The Pac-10 may stand 10 members strong going on 12, but in terms of competitive football squads, the league remains solidly stuck on nine. A few years ago it was Stanford who was the conference's laughingstock, but even amidst a 1-11 season, never were the Cardinal so far removed from the rest of the league as Washington State is now.
Despite knocking out Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who is expected back next week, with back spasms, Washington State's defense was helpless against a Stanford attack that scored the game's last 28 points under backup quarterback Josh Nunes. The Cardinal (5-2, 2-2 Pac-10) trailed 21-8 in the third, but comfortably marched back and then some to claim a 36-21 victory.
"I didn't do so hot at Oregon when Andrew went down," Nunes said, "so I was hoping for a chance today. Hopefully I earned the guys' trust today, and they know that even if something happens to Andrew, Robbie [Picazzo] and I have the team in good hands."
Stanford's three biggest playmakers this 2010 season, Anthony Wilkerson, Ryan Whalen and Chris Owusu, each had lengthy touchdowns against an undisciplined Washington State (2-5, 0-4 Pac-10) defense that bit hard all afternoon long on play fakes.
First, as time expired in the first quarter, Luck found Chris Owusu sprinting past the entire WSU defense – sheer speed, no play fake there – for an 84-yard touchdown. A two-point conversion give to Anthony Wilkerson gave Stanford an 8-7 lead as the period ended.
"I figured we might find the end zone a few times this afternoon," Jim Harbaugh said postgame, "so we decided to go for the first two-point conversion of the game. If we made it, we'd be a point ahead, and if we missed it, we'd have plenty of chances to get it back."
Luck got knocked out in the early second, and the Cardinal offense suffered the rest of the quarter, but in the third, Nunes sold the entire WSU defense on a fake handoff to Anthony Wilkerson, and found Ryan Whalen ten yards open for a 45-yard touchdown to cut the Cougar lead to 21-15.
Then, after Jeremy Stewart and Wilkerson runs gave Stanford a 29-21 lead, a Nunes pass fake saw WSU's defense vacate the box, and Wilkerson took advantage, going 80 yards untouched with 1:10 to go for the game's final margin.
The home fans had plenty else to cheer for at Stanford Stadium Saturday. Defensively, the Card held WSU to minus-3 rushing yards, three turnovers and 4-of-14 third down conversions. The Cougars were also called for holding four times, and averaged only 28 yards on their six punts, handing the Cardinal perhaps 100 yards in field position all told.
Washington State did take advantage of an aggressive Stanford defense to throw for 278 yards and three touchdowns, albeit on 15-of-34 passing, and with nothing to show for the run game. The Stanford defense said afterwards their gameplan was to make the Cougars beat them through the air.
"As long as we took away the run and kept getting pressure, we weren't going to be too concerned with what they did in the air," linebacker Shayne Skov said. "We were okay making them march down the field time after time to beat us, because they did it three times, but they also turned it over three times and punted a whole bunch too. The stats aren't pretty, but we gave the offense the ball a lot, and did what we needed to as a unit to win."
The unorthodox strategy will be sorely tested next week, as the Cardinal visit Pac-10 leading Washington, and preseason All Pac-10 quarterback Jake Locker. At 6-1 overall and 4-0 in the conference, the Huskies are the league's only undefeated team, with Oregon, postseason-ineligible USC and Oregon State sitting one loss back.
As the bowl picture starts to come into focus, Stanford, Cal and Arizona are tied at 2-2 in the conference, with UCLA and Arizona State at three losses and Washington State at four.
TD WSU: G. Simone 15-yd pass from J. Tuel. 11:12 left. USC 7, Stanford 0.
TD Stan: C. Owusu 84-yd pass from A. Luck, 5:36 left. (2-pt.) Stanford 8, WSU 7.
TD WSU: J. Solomon 6-yd pass from J. Tuel. 9:16 left. WSU 14, Stanford 8.
TD WSU: J. Montgomery 4-yd pass from J Tuel. 9:43 left. WSU 21, Stanford 8.
TD Stan: R. Whalen 45-yd pass from J. Nunes, 5:45 left. WSU 21, Stanford 15.
TD Stan: J. Stewart 8-yd run, 2:31 left. Stanford 22, WSU 21.
TD Stan: A. Wilkerson 5-yd run, 13:05 left. Stanford 29, WSU 21.
TD Stan: A. Wilkerson 80-yard run, 1:10 left. Stanford 36, WSU 21.
|Third down conversions||3-14||4-11|
Key Stanford player stats
RB Anthony Wilkerson: six carries, 122 yards, two touchdowns
WR Chris Owusu: four receptions, 184 yards, 1 TD
WR Ryan Whalen: five receptions, 98 yards, 1 TD
SS Delano Howell, DE Thomas Kaiser: 1 INT apiece
LB Chase Thomas: 10 tackles, three TFL
@Stanford 35, Sacramento State 6
Stanford 22, @UCLA 16
Stanford 52, @Wake Forest 14
Stanford 30, @Notre Dame 27
@Oregon 16, Stanford 7
USC 31, @Stanford 7
@Stanford 36, Washington State 21
Stanford at Washington
Stanford vs. Arizona
Stanford at Arizona State
Stanford at Cal
Stanford vs. Oregon State
Inspired by reading stories like this as a kid in the Michigan student newspaper on game days, the author hopes you enjoy reading this series every bit as much as he enjoys writing it. The 2010 season is being simulated on EA Sports NCAA 2011, with the author playing all Stanford games and simulating the rest in a dynasty mode.
All statistics, game summary, rankings, player news and out-of-town scores are reported unchanged from game simulation. (I.e. Don't call the author pessimistic if Stanford struggles. Call him bad at video games.)
Got any idea for future weeks, especially if they're funny? PM dannovi.
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