"Washington State is better all the way through. Their souls are just deeper," Arizona head coach Mike Stoops said after last week's game. "It seems to me they are turning a corner and shrinking the field. With the schedule they play, it's hard, but they compete."
Programs like Arizona, Stanford and Oregon State can relate to Wazzu, because they were in the same rebuilding process a handful of years ago.
"It reminds me a lot of our team not too long ago in so many ways," Harbaugh said.
The Cardinal are five-touchdown favorites against a Cougars team that is 1-21 in conference play under Paul Wolff and hasn't lost a game by fewer than 13 points in that stretch. But when Stanford's program was in a similar state two seasons ago, it upset USC as 41-point underdogs.
"Washington State is looking for that key win to get things rolling," said Andrew Phillips. "I can look back a couple of years ago, and we were in a similar situation. We were clawing, fighting every game and doing everything we were supposed to do. That one game finally went our way.
"It makes us all the more wary, letting everyone know that we can't fall into some kind of lull, thinking that this will be an easy game. Because they are a very worthy opponent and will beat us if we don't take care of business."
After being competitive against Arizona and Oregon in consecutive weeks, some are speculating this could be the game the Cougars collapse. The schedule has been brutal and until last week's 24-7 home loss, Wazzu had yielded at least 40 points to three straight opponents.
You might think holding a potent Arizona offense to 24 points and 357 total yards would be something to hang a hat on, but the stats are somewhat skewed. The Wildcats played without Nick Foles for nearly three quarters after he went down with a knee injury. With Matt Scott under center, Arizona went conservative with the play-calling, running almost twice as many run as pass plays.
No matter, Stanford sees a relentless Cougars defense on deck. That unit recorded six sacks and 10 tackles for loss last weekend.
"A lot of energy and enthusiasm," Andrew Luck said of the Wazzu defense, which ranks last in the nation (493.9 ypg). "They don't give up, they don't quit, they play tough…it's going to be a test. It's one of those games that if we aren't on top of what we're doing, they will embarrass us."
Offensively, the Cougars are vastly improved. Jeff Tuel is one of the up-and-coming quarterbacks in the Pac-10. He's posted more than 200 passing yards in every game this season and has one of the conference's top receiving threats to throw to.
He's not a household name yet, but Marquess Wilson will be. The true freshman has a physical frame at 6-3, 173 pounds. He's recorded four 100-yards games this year and seven of his receptions have gone for 40-plus yards. And, of course, Stanford has had trouble containing big playmakers recently.
"He's long, linear and has really good ball skills," Harbaugh said. "He doesn't play like a freshman. That will be a big challenge for us."
The Cougars don't have much in the way of a running game. They average 80.1 yards per outing on the ground—a mark that ranks 116th at the FBS level. James Montgomery, Wazzu's primary back, isn't fully recovered from a devastating leg injury, as well as knee surgery.
The offensive line is a bit maligned as well. Starting left tackle David Gonzales was lost for the season last week. Starting right tackle Micah Hannam missed the Arizona game because of a concussion and is questionable for Saturday. He was replaced by a true freshman. Washington State surrendered seven sacks and 13 tackles for loss last week.
"I think they've had their fair share of injuries on the offensive line and they were already pretty young," Chase Thomas said. "It definitely is a benefit for our defense, and we're hoping to be able to attack the youth and lack of depth on their line."
Thomas said the Cougars have been utilizing multiple offensive formations this season—running a spread one week, two-tight end sets the next and then two-back sets the next. He said most recently they've been executing a four-receiver set, so the Cardinal are preparing for that.
About the Author: Bootleg Senior Writer Scott Cooley has worked in the sports media industry throughout his professional career, including serving as a writer for an ESPN production house and a professional football franchise. His work has been published in multiple print and online platforms including ESPN.com. He currently writes for yours truly, as well as Bookmaker, Covers and Red Hott Locks. Cooley specializes in football, baseball and basketball with an emphasis on sports betting. Cooley and his wife reside in California, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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