Stanford offense gets going in second half to beat Washington State easily
Cardinal defense deserves credit in this victory
Seattle Times colleges reporter
PULLMAN — The old warhorses walked through the tunnel here at nightfall, renewing an old camaraderie: Randy Hart, the longtime assistant at Washington, now tutoring defensive linemen for Stanford; Chris Tormey, his ex-UW staffmate, now with Washington State; Mike Levenseller, the Cougars' receivers coach since, well, forever.
Of course, they know the deal:
Stanford: Very good, maybe into January.
WSU: Something less than that.
The Cougars have to hope it was mostly just a toxic combination — Stanford power (and boy do they run that play well) and WSU offensive vulnerability — that culminated in the Cardinal's 44-14 victory Saturday.
"That's why they're the No. 7 team in the country," summed up Jeff Tuel, the WSU quarterback, after describing a litany of Stanford's defensive capabilities.
Make that No. 5, if you believe the coaches' poll. Stanford is physically punishing, offensively challenging and defensively consistent, seemingly never out of position. Athletically, there are better teams out there, but there might not be anybody who knows what it's about and goes out and executes it like Stanford.
It's tempting to say the score is a little deceiving, but this is what Stanford does to a lot of its victims, extends the illusion of hope for a couple of quarters and then ruthlessly yanks it away in the second half, a little like USC used to do under Pete Carroll.
The Cougars started Tuel at quarterback in a game-time decision, his first snaps since he got too feisty on a scramble Sept. 3 in the opener against Idaho State and snapped his collarbone.
Coach Paul Wulff hears a lot of second-guessers on a variety of topics, but don't start on this one, even if you can make the case that Marshall Lobbestael might have given the Cougars a more even game than Tuel provided. Tuel is WSU's guy, and for what they need down the road, some victories, they needed him in this game.
But he wasn't vintage Tuel. Against a Stanford front that was mostly fierce, he struggled with the speed of the game and missed changing some pass protections. That combined with a handful of WSU pass drops to effectively kill any sort of sustained offense.
"Jeff was rusty," conceded Wulff. "But he didn't have a lot of help in this game."
The Cougars did all sorts of promising things in a first half that ended with Stanford, a three-touchdown favorite, up only 10-7.
Damante Horton intercepted Andrew Luck on the second scrimmage play of the game. Nickel back Casey Locker — Jake's cousin — separated Chris Owusu from a third-down conversion pass with a thunderous hit. Even after WSU scored to close to three points, allowing Luck 2:12 to show the pro scouts how he'll function in a hurry-up offense, the Cougars muscled up and forced Stanford to punt inside WSU territory.
"We were all pumped," said WSU defensive tackle Anthony Laurenzi. "We didn't want to go in at halftime, we wanted to keep playing."
Unfortunately for WSU, they did. Isiah Barton hauled the second-half kickoff to the 50, but from there, it was all cockroaches for the Cougars. They went three-and-out in a bad series. Luck then hit tight end Coby Fleener on a 62-yard catch-and-run to the WSU 10, and a 10-yard throw to Levine Toilolo made it 17-7, Stanford.
It only snowballed from there. The Cardinal, held to a modest 165 yards of total offense at intermission, finished with 475. WSU's inability to find a rhythm when it had the ball — punctuated by an awful game catching it — tilted the night out of whack for the Cougars.
"We never gave our defense a chance," said Wulff. "It was our poorest execution offensively. A lot of that has to do with Stanford."
Laurenzi was candid in assessing how the imbalance spelled the end for the Cougars.
"We're used to putting points on the board," he said. "We had a lot of three-and-outs. We (the defense) had to stop them, and this is one of the best offenses in the country."
And so, the first half of the regular season ends for the Cougars. At 3-3, they're hardly where they want to be. But they've got back their quarterback, and it's what they do with the back nine that's going to write the story of their season.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com
About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-12.
firstname.lastname@example.org | 206-464-8281