorrow the process continues as this Cougar football team strives to improve.
WASHINGTON STATE NOTES
- Cougar quarterbacks combined for 65 passes, completing 39 for 322-yards.
- Freshman Austin Apodoca finished the game 15-29 with one interception for 138-yards.
- Senior Deone Bucannon led WSU with 9 tackles, including 7 solo, and an interception near the end of the first half to keep the game within reach.
- Sophomore Gabe Marks finished with 6 catches for 75-yards and a touchdown.
- 13 different receivers caught at least one pass against Stanford