Stanford 101: Great offense vs. great defense

WHAT HAPPENS when the No.1 offense in the nation meets the No. 2 defense? Will Stanford, who allows just 8.6 ppg take care of business at home? Or will Washington State, averaging 523 passing yards per game, be too much for the Cardinal?

Stanford will be wearing all-black uniforms on Friday at 6 p.m. when they play host to the Cougs. And QB Kevin Hogan got roughly 80 percent of his usual repetitions on Wednesday for undisclosed reasons, according to David Shaw's media huddle after practice. But the former seems less important than the latter, given that Stanford's defense has made life nearly unbearable for opposing offenses.

Cougars (2-4) vs Cardinal (3-2)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
6:00 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Stanford Stadium (50,400)

TELEVISION:
ESPN

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

THE LINE:
Stanford by 17

LAST MEETING:
2013 WSU lost 55-17

THE SERIES:
WSU trails 25-38-1

CF.C PREDICTION:
Cougs 21, Cardinal 20

THE CARDINAL ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Kevin Hogan, QB: Kevin Hogan isn't big on numbers but he has two of the biggest numbers a quarterback can have: conference titles. Hogan has won two Pac-12 Championships in two years of work. 2014 looks to be a tougher test though. The Cardinal have already lost as many games as they did in the entire regular season last year. Hogan is being asked to carry more of the offensive load than in year's past, and he hasn't looked up to the task thus far.

Barry Sanders, RB: Stanford actually uses a running back by committee approach, but being the son of an NFL legend deserves mentioning. Sanders leads the Cardinal backs with a 7.0 per carry average.

Ty Montgomery, WR: Montgomery is Stanford's most threatening receiver and Hogan's favorite target. He has 30 catches this year, nearly twice as many as any other receiver.

Overview
Stanford runs a very deliberate pro-style offense, one that frankly seems dull by Pac-12 standards. The idea has always been to stay patient, out-execute, and let the defense set up opportunities. The problem is the opportunities haven't really come. So far in 2014, Stanford is minus-4 in turnover margin; an extraordinary exception in the David Shaw era. Hogan has not been a very effective passer, and has been careless with the football at times.

Strategy
The Cougar pass defense looked horrific last week, but WSU needs to force Kevin Hogan to beat them through the air. He has thrown just 8 touchdowns in the first five games, and averages a pedestrian 7.6 yards per throw.

Key Statistic
Fourteen Fumbles: The Cardinal have had butter fingers in 2014. They have fumbled the ball 14 times, losing seven of them, in their first five games.


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THE CARDINAL ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
Henry Anderson, DE: Anderson was expected to fill Trent Murphy's shoes but has really struggled with all the extra attention. He has just one sack this season and is nowhere near as disruptive as Murphy was.

Jordan Richards, S: Richards is one of seven senior starters on this defense that won't be easily fooled. Richards anchors the Cardinal secondary and is a very sure tackler.

Overview
Make no mistake, the Cardinal defense may still be the statistical No. 1 in the Pac-12 at the end of the year, but the losses of four starters to the NFL as well as coordinator Derek Mason have been noticeable. Statistically, the Cardinal are still holding their opponents to an impressive 3.7 yards per play, but they are missing out on the big plays that used to vault the offense. Stanford has forced just seven turnovers in the first five games.

Strategy
WSU needs to dramatically lower offensive expectations from last week. Stanford has shut out two of their five opponents, and nobody has scored more than 17 against them this year. But as good as this defense is, Connor Halliday shouldn't feel the pressure to produce like he did last week. The Stanford offense is struggling badly, and looks very awkward when they don't have a lead to work with. So long as the Cougars don't have to mount a major comeback or turn the ball over, the edge in the second half should be theirs.

Key Statistic
8.6 points per game: Points are hard to come by against the Cardinal. They have given up just three passing touchdowns in 2014.

THE CARDINAL ON SPECIAL TEAMS
The only fans complaining about their kicker as much as WSU? Stanford. Jordan Williamson has converted just four of eight field goals this year, and punter Ben Rhyne averages just 38.8 yards per boot.

FINAL THOUGHTS
-How does a team scrape itself back up again after a heartbreaking loss like the Cougs had last week? WSU did it against Utah after the Duck game, but Vegas is betting it won't happen again. The 17-point spread is huge considering that Stanford has only scored 15 points per game in Pac-12 play.

-This will be a huge test of Halliday's patience. He cannot make any mistakes against the Cardinal and if things don't go right on defense or special teams, he can't get frustrated about that. Stanford is the most fundamentally sound defense in the conference. It will take both execution and patience for Halliday and WSU to put up the necessary points to win.

-I would like to think the Cardinal are equally low after their devastating last minute collapse to the Irish, but I'd frankly feel better if I thought they were overlooking the Cougars. Stanford's chances of making the playoffs are now almost non-existent at 3-2 and so they now are focused squarely on winning the Pac-12 North.


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