The Early Glimpse: Cougs vs. Card

WASHINGTON STATE'S modern day gold standard for defense is the Palouse Posse, the 1994 unit that grudgingly gave up yards and points and helped the Cougars to an 8-4 season despite a woeful lack of an offense. How does the 2013 Cougars defense compare?

Of course, it's too early and probably silly to make concrete comparisons to the Palouse Posse. But it's been a while since a Cougar defensive unit has played this well. So bear with us.

During the past 14 quarters -- dating back to halftime of the season opener against Auburn -- WSU's defense has given up two touchdowns. Both scores were set up with short fields, a 22-yard drive by USC, and a 29-yard drive by Southern Utah.

In 1994, the Cougars had a similarly impressive start to the season. During its first six games, WSU gave up just three touchdowns, one each to Tennessee, Oregon and Arizona. WSU started 4-2, despite giving up no more than 10 points in any of its first six games. The collective yield for the Cougars' first six opponents was 39 points.

The bar is set high. And the 2013 Cougars have yet to face anyone like the 1994 Ducks, who went on to play in the Rose Bowl. WSU dusted the '94 Ducks 21-7.

Getting back to the 2013 Cougars, the defense continues to make statistical progress. Saturday's 42-0 shutout of Idaho was the program's first in 10 years. Nationally, WSU ranks second in passing yards allowed, 10th in total defense, 13th in scoring defense and third-down conversions allowed, and 15th in pass efficiency defense.

Now, naysayers claim Washington State has yet to play anyone. There's some truth to that, but compared to whom? Can any team in America say it's played a solid schedule through four games? I don't see many teams that have made road trips to Auburn and USC during the first four weeks of the season.

Cougs vs Cardinal

The kickoff: 7 p.m., CenturyLink Field.


The line: Cardinal by 9 1/2

The series: Stanford leads 37-25-1

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Certainly, far more difficult games remain ahead for the Cougars. It accelerates during the next four weeks, starting Saturday night at CenturyLink Field against No. 5 Stanford. The Cardinal doesn't have a dazzling offense, but they'll force the Cougars to prove their physicality. After that, it's California and a spread offense with principles similar to the Cougars. Then it's Oregon State and the country's passing yardage leader in Sean Mannion, followed by every defensive coordinator's nightmare, Oregon.

Washington State is unlikely to be flirting with the country's defensive leaders in a month. But I'll bet the upcoming offenses aren't looking forward to facing the Cougars, either.

About Stanford: The Cardinal are a popular dark horse pick for the BCS national championship game. They're easy to like because of a blue-collar, no-nonsense style that football fans appreciate.

To date, Stanford has been solid, and a little better than unspectacular. The Cardinal ground out non-conference wins over San Jose State and Army, then buried Arizona State 42-28, a misleading score if there ever was one. Stanford led 29-0 at halftime and 39-7 after three quarters before giving up three meaningless fourth-quarter scores to the Sun Devils.

Junior quarterback Kevin Hogan isn't Andrew Luck, but who is? Still, Hogan is the best quarterback the Cougars will have faced so far. He was a workmanlike 11 of 17 for 151 yards and two touchdowns against Arizona State. Through three games, Hogan is 39 of 62 for 546 yards and seven touchdowns. He's yet to throw more than 27 passes in a game.

The centerpiece of Stanford's offense is its running game, averaging 211 yards a game. Senior running back Tyler Gaffney leads the way with 323 yards and five touchdowns, including a season-high of 132 yards against Army. Another senior, Anthony Wilkerson, is capable, as he's averaged close to five yards a carry during his Stanford career.

The Cardinal's playmaker at receiver is Ty Montgomery, who has 14 catches for 273 yards for four touchdowns, and three runs for 34 yards.

Defensively, this could be the best unit Washington State faces all season. Stanford's statistics are misleading, as Arizona State piled on a ton of useless yards during the fourth quarter. Still, the Cardinal rank among the country's top 40 in nearly every defensive category. Stanford returned seven senior starters – including stud linebackers Trent Murphy and Shane Skov and safety Ed Reynolds – from a unit that held Oregon to a mind-boggling 13 points last year in Eugene.

Pending a Pac-12 review, Reynolds will miss the first half of Saturday's game after he was ejected against Arizona State for targeting. Reynolds returned an interception for a touchdown in last year's game against WSU.

The series: Last year, Washington State came within one play of forcing overtime and a possible gigantic upset of the Cardinal, but fell 24-17 at Stanford. The Cougars pulled to within 24-17 with 6:29 remaining on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Jeff Tuel to Kristoff Williams. Following a stop, WSU moved the ball to the Cardinal 9 before time ran out. It's worth noting the Cougars didn't face Hogan in that game, as he was promoted to the starting lineup the follow week.

Stanford has won five consecutive games over WSU. The Cougars' last win came in 2007, a 33-17 victory over the Cardinal in Pullman. Stanford leads the overall series 37-25-1.

Familiar faces: Stanford has five Washington natives in freshman safety Chandler Calvin (Lakewood), sophomore guard Joshua Garnett (Puyallup), junior tight end Charlie Hopkins (Spokane). sophomore receiver Michael Rector (Gig Harbor) and sophomore linebacker Sam Shober (Monroe). Two Cardinal coaches have Washington ties in Randy Hart, a long-time assistant at Washington, and Tavita Pritchard, whose brother Tana plays linebacker for the Cougs and whose father Dave played on WSU's 1981 Holiday Bowl team.

Read Nick Daschel's occasional Pac-12 ramblings at

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