And although they are a veteran team, a few big plays from a mystery signal caller could cause some stress for a Cardinal team who have been relative strangers to adversity.
| Cougars (3-2) vs Cardinal (5-0)|
AT A GLANCE
4:30 pm Pacific Time
Players to Know
Andrew Luck, QB: If you don't know who Luck is already, you are probably more familiar with Cat Fancy magazine than college football. The likely future No. 1 NFL draft pick has thrown for 1,383 yards and 14 touchdowns in the first five games of the season, and Stanford shut things down in most of those games.
Stepfan Taylor, RB: A steady workhorse back. Can catch the ball as well, but is not prominently featured as a receiver.
Chris Owusu, WR: The best of a fairly ordinary receiving corps. Luck makes the most out of the receivers he has, but could frankly do with a better deep threat.
Luck puts fear into defenses, but this is actually a run-oriented attack behind a big, physical offensive line. They will use a lot of odd formations and pre-snap motion to try and confuse the defense -- but the secret is that the Stanford team executes the heck out of a running game much more vanilla and north-south oriented than it appears. The passing game, on the other hand, is very dynamic. Luck is devastating out of play action where he is capable of making all the throws with exceptional pace and accuracy. He will dice you up with very rapid throws.
The defensive line needs to have a great day pass rushing, stripping the ball, clogging the passing lanes, and deflecting passes – easier said than done. The secondary need to keep the receivers in front of them as Luck will settle for short completions if they are there. Stanford is happy to run the ball down your throat and the Cougs may have to be content with it. Force Stanford to use as many plays as possible in the hopes of generating a few extra mistakes in the process. WSU needs to guess right with run pressures and blitzes, but they need to read their keys in the back seven better than they have been.
THE CARDINAL ON DEFENSE
Players to Know
James Vaughters, ILB: A true freshman and the top recruit from last season. Has been asked to fill the void left by leading tackler Shayne Skov who was injured at Arizona and is now out for the year.
Chase Thomas, OLB: Blitz specialist. Leads the team with five sacks and seven tackles for loss.
Johnson Bademosi, CB: One of three senior starters in a secondary that makes very few mistakes. Will likely be matched up with Marquess Wilson.
The Cardinal 3-4 defense has been a real puzzle for opposing offenses this season. They are constantly in motion and can generate a sudden pass rush from any direction. Their veteran secondary does a great job of locking up receivers on third down. The Cardinal rank 3rd in red zone defense and 7th in sacks. But linebacker Shayne Skov was the heart and soul of this group and they really haven't faced a high octane passing game since he was lost for the season.
Andrew Luck doesn't play defense and much of the Cougars hopes hinge on them turning this game into a track meet. UCLA and even Arizona were still hanging around with the Cardinal in the second half, but one bad quarter left them with too much ground to make up. WSU needs touchdowns and it will need a lot of them. The offense has to make hay in the red zone – field goals absolutely will not cut it. And the offense cannot stall out for any substantial length of time as they have done the past three games. Keeping Luck off the field is vital and he needs to be deep in his own territory when he steps onto the field. The Cardinal secondary is experienced but hasn't shown a knack for interceptions. Whether WSU starts Marshall Lobbestael or Jeff Tuel at quarterback, the Cougar passing attack will need to quick, aggressive, and mistake free. A tall order to say the least, as the Cardinal will be bringing the heat.
THE CARDINAL ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Stanford has played sound and mistake free in all aspects of special teams this season. WSU is unlikely to make up any ground here but cannot afford to lose any.
The Cardinal have absolutely blown the doors off everybody this season; winning by an average score of 47-11. No team has come within 27 points of the Cardinal.
There is something to be said for a team being poised for a letdown game – it happens to virtually everyone. Stanford's first five opponents were pretty weak and they haven't had a road game in a month. This Cougar team played very effectively in Palo Alto last season and are unlikely to be intimidated on their home turf. Expect an emotional effort by the crimson and gray. Alternatively, Stanford head coach David Shaw is a very low-emotion guy.
UCLA was probably Stanford's best test so far, getting them in Palo Alto after a bye week. Still, the Bruins were down by a manageable 11 points in the third quarter and about to get the football when they muffed a punt, leading to the touchdown that opened the flood gates. At the time it felt like the Bruins were on the verge of making a game out of it. WSU may only need a break or two to give the Cardinal a serious scare. Adversity has been a foreign concept throughout most of this 13-game win streak. Only one of their last 11 opponents has gotten within 24 points of Stanford. Still, it's hard to see all of the things going right for the Cougs that need to go right in this one.
Cardinal 42, Cougs 28