The thing that has caught my attention most over the last few days: the expected playing conditions. Accuweather's forecast is for temps in the low 50s at Martin Stadium, but the rain and win they say will make it feel about 10 degrees colder. My earlier pick of WSU 55, Stanford 52? I'm scaling that back. Am I still picking WSU? Read on.
Stanford boasts No. 2 running back, in terms of yards, in the conference and Christian McCaffrey is No. 10 in the nation. McCaffrey (953 yards) trails only Royce Freeman (1,109) in the conference and CougFans remember well how Freeman ran wild against WSU. Adding insult to injury, Stanford’s passing attack is more efficient and reliable than Oregon.
Washington State's defense has struggled in allowing big run plays, yes, but they've limited the damage the last three weeks. They'll need to at least force Stanford to earn it on Saturday. At a minimum, they need to force the Card to take more time and plays than they're accustomed to on their drives.
1) Washington State will not keep McCaffrey down. McCaffrey has rushed for 100-plus yards each of the last five games and he's averaging 259.7 all-purpose yards, putting him on pace to break Barry Sanders' all-purpose yards mark. WSU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has been preparing the Cougar defense to be ready for McCaffrey but I just don't see WSU holding him under his all-purpose average. That said, I think he's going to have to earn every yard, I don't think it's going to come via big, scoring plays. Kicker Erik Powell and Zach punter Charme, I think, will do a better job either kick it out of the end zone, out of bounds or pin him against a sideline on kickoffs and punts. The Cougars need to make sure they don’t give the sophomore back a chance to show off his skills beyond the offensive side.
2) Washington State will win the turnover battle. WSU is 5-1 when they have one or more takeaways and I see this as being one of the biggest keys on the night. Washington State’s defense and special teams will be even more crucial than normal given the conditions and the opponent.
3) Washington State's run game will again be the difference. The Cougs' offense has been clicking and while it doesn't fit the media/fan's definition of "balance," it fits Mike Leach's idea of a balanced offense, thank you very much. The Cougars have rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the last three contests despite a smallish number of running back carries - and they'ree 5-1 when rushing for 75 yards or more. Give Leach's history, there’s no doubt that WSU will still throw it a bunch -- the head man of the Cougs has shown he doesn't make many allowances due to opponent or weather conditions. And Falk's passing is again to be the ultimate difference. But Falk’s instincts to check to his 'backs will show and I see them as being the tipping point. Falk has tremendous faith in his three running backs, Gerard Wicks (pictured above) Jamal Morrow and Keith Harrington, and I see them coming up big again on the ground, and putting up some nifty all-purpose hashes of their own.
Final score prediction
I think the weather conditions will slow down the scoring. But I still see WSU winning this football game, with some key plays at key moments by the Cougs offsetting Stanford's Steady-Eddie approach.
Cougs 38, Stanford 35.