Gameday Breakdown: WSU at Stanford

We project Stanford finishes with a __ to __ yardage edge and wins __ to __. If Stanford reaches six wins, they could be playing in the __ Bowl, against __. Fill in the blanks, plus read up on what we expect in a matchup where anything could happen: Washington State's anemic pass attack vs. a susceptible Stanford back seven.

Gameday Breakdown:
Washington State (1-7, 0-5 Pac-10) at Stanford (4-4, 3-2 Pac-10)
Sat. Nov. 1, 2 p.m. PT

Last year: Washington St. 33, Stanford 17. The visiting Card dropped to 3-7 (2-6 Pac-10), as Washington State scored the game's final 13 points in the fourth quarter. Stanford scored on Ty McGraw and Jeremy Stewart four-yard touchdown runs and a 24-yard Derek Belch field goal and totalled 376 yards and 33:45 of possession. The Card's defense, however, allowed Washington State 27 first downs and 561 total yards, 449 of them passing. Both teams committed three turnovers and Stanford missed two field goals and was whistled for four more penalties than WSU.

Stanford this year: The Card are 4-4 overall and 3-2 in the league, with wins over Oregon State (36-28), San Jose State (23-10), Washington (35-28) and Arizona (24-23). Stanford's losses have all come on the road, at Arizona State (41-17), at TCU (31-14), at Notre Dame (28-21) and, in their last action two weeks ago, at UCLA (23-20) on a touchdown with ten seconds left. With USC, Oregon and Cal to close the season, Washington State is a must-win if Stanford wants to reach the six wins necessary for bowl eligiblility...

Where would they go?
Three caveats: First, if Stanford does reach six wins, they'd finish 5-4 in the conference, a better mark than most other six-win teams, which should give them priority. Two, Stanford's head-to-head wins and losses would matter in case of a tie. Finally, money talks. A San Diego bowl would prefer an Arizona or L.A. team, a San Francisco bowl would prefer a Bay Area team, and teams get flip-flopped all the time to create matchups that fill stadiums.

Nonetheless, if Stanford gets to six, the Pac-10 final standings look exactly like this week's, and the bowls all played by the rules, here's how it would look.

1. Rose (vs. Big 10 #1, Jan. 1, 2 p.m., Pasadena, ABC): USC
2. Holiday (vs. Big 12 #3, Dec. 30, 5 p.m., San Diego, ESPN): Oregon
3. Sun (vs. Big 12 #4/Big East #2/Notre Dame, Dec. 31, 11 a.m., El Paso, Tex.): Cal
4/5. Las Vegas (vs. MWC #1, Dec. 20, 5 p.m., ESPN): Oregon State
4/5. Emerald (vs. ACC #5/#6/#7, San Francisco, Dec. 27, 5 p.m., ESPN): Arizona
6. Hawaii (vs. WAC #2/Hawaii, Dec. 24, 5 p.m., ESPN): Stanford
7. Poinsietta (vs. MWC #2, San Diego, Dec. 23, 5 p.m., ESPN): At-large

Hawaii's 4-4 right now, and should finish bowl eligible, as they'll be favored in four of their final five games. If it's not Hawaii, San Jose State, Fresno State or Nevada would be likely WAC opponents.

But first, Washington State...

Washington State this year:
The Cougars are having one of the worst seasons a team has had in 100-plus years of organized football. Their only win came Sept. 20, 48-9 over 3-4 Division I-AA Portland State. Their losses:

39-13 vs. Oklahoma State, Aug. 30
66-3 vs. Cal, Sept. 6
45-17 at Baylor, Sept. 13
63-14 vs. Oregon, Sept. 27
28-3 at UCLA, Oct. 4
66-13 at Oregon State, Oct. 11
69-0 at USC, Oct. 18

Stanford, the Arizona schools and Washington, arguably the rest of the Pac-10's bottom half, remain on the schedule, so the season-ending statistics probably won't be as ugly as they are now. (Washington State also visits Hawaii in their season-finale Nov. 29.) And the Cougars don't appear to do any worse on the road than they do at home. And, if Washington State does find itself in a close game, maybe it'll be inspired in one of its only shots at a win this season and play better than it would down 69 to USC. But, let's cut the Iraqi Information Minister act -- the Cougars are awful.

Key stats:

In Stanford's corner:

- Stanford is losing its average game 27-24, while Washington State loses its average game 54-9.
- Stanford is outgained 384-330 on average, while Washington State is outgained 491-200.
- That edge is starker yet over the last three games, as data from teamrankings.com (good prediction site, and I say that not just because I write there) shows. Stanford's cut its yardage deficit to 379-361, while Washington State's been outgained 501-141. Yardage is the single truest predictor of future performance, and Stanford appears to be trending the right way, while Washington State's numbers suggest the team may be quitting.
- If the worst-case scenario unfolds and this game is close, Stanford's 3-2 in games decided by eight or less, while Washington State has yet to play a close game this season.
- Stanford's 2.4 turnovers per game isn't great, and some of the interceptions have been especially cringe-worthy, but Washington State commits 2.9 turnovers per game.

In Washington State's corner:

Umm, umm...

- Both teams have been called for just under eight penalties per game, but Stanford drew 10 penalties to the Cougs' four in each team's last game.
- Washington State's possessed the ball for 52.5 percent of games, more than Stanford's 46.3 percent. WSU's number is skewed high because opponents score so quickly though. Nonetheless, Stanford's time of possession needs to improve, especially given the Card's ground-oriented attack.

Overall:

Stanford dominates statistically, which is why they're 30-point favorites.


When Stanford has the ball:

In the air:

If I'm Jim Harbaugh, I throw the heck out of it Saturday. The passing game clearly needs some work (as Harbaugh's well aware, making the team focus on it the past two weeks' practice) and quarterback Tavita Pritchard could use a boost of confidence. Plus, bumping up the stats of our quarterback and, especially, receivers can only help recruiting. Our leading receiver, Ryan Whalen, has only 41 receiving yards per game. Stanford's thrown seven touchdowns in eight games. You don't think opposing coaches are making every potential future Troy Walters well aware of this? Finally, this may well be the last chance for the pass game to shine, given the final three opponents.

I don't think any of this will happen, though, because if the game is close, it's safer to run, and if the game is lopsided, passing gets you written up by Miss Manners. Stanford passed 13 times against UCLA, and I suspect we see a similar number of attempts here, so let's call it 135 Stanford passing yards. That would actually be lower than Stanford's average of 137 passing yards (on 55 percent accuracy), and the 194 yards (on 56 percent accuracy) that Washington State allows.


On the ground:

This is going to be fun.

Stanford runs for 192 yards per game on a spectacular 5.0 yards per carry average. With 779 rush yards and a 5.6 average, Toby Gerhart accounts for about half Stanford's ground yardage (No. 2 Anthony Kimble adds 452 yards on a 6.0 average).

Washington State, meanwhile, allows 266 rush yards per game, on 6.7 yards per carry. Let that sink in. This year, eight college teams and two NFL teams don't allow 266 yards in a game -- total. Plus, the 6.7 yards per carry includes all the third-string back dives up the middle and quarterback kneels in garbage time -- Washington State is allowing 7.1 yards per carry in the first half, when their games are within four touchdowns.

When two teams are this imbalanced, there's only so much analysis to be done. I'm picking 300 Stanford rushing yards, but Toby, Anthony, offensive line: pick a number, any number.

When Washington State has the ball:

In the air:

Stanford allows opponents 273 passing yards per game on 65 percent accuracy. Not good. Washington State, however, only throws for 158 yards per game, on a measly 5.5 yards per pass and with 52 percent accuracy. The 14 interceptions to six touchdowns concisely explain how grim the situation is, and why Washington State had campus-wide open tryouts for quarterback a few weeks ago.

This is the game's biggest unknown, in my opinion. Stanford's pass D had that one out-of-body experience against Arizona, but otherwise looks closer to their 2007 or 2006 versions than the top half of the league. Plus, given Stanford's strong rush D, WSU's anemic rush attack and the fact that the Cougs should be trailing all afternoon, you have to figure Washington State is going to take their shots.

Head for the hills if this team can throw on Stanford's D, given the next three opponents. But while Stanford's secondary hasn't given us much evidence this season to suggest they're going to absolutely lockdown the Cougs, I have faith in the unit to just be respectable, which will be more than enough Saturday. We'll call it one long passing touchdown on a breakdown, 150 Washington State passing yards, a lot of WSU incompletions, and a Stanford pick-six somewhere in there.


On the ground:

Stanford allows opponents 111 rush yards per game on a stingy 3.2 yards per carry. That's bad news for the Cougs, as Washington State's ground attack looks ranks as merely bad, not once-in-a-generation bad, making it the most competent unit on the team. The Cougars run for 96 yards per game on 2.6 yards per carry, which means they're averaging 37 rush attempts per game. So I expect Stanford's defensive front to decisively win this battle, as they have against better offenses this season, but 37 carries almost dictates that Washington State finshes with 100 rushing yards.


Vegas Prediction:

Stanford 42, Washington State 12. (Stanford by 30, Total: 54).


My Prediction:

Stanford 34, Washington State 13.

I think Stanford finishes with a run-to-pass ratio north of three, which will shorten the game and prevent the Cardinal from racking up enough yards or points to cover the spread. With that in mind, I project 435 Stanford total yards to 250 Washington State total yards , consistent with the team's season averages and the projected final score. But, ultimately, the only thing stopping Stanford on Saturday is the clock and their good sportsmanship.

This season:

Predicted: Notre Dame 30, Stanford 20. Actual: Notre Dame 28, Stanford 21.
Predicted: Stanford 28, Washington 27. Actual: Stanford 35, Washington 28.
Predicted: Stanford 34, San Jose State 24. Actual: Stanford 23, San Jose State 10.
Predicted: TCU 23, Stanford 10. Actual: TCU 31, Stanford 14.
Predicted: Arizona 34, Stanford 20. Actual: Stanford 24, Arizona 23.
Predicted: Stanford 28, UCLA 24. Actual: UCLA 23, Stanford 20.
Predicted: Stanford 34, Washington State 13.


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