How good is Cougar D? We're about to find out

THE NAYSAYERS, WELL, they do have a bit of a point. Washington State has played lights out on defense the past three weeks, allowing 253 yards or less in all three games and they held one of those opponents, then-No. 25 USC, to under 200 yards. Those are remarkable numbers in this day and age and they should be celebrated. But there is one caveat to all of this…

Washington State hasn't played what would be considered a "really good" offense yet.

Auburn, USC, Southern Utah and Idaho, none in that group can lay claim to that title. But the opponent for the Cougs this week is a whole different story.

No, fifth-ranked Stanford doesn't generally rack up a ton of yards or points in the way so many high-speed offenses do these days -- the Cardinal is not comparatively impressive in those two statistical categories.

But they wear you down. They execute. And they win. And in considering those three areas, they're as good as anyone in the nation.

THIS PAST SATURDAY, Stanford was supposed to be tested by Arizona State. The Cardinal instead blasted the Sun Devils from the jump, taking a 29-0 lead into halftime. In the 42-28 win, Stanford "only" gained 397 yards – ASU actually had more hashes (417). But Stanford's offense was both efficient and relentless, they racked up 240 rushing yards against a lauded front featuring Will Sutton.

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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The Cardinal is ranked No. 1 in the country in red zone offense -- and No. 3 in tackles-for-loss allowed. Stanford is No. 5 in the nation in third down conversions. They're tied for ninth in fewest penalties per game and No. 23 in passing efficiency. And they rank in the top 50 in the nation in passing yards per completion, turnovers lost, running offense, scoring offense and time of possession.

And regardless of the expected absence of All-America guard David Yankey, WSU's stop corps will face a major test on Saturday night against the Stanford offensive line. That line is ranked the nation's best by ESPN.

ALL OF THIS isn't to say the Cougs aren't going to make a lot of plays on defense at Century Link.

I actually believe WSU is going to surprise a lot of people with their defensive play against Stanford. But in terms of winning the battles both early and late, it's going to be harder for the Cougar defense -- a lot harder -- than it has been the first four games.

There are still plenty of reasons for crimson optimism and none of them have to do with last year's 24-17 close loss. Because there's plenty of evidence Washington State is a far more cohesive, consistent and improved defensive unit than they were a year ago.

In three of the four games played in 2013, Washington State has already allowed fewer total yards on offense than they did in any game last year.

And consider this: the most yardage the 2013 Cougs have allowed was in the opener at Auburn – 396 yards of total offense. Last year, the Cougs gave up more than that in eight-of-12 games.

INDEED, TO MOST ANY rational observer, the Cougs are looking like a very good defensive team in 2013. There are standouts at every position of Mike Breske's defense - you can make a strong case for any of the 11 starters, from d-lineman Ioane Gauta to linebacker Darryl Monroe to safety Deone Bucannon and beyond.

Collectively, they're flying to the football. And Washington State has wrapped up far, far better than CougFans have seen in a very long time.

But this game has all the hallmarks of a win by attrition. And come late Saturday night, we're going to have a much better feel for if this Cougar D is not only good, but great.

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