WSU in Week 5: Cougs host much-hyped Cardinal

THE COUGS WILL FACE perhaps the best defense they'll see all year in Week 5 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. Stanford is being hyped for 2013 as a national title contender -- their D is the chief reason why. But consider this: Stanford had a whopping 10 games last year that were settled by a touchdown or less, including the 24-17 win over Washington State that wasn't decided until the final play.

Knocking off Stanford should be a chore for anyone this season. But the Cardinal's style of play means blowout wins are infrequent. And as long as you hang around, a win will be there for the taking.

Stanford ran the ball 58 percent of the time last season and even though Stepfan Taylor and his conference-leading 322 carries are gone, you can expect Stanford to grind and pound the football again in 2013.

Stanford doesn't look to have a star running back at the ready and they'll probably go to a committee approach, with Anthony Wilkerson "or" Tyler Gaffney "or" Barry Sanders Jr. That doesn't mean they won't be successful -- maybe not as successful as last year, but they're still going to find success behind a very large, experienced offensive line.

The big question up front is if the Cardinal will try to plug Kevin Danser in at center. If Danser can effectively move over from guard and fill that spot, that gives Stanford more flexibility and they can post others better suited at guard than at center.

The guess here is the Cardinal feature a starting unit of sophomore Andrus Peat (LT; 6-7, 310), senior David Yankey (LG; 6-5, 311), senior Kevin Danser (C; 6-6, 301), sophomore Joshua Garnett (RG; 6-5, 317) and junior Cam Fleming (RT; 6-6, 318). Those are some large dump trucks up front.

STANFORD HAS A clear starter at QB in Kevin Hogan and he can make plays with his feet, too. But he'll need to be sturdy, because Stanford has very little behind him. Josh Nunes retired, with Evan Crower earning the No. 2 job this spring. The third string spot has been claimed by Dallas Lloyd.

Neither Crower nor Lloyd has ever played in a college game.

While Stanford is being talked about in lofty terms this offseason, they are challenges to overcome. Consider there isn't a single player on the 2013 roster who caught a touchdown pass last season.

Indeed, Stanford has lost more than 80 percent of its receiving production to graduation headed into 2013. Chief among them were the two tight ends, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo.

Take into account the losses in the running game and passing game and a clearer picture begins to emerge for the 2013 Stanford pessimists. The offense just isn't expected to be all that scary, they may even struggle at times. But it's a different story on defense.

STANFORD'S DEFENSE IS already being hailed as one of the better units in the country and some are saying they'll be the No. 1 D in the land.

I don't know about that, but they should be very good. True, they have to replace defensive back Terrence Brown and they were light on corners this spring. But when you have a stacked defense, you can lose a piece or two and not suffer much damage.

Last season, Stanford led the nation in sacks (57) and tackles for loss (124). And they return eight starters on defense. What might be most impressive is they liberally rotated amongst the front seven in attaining those numbers.

Shayne Skov should be 100 percent after working his knee back into shape last season from a 2011 injury. OLB Trent Murphy and defensive end Ben Gardner are two others who are gaining lots of preseason accolades.

SO HOW DO you beat Stanford? A good place to start is to stuff the box on defense. And on offense, make good use of screen passes and attack the secondary from all angles.

Defensively, you always want to take something away and in Stanford's case, it's an easy call to try and go after their running game. It's easier said than done but anyone who beats Stanford this season will have to limit their running attack. Hogan can get things down in the passing game but he's not as effective when he has to do so.

But he can take off and kill a defense on the run, and that has to be accounted for on every snap.

When the Cougs are on offense, they need to be patient, can't stress that enough. They'll need to string together enough first downs to flip the field often enough and to take what Stanford gives them.

This is also a game where getting field goals instead of touchdowns might not, as it did so many times last year, come back to bite the Cougs. WSU needs points every chance they get, in what will probably be a low scoring game. That includes making field goals and not rolling the dice as much on fourth down when in range.

The Cardinal front seven is daunting, but misdirection can result in using their speed against them -- cutback lanes will open up if plays are executed properly. And here's where patience comes in again -- the Cougs are likely going to have a number of low yardage gains before potentially breaking one off against Stanford.

WSU STILL HAS a lot of development in front of them, and they'll be a heavy underdog against Stanford. But they were a huge underdog last year, too, and yet there they were, with a first-and-goal and a golden chance to head to overtime before Stanford's D rose up the final two plays.

The point here is that Stanford's rise didn't happen overnight. Indeed, from 2001 to 2008, Stanford failed to secure a winning record. They've done so every year since. WSU could offer strong evidence they're on the same kind of glide path with a strong overall showing in Seattle against the Cardinal in Week 5.

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