Fright night: Stanford vs. Washington State and a hellish Halloween-evening half

November 3, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 3, 2015

On Oct. 24, Stanford hosted Washington and notched a relatively modest 31-14 win to close out a three-game home stand. One week later, the Cardinal took to the road and visited Pullman, Wash., — probably the remotest outpost in the Pac-12 Conference — for what proved to be an extremely frightening 30-28 tussle.

True, the Cardinal emerged the victor, but only after converting just four of 13 third-down tries, and only after surviving a second quarter in which the offense accumulated a paltry 25 yards, and only after enduring a first half that ended with Washington State taking a 12-3 lead… and only after the Cougars’ Erik Powell, who had booted five field goals, sliced a kick wide right as time expired — his sole misfire of the evening.

Incidentally, this marked the first time Stanford had won a football game on Oct. 31 since 1970, considerably before I was born.

On a Halloween night when the Stanford offensive unit spent much of its time mimicking its largely ineffective 2014 self, the defense mounted a decent imitation of the stellar crew that throttled the life out of opponents throughout last season. The Cougars were just 2-14 on third downs, and while they scored in all seven of their visits to the red zone, Wazzu managed just a pair of touchdowns while playing before a fired-up home crowd.

The Stanford defense, which had mustered a mere 10 sacks in the first seven games of the season, tackled stellar WSU freshman quarterback Luke Falk for losses on three separate occasion. (The sacks were recorded by fifth-year transfer defensive end Brennan Scarlett, senior DE Aziz Shittu and senior linebacker and team co-captain Kevin Anderson, who was playing his first game since Sept. 19.) More importantly, the defense — which up to this point in 2015 had recorded only two fumble recoveries and three interceptions — thwarted two second-half Wazzu drives with a pair of picks by Quenton Meeks, a freshman nickel back. Both turnovers led to Stanford scores.

By contrast, Stanford had a pair of first-quarter turnovers, but they merely led to the first Washington State field goal.

A quick review of the Cardinal’s first four possessions:

• Four plays, 15 yards, 1:24 time of possession, resulting in a 36-yard punt.

• Seven plays, 34 yards, 4:10, 32-yard Conrad Ukropina field goal.

• Two plays, eight yards, 0:32, fumble lost by Kevin Hogan while being sacked.

• Three plays, three yards, 1:33, Hogan pass intercepted by Parker Henry for no return.

WSU gained no yards and punted after the Hogan fumble. After his pick, the Cougars advanced just two yards before summoning Powell to boot a 46-yard field goal that tied the game at 3-3.

The visitors converted just one of seven third-down tries in the opening 30 minutes, netting a paltry 85 yards. It was a testament to the offense’s impotence that the unit had scored merely a field goal despite an average starting position at their own 39-yard line. By halftime, the Cougars held a 12-3 lead, and Stanford was fortunate not to be facing a larger deficit, not least of which because a potential pick-six by Washington State on an awful Hogan throw to Austin Hooper in the opening period was negated on review.

(The ball hit the turf before glancing off of the diving tight end’s arms and into the bread basket of a defensive back. As I joked on Twitter, “Never have @StanfordFball fans been so relieved to see a Cardinal pass ruled incomplete.” Incidentally, Washington State appeared to score a touchdown at the same moment the New York Mets ended game 4 of the World Series by hitting into a double play.)

Stanford’s good fortune at being in a two-possession game was only emphasized by the opening series of the third quarter, in which WSU drove to the Cardinal 11 before having to bring on Powell for the fifth time on the evening. His 28-yard kick put Washington State up by a dozen points.

This recap will be continued in a subsequent post.

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