Cardinal clobbers Cougars: Stanford rolls, 55-17, in Seattle

October 1, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 1, 2013

Football can be a funny sport. Saturday night’s Stanford game against Washington State in rainy Seattle provided another example of that.

Paradoxically, I was reassured that everything was going to be OK by the Stanford football possession that ended with quarterback Kevin Hogan’s worst pass, an underthrown ball intercepted by WSU defender Deone Bucannon in the end zone.

Up until the pick, the drive had borne all the hallmarks of classic Cardinal offense. Stanford traveled 74 yards over the course of 17 plays. The protracted possession ate up more than half of the second quarter — 7:57, to be precise.

Talk about balance: The Cardinal rushed nine times and threw eight times on the series. (A pass interference penalty on tight end Luke Kaumatule erased another aerial play.) Talk about power: Three of the Cardinal rushes, all by Tyler Gaffney, went for five yards or longer. Talk about versatility: After the flag on Kaumatule, Hogan threw three straight completions — to Ty Montgomery for 14 yards, to Devon Cajuste for 16 and to Sanders for another 16. (Montgomery and Cajuste caught balls for nine and 10 yards respectively earlier in the drive.)

The Cougars defense held Gaffney (and Anthony Wilkerson, who got one carry) to three yards or fewer on six occasions, and Hogan had three incomplete passes, which included the Bucannon intersection plus what I recall as being an overthrown deep ball to an open Michael Rector. But the overweening impression that I took away from the drive was that the Cardinal offense was going to be very, very difficult to stop.

That conclusion was justified in the second half. Stanford led just 17-3 at intermission. But Cardinal fans who expected the Farm boys’ size and strength to overwhelm the Cougars after the break found their expectations amply rewarded.

The first two drives of the third quarter resulted in the teams gathering a total of 25 yards on nine plays. The Cardinal’s three-and-out seemed to be an opportunity squandered; the team had taken over on downs after Connor Halliday’s fourth-down pass from the WSU 39 fell incomplete.

WSU started its second drive of the third quarter at their own 7-yard line with another incomplete throw by Halliday. The Cardinal struck on the very next play: As Trent Murphy flew toward Halliday, the QB tossed a ball that Jordan Richards intercepted and ran back 30 yards for a touchdown. That made the score Stanford 24, WSU 3. The rout was on.

Jordan Williamson’s kickoff was taken out of the end zone and returned to the Cougar 18. Halliday threw again on first down, making a six-yard completion, but he had a problem with his left leg or knee, possibly sustained on the interception. Backup Austin Apodaca was forced to enter the game; Halliday would not return.

After a three-yard completion by Apodaca, Cougars coach Mike Leach called for a pass play on third down and 1 yard to go. The toss fell incomplete as Apodaca was pancaked by linebacker Kevin Anderson. The second-string quarterback was shaken up, although he returned to the field and performed passably, if shakily, the rest of the game.

WSU punted, and the Stanford offense took over at their own 46-yard line. Hogan threw to Ty Montgomery for nine yards on first down. On second down, Rector — a sophomore wide receiver out of Bellarmine, Wash. — got behind his man and hauled in a long Hogan pass for a 45-yard touchdown. Williamson’s kick gave the Cardinal a 31-3 lead, and that was when a lot of Stanford faithful began to see the writing on the wall.

A few plays after Rector’s long receiving touchdown, Murphy picked Apodaca at the line of scrimmage. He returned it to the house for his own 30-yard interception TD, putting the visiting squad up 38-3.

The Cougars, who hosted the game at the Seattle Seahawks’ CenturyLink Field, scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns, but the contest had long since moved out of reach.

One week earlier, the Cardinal rotated in several substitutes and found itself pushed by Arizona State in the final stanza. But the Sun Devils are much better than Washington State (for evidence of that, simply compare the two teams’ head-to-head results against USC this season).

The visiting offense outscored WSU 17-14 in the fourth quarter, a much better showing than the week before, when ASU had a 21-3 advantage. In fact, backups scored twice for Stanford in Seattle. Remound Wright broke loose for a 53-yard TD run, and Barry J. Sanders notched a rushing touchdown of his own on a 22-yard carry that garnered enthusiastic comparisons to his father.

Long story short: The Cardinal team was hitting on many cylinders. The final score was Stanford 55, Washington State 17.

Stanford’s performance in the game reminded me of how good the Cardinal looked over the first seven games of the 2011 season, when the Andrew Luck–led offense was rolling and the defense was dominant. (The average score of those games, all Cardinal wins, was roughly 49-13.)

The Washington Huskies are coming to visit the Farm next week. Both teams are 4-0. If Stanford plays close to the level it played at last Saturday, the Cardinal will roll.

One of the best things about the WSU game was that Stanford began the game without three starters: The injured defensive end Henry Anderson, the ineligible free safety Ed Reynolds (who played in the second half but had to sit out the first one for an illegal tackle against ASU) and the absent offensive lineman David Yankey (who temporarily left the team to tend to a family matter). Despite this, the team dominated.

And yet, room remains for improvement; witness, for instance, the nine penalties that the Cardinal collected.

Under David Shaw, the club is building toward a very special season — I’m certain of it. Tune in to ESPN at 7:30 p.m. Pacific time/10:30 Eastern and enjoy the next game!

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