|NUMBERS & OPINION|
Still, the Cougars and Cardinal have impressed most observers by playing hard in the face of adversity this year. In fact, WSU and Stanford have played so hard, that was a subject both head coaches mentioned prominently this week when discussing their opponent.
"I've been very impressed with Washington State's football team," Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said. "A very resilient group; very feisty.
"I like the way they play and the way they play hard. They're a motivated group. You can tell by the way they play they believe in themselves and they believe in their schemes."
Washington State coach Bill Doba was similarly gracious when talking about the Cardinal.
"Defensively, they fly around really well," Doba said. "They pressure. They seem to like playing football. They look like they're having fun."
That was not the case a year ago when the Cougars opened Pac-10 play with a 36-10 win at Stanford that felt more like 80-0 before an oh-so-quiet crowd. The WSU defense scored twice; Stanford managed just 195 total yards; and Mkristo Bruce spent so much time in the Cardinal backfield, I swear that Stanford quarterback Trent Edwards once tried to hand the ball off to Bruce on a running play.
Hey, it couldn't hurt. After all, Stanford only ran for 56 yards.
Saturday's game figures to bear little resemblance to last year's mismatch. Harbaugh has injected energy and passion in his first year as Stanford's coach; Cardinal quarterback Tavita Pritchard desperately wants to prove the Cougars wrong for not pursuing him; and one team will say goodbye to its faint bowl hopes with a seventh loss.
Enough with the chitchat. It's Dirty Dozen time.
1. View From Pullman:
Rainy. You would think the prospect of rain and on-field temperatures that may dip below 40 by game's end would scare off a bunch of Californians, but not Harbaugh. "Nice to have a chilly game, maybe a little bit of rain. The way football was supposed to be played in November," said Harbaugh, a Palo Alto, Calif., product who played in plenty of miserable weather conditions as a quarterback for Michigan and the Chicago Bears.
2. View From Palo Alto:
Encouraging. Even if the Cardinal loses its last five games (Notre Dame and Cal are all that's left after WSU), there's a much different buzz about Stanford football now personable go-getter Harbaugh has replaced the eminently forgettable Walt Harris. That WAS the guy's name, wasn't it?
3. Scouting Report:
Both teams love to gamble and blitz on defense. Give Pritchard plenty of props for beating USC in his first college start in The Greatest Upset In College Football History (it sez here), but Cougar senior Alex Brink has far more experience in dealing with blitzes and other forms of defensive mayhem. A ground game would come in mighty handy if the weather is bad, but both teams need a Red Cross tent to take care of all their walking wounded running backs. Hot-headed Richard Sherman, Stanford's leading receiver, did himself and his team no favors when he was suspended by Harbaugh -- and rightly so -- for going nuclear on the sidelines in last week's loss to Washington. Take a chill pill, kid. So much for all Stanford students being brilliant.
4. Betcha Didn't Know:
Stanford, widely recognized as one of the world's great universities, has about one-third as many undergraduate students (6,619), three times as large an athletic budget ($75 million) and 20 more intercollegiate varsity teams (35) as WSU. The Cardinal compete in everything from squash to fencing to field hockey to sailing. Plus, Stanford provides some funding for 20 club sports like judo, cricket, badminton and taekwondo.
5. The Rankings:
The Cardinal rank 118th out of 119 teams in sacks allowed, but the Cougs can top (lower?) that: They're 119th at stopping opponents on third down. Also interesting is the fact that Stanford ranks 11th in sacking the quarterback, and the Cougars rank 13th in passing. FOXSports.com ranks WSU 58th and Stanford 65th, the bottom two teams in the Pac-10.
6. Cougar Trivia Department:
Much has been made of WSU passing on Pritchard, the former Clover Park High star whose father, David, was the center on WSU's 1981 Holiday Bowl team. WSU bypassed Pritchard and a lot of other folks to take Arkelon Hall, who was one of the nation's top-rated prep QBs. Hall wound up flunking out of school without playing a down, and he's now experiencing mixed success as a redshirt sophomore starter at 4-5 College of the Sequoias, a junior college in Visalia, Calif. Pritchard says Stanford is the only school that offered him a football scholarship.
7. Cardinal Trivia Department:
Legendary Cougar QB Jack Thompson is constantly referred to as Pritchard's uncle. Even Pritchard calls him that. Technically, however, they're cousins.
8. Alumni Hall:
Former Stanford students include Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin; Yahoo! co-founder Jerry Yang; Phil Knight (Masters); former astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman to orbit the earth; former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor; Academy Award-winning actress Reese Witherspoon; plus sports stars Tiger Woods (golf), John McEnroe (tennis), Summer Sanders and Pablo Morales (swimming), John Elway and Jim Plunkett (football), Mike Mussina (baseball) and Kerri Walsh (volleyball).
9. Cougar Talk:
Doba, a longtime proponent of the 4-3 defense, on switching to the 3-4 at midseason: "You CAN teach an old dog new tricks, I guess."
10. Cardinal Talk:
Pritchard on his win over USC: "I hope it's not the only thing I'm remembered for here. I hope to do a lot more."
11. Opinion Of The Week:
Whether he's fired, retires or returns, Doba rates rave reviews for his seamless switch to the 3-4. Of course, it also took considerable coaching skill to make it work, and Doba gives high praise to safeties coach Leon Burtnett for making it work. One thing no one who regularly attends Cougar practices can ever question is the pride, desire and willingness to teach that Doba and his assistants have demonstrated all season.
12. And Your Final Score Is:
Washington State 31, Stanford 24.