GAME PREVIEW: Cougs look to keep things rolling against Stanford

Jack Ellis | CougCenter

The Cougars (3-3, 2-2) are on their first winning streak of the year as they are coming off big-time wins against Cal and Oregon State and will welcome in the Stanford Cardinal who share an identical record at 3-3 overall and 2-2 in conference play.

Matchup History

Like the Oregon State series, it’s been all Cougs as of late in this series as the Cougars are winners of four straight over the Cardinal and a missed field goal away from the streak being at five.

After hitting his first five field goals of the game in the 2015 matchup, Erik Powell lined up for the 43-yard game-winner against number eight Stanford but pushed it just wide to the right to allow Stanford to escape Pullman with their eighth straight win over the Cougs, 30-28.

The Cougs didn’t forget about that game the following season as they went into Stanford and steamrolled the number 15 ranked Cardinal 42-16 as Luke Falk led the way with 357 passing yards and four touchdowns to snap the eight game losing streak.

On senior day in 2017, Luke Falk ended his legendary Martin Stadium tenure by finding Jamire Calvin on a drag route over the middle and Calvin would do the rest from 11 yards out to put the Cougs up 24-21 with under seven minutes to go. Frankie Luvu would seal the best home record in program history at 7-0 for the Cougs with a late interception.

After falling behind 28-17 at halftime in 2018, Gardner Minshew would add to his legacy by completing his first 19 passes of the second half and help lead a game-winning drive with under a minute and a half to play. A perfect 35-yard touch pass into coverage to the 2017 hero Jamire Calvin put the Cougs just inside field goal range. Three plays later, Blake Mazza would boot a 42-yard field goal through the uprights to give the Cougs the 41-38 win.

In the last edition of Dad’s weekend at WSU in 2019, Anthony Gordon and David Mills combined for 1026 total passing yards. But the Cardinal would only be held to six total net rushing yards as the Cougs would roll past the Cardinal 49-22.

The 2021 Stanford Cardinal

David Shaw’s Cardinal have taken an interesting route to their 3-3 record. After nearly getting shutout by Kansas State in week one, the Cardinal went to the Coliseum and exposed Clay Helton and the USC Trojans 42-28 which led to the firing of Helton just two days later. After a win in Vanderbilt and a loss to the Bruins, the Cardinal hosted the third ranked Oregon Ducks. A sea of yellow flags against the Ducks on Stanford’s final drive would help Stanford get in a position to tie the game with just four seconds left. One last flag in the endzone on an incomplete pass gave Stanford one last shot to send the game to overtime which would be the case as Tanner McKee gave Elijah Higgins a perfect jump ball in the endzone to tie the game at 24 all. A quick Stanford score would give them the lead and a fourth down incompletion for the Ducks, the upset win 31-24. The Cardinal followed up their upset win with a 28-10 beatdown in Tempe against the Sun Devils last week.

After throwing the game-tying and winning touchdowns against the number three Ducks, the sophomore quarterback Tanner McKee struggled heavily against the Sun Devils last week as he threw his first three interceptions of the season with just one touchdown. Before this week, McKee had thrown for at least 200 yards and two touchdowns per game without a single completion to the opposing team.

It wouldn’t be a Stanford Cardinal team without a talented running back. Nathaniel Peat carries that honor this year. The junior is averaging a little over six yards a carry and two scores for the Cardinal. This isn’t your typical 20 carries per game Cardinal team though as Peat hasn’t carried the ball more than 15 times in a game this season and the Cardinal are averaging a Pac-12 worst 98 rushing yards per game.

The aerial threat is the bigger concerns for defenses as they will have to try and slow down the 6’3 junior receiver Elijah Higgins who has had at least four receptions in every game so far this season to compliment his four touchdowns and nearly 400 receiving yards. The Cardinal will likely be out their top scoring threat in Brycen Tremayne who suffered a leg injury against the Ducks that required him to be carted off the field.

The Cardinal defense has been getting gashed on the ground all year as they have allowed a Pac-12 worst 219.8 rushing yards per game as well as a staggering 15 rushing touchdowns. The pass defense keeps them from getting run out the door every game as they’ve only allowed 188.3 passing yards per game which puts them at 4th in the conference. They’ve also done a fine job at getting to the quarterback as they come into Pullman averaging two sacks a game.

Odds

ESPN is sticking with Stanford as their power football index gives the Cardinal a 57.9% chance of winning and are 1.5 point favorites.

Keys to Success

With Deon McIntosh bulldozing his way right into the RB1 discussion, now would be a good time for Max Borghi and McIntosh to settle it out on the field by taking turns throwing haymakers at the weak Stanford defense. With a talented running back duo like these two, there should be no excuse for the Cougar offense not to claw and sprint their way through the Stanford run defense.

The defense has been steadily improving week by week. The pass-rush is putting more pressure on the quarterback which in turn has limited the passing yards the secondary has given up. The run defense still needs work but thankfully the Stanford rushing attack hasn’t done a ton of damage this year so the run defense should hold fine.

Bottom Line.

This is a very winnable game for WSU. The defense matches up perfectly for a good pass, bad run offense and the offense has the talent to cut down the Stanford run defense.

Momentum is also very much on the Cougars side. They are coming off two big wins against Cal and Oregon State respectively that have turned this season from doomsday to something that can be salvaged. A win here also puts the Cougs in great position to make a late bowl season push. At 4-3, the Cougs would need to take care of business against Arizona at home on senior night then find an upset somewhere between BYU, ASU, Oregon or Washington to send them bowling. While not easy, it is very possible especially considering three of these four have lost within the last two weeks.

With the Pac-12 North wide open, the Cougs can also stay in the race as a win would put them just a half game back of the division-leading Beavers, who the Cougars have the tiebreaker advantage on thanks to last weekends win.

Martin Stadium, or Gesa Field to some, was absolutely rocking in the 4th quarter last Saturday when the Cougs held the Beavers on their game-tying drive effort and we should see another great crowd on hand this weekend as it is family weekend on the Palouse.

We will get some national TV coverage for this Pac-12 matchup this week as ESPNU will be in town. The ball will be set for kickoff at 4:30 p.m. It should be a nice day for football on the Palouse as the forecast in Pullman is looking at mostly sunny with a high of 68 degrees.