Stanford 101: Taylor Made For An Upset?

COULD THIS be the game? Stanford capped a challenging month with a 21-3 win over Cal and shot back up to No. 19 in the polls. With Oregon and Oregon State still to play, the Cardinal retain an outside shot at the Pac-12 North crown -- if they don't get caught looking ahead. But coming off of back-to-back road rivalry games, Stanford could be primed for an upset to a well rested Cougar squad.

There are two ways to look at this game. One is that it will be more of the same, with WSU missing out on opportunities on offense and the lapses on defense will prove costly. The other? Washington State has been looking for that big upset win all year but haven't come close to finding it. Is this the one? There are at least some reasons to think it might be...

Cougars (2-5) vs Cardinal (5-2)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
3:15 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Stanford Stadium (50,000)

TELEVISION:
Pac-12 Networks

RADIO:
The Cougar Sports Radio Network covers much of the West. Click here for listings.

THE LINE:
Stanford -24.5

LAST MEETING:
2011, Stanford won 44-14.

THE SERIES:
WSU is 25-36-1 in the series.

CF.C PREDICTION:
Cardinal 45, Cougs 24

THE CARDINAL ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Josh Nunes, QB: Replacing Andrew Luck was going to be hard, but Nunes has still fallen short of expectations. The senior is averaging a pedestrian 53 percent completion rate with nine touchdowns and seven intercepts -- and 212 passing yards per game.
Stepfan Taylor, RB: One of the premiere workhorse backs in the country. Taylor carries the ball average of 25 times a game for a 4.8 yard average.
Zach Ertz, TE: The wide receiver position has been a weak spot for Stanford. Ertz and Taylor lead the team in receptions this season. Ertz is by far Nunes' favorite target, with nearly twice the receiving yards of any other receiver.

Overview
Stanford runs a senior led offense focused on ball control. They utilize a lot of power running behind a solid offensive line.

Strategy
Containing Taylor is the No. 1, 2 and 3 priorities. WSU's struggles against the run have been concerning at times and Stanford is likely to test them more as the game wears on. Washington State needs players up front on the d-line like Toni Pole to do some of their best work all season if they're to contain the Stanford running attack.

Key Statistic
0 rushing touchdowns in losses: Stanford has won every game in which Stepfan Taylor has scored -- and lost every game when he hasn't.

THE CARDINAL ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
Chase Thomas, OLB:
All-American in 2011 and emotional leader of the defense. At 6-4, 245 pounds, Thomas has an NFL-ready frame and game.

Overview
Stanford runs a very physical 3-4 with no glaring weaknesses. Holding Cal to three points in the Big Game last week was arguably their most impressive game to date. Overall, they've been one of the most consistent units in the conference, ranking in the upper half in almost all defensive categories and No.37 nationally in total defense.

Strategy
The Arizona game should give WSU a little hope. The Cardinal have not faced a lot of pure passing offenses this season -- and the Wildcats' spread gave them fits. ‘Zona threw for 491 yards in the 48-54 near-upset effort.

Key Statistic
2.48 yards per rush: Stanford's hard-nosed defense leads the conference in rushing yards allowed per play and game. The WSU passing game is likely to be on its own.

THE CARDINAL ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Most of Stanford's special teams units are solid but kicker Jordan Williamson has really struggled -- converting just 56 percent of his field goals and having two blocked already this season.

FINAL THOUGHTS
- On paper, this looks and feels like about a 45-24 win for Stanford. But this also shapes up like it could one of the best trap game opportunities WSU has had in years. Stanford is coming off back-to-back road rivalry games (Notre Dame and Cal), and is feeling pretty good about themselves. WSU might not particularly scare them but with a full two weeks to prepare and rest up, the Cougs should enter the game healthy and focused. They could catch the Cardinal on cruise control.

-Stanford's offensive struggles really have not given the Cardinal a huge margin of error this year. The Cardinal have scored 21 or fewer points in five out of seven games. Likewise, five out of seven games this season have been decided by a touchdown or less. The Cougs are running out of season -- and if they're going to make a move in 2012, this is a prime opportunity for that big, shake-up-the-season upset win they shouldn't let slip by.


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