WSU

Going deep on the Card with Stanford's Bootleg and longtime scribe Mark DeVaughn

ACCORDING TO an unofficial tally by Cougfan.com, if Washington State beats Stanford on Saturday, Mike Leach will have become the fastest coach in Cougar football history to have beaten all the conference teams. So what challenges lie ahead for the Cougs down on The Farm? We could think of no better Stanford authority to bounce some questions off than longtime TheBootleg.com scribe Mark DeVaughn.

DeVaughn  has been writing for TheBootleg.com for nearly 20 years, since 1997.  The third Stanford game he ever attended was WSU-Stanford in 1984.  Memories of Rueben Mayes in that historic Cougar comeback, DeVaughn tells CF.C, still give him a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.  (see related story link at bottom of this article).

Here’s our informative Q&A with DeVaughn, as Washington State gets ready to go against No. 15 Stanford in Palo Alto on Saturday (7:30 pm, ESPN).

COUGFAN.COM: There have been multiple media articles saying Stanford was embarrassed in the loss to Washington.  Do you see that having an impact on Saturday vs. Washington State and if so, how so? 

DeVaughn:  It's not about how Stanford feels in the wake of a beating worse than anything even Don James rendered against the Cardinal. Saturday night's game rides on Stanford's ability to shore up the voids exposed in the program’s most lopsided loss since Jim Harbaugh's fourth game.

The injury bug remains. The offense's ability -- three straight games with fewer than 30 points, after scoring at least that amount 13 straight times last year -- is still a question mark.

But I do see this team bouncing back. Only once has David Shaw lost consecutive games. And consider the energy required to face USC, UCLA and a totally revamped Washington squad in consecutive weeks. Not since 1950 had Stanford's schedule featured all three in succession.

COUGFAN.COM: Everyone is aware the Stanford o-line struggled against a 4-man UW front but add the proper context for our readers - what went wrong at Washington?  And is it an aberration or a signal that things may not be as sunny this season as they have in recent years?

DeVaughn:  Everything went wrong. It channeled the days of Walt Harris punishing linemen with bear crawls for all the harm allowed on poor Trent Edwards.

Without blitzing, the Huskies totaled eight sacks and completely overwhelmed a unit that had allowed only four sacks coming in. For fans down here, it was equal parts surprising and disturbing.

Everything in David Shaw's offense runs through the line of scrimmage, literally (it seems) and figuratively. It’s the foundation. And the Cardinal's four new starters up front showed much progress through three games. The run game eclipsed 200 yards against a very talented UCLA front 7. It suffocated USC to the point where it felt routine (295 rushing yards and 34-plus minutes in time of possession).

And then in one night, the Huskies put Stanford's entire offensive credibility into question. Only if the Card return to form and help win two huge conference games (WSU, and then Colorado visits in two weeks) will it be considered more of an exception than trend.

COUGFAN.COM: What is the single-most important matchup on offense, and defense, in your mind for Stanford-WSU, the ones that on paper should have the most impact on which team gets the W.

DeVaughn:  Again, we’re back to the line of scrimmage. It’s amazing how quickly a running back’s star burns out (see Leonard Fournette last year) when his line suddenly can’t block.

The Cougars’ chances for victory depend on repeating what they did last Halloween: plugging the gaps and keeping Christian McCaffrey in check. And what if they do that, while sacking Stanford’s still unreliable (?) quarterbacks I’m already envisioning this year’s Apple Cup deciding the Pac-12 North title.

Stanford’s hopes for victory rest on repeating what’s occurred in each of the Cougars’ last four trips here: domination on defense. In 2014, I saw Washington State senior quarterback Connor Halliday literally “tap out” and opt to let the clock run out over risking another sack.

Like David Parry and Trent Murphy before them, nose tackle Harrison Phillips and fellow defensive lineman Solomon Thomas are bad dudes. But unlike their predecessors, they must contain a very impressive Washington State ground game. Under Harbaugh/Shaw, Stanford never loses to one-dimensional offenses.

COUGFAN.COM: Stanford (was) expected to have back starting corners Quenton Meeks and Alijah Holder after they missed the UW game. How do you see their return impacting the game vs. Wazzu, what challenges face Cougar QB Luke Falk and his WRs corps (including Gabe Marks, pictured above vs. Stanford last year)?

DeVaughn:  Both are out, which could bring about a long night for the home team.

Replacements Alameen Murphy and Terrance Alexander are serviceable corners with some skill. But they’re far more likely to be seen chasing opposing receivers into the end zone than the pair you mention, who each recorded pick-sixes last year as freshmen.

Meeks (whose interceptions turned the tide on Washington State last year) and Holder (whose speed and long arms will also be missed) are two of the Pac-12’s best.

COUGFAN.COM: For any who haven’t seen Stanford all that much this season, what’s the QB situation?  Strengths? Weaknesses?  How would you rate as a runner, as Kevin Hogan’s feet were arguably the difference in last year’s Cougar loss? Will Cougar fans likely see the No. 2 for as series or two?

DeVaughn:  Through four games, neither Ryan Burns nor Keller Chryst have emerged as THE guy. Both have size and running ability. Burns can hit the moving targets in tight windows. But his struggles to take the reins have fans here repeating old gripes.

Stanford can make the passing game look really hard. With simple goals resting on complicated schemes, it took Kevin Hogan until the end of his junior year to truly blossom as a reliable passing threat.  Burns has started each of this season’s four games, with Chryst relieving for  at least a series. Each of Stanford’s four touchdown passes belong to Burns.

“You are what you is,” Frank Zappa sang.

What the Cardinal’s passing game is remains to be seen.

FROM THE ARCHIVES OF COUGFAN.COM: The Energizing Eighties




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