It’s Homecoming Weekend on the Farm, Stanford is coming off a bye week, and the PAC-10’s second-best team is hosting the worst football team in the conference. All signs point to a complete and total obliteration. Nonetheless, Saturday’s game deserves a thorough preview, and there are some wild cards to consider. Washington State, for instance, has been improving in recent games. Sure, the Cougars are still 1-6 (their only win was a 1-point victory over FCS team Montana State) but they kept Arizona to 24 points last week and lost to Oregon by a smaller margin than Stanford did.
The weather forecast for Saturday also predicts rain, which presumably would hurt Stanford more than it would hurt Washington State. Even though the Card rely on a smash-mouth style of play, it’s hard to deny that rain would slow down the Stanford offense. But can Washington State keep up either way?
Probably not. Washington State’s primary offensive weapon is true sophomore quarterback Jeff Tuel. Tuel was a pretty big grab for WSU: before signing with the Cougars, he flirted with 3 other PAC-10 teams, along with Nevada and Fresno State. Tuel is completing a respectable 58% of his passing attempts this year for an average of just under 250 yards per game. For a sophomore, those are good numbers, especially considering that Tuel is currently 21st in the nation in passing yards this season. That puts him ahead of Andrew Luck, Steven Threet, Nick Foles, Ryan Katz, and every PAC-10 quarterback other than Matt Barkley (who ranks 7th in the country). Even though many of those quarterbacks have already had a bye week–giving Tuel an extra game in which to rack up yardage–he’s been very productive for a very bad team.
But Tuel also turns the ball over fairly often. He’s thrown 7 interceptions, and can’t boast even a 3:2 touchdown-to-pick rate (he’s thrown for 10 touchdowns on the year). While Tuel will most likely look good in the passing game on Saturday, expect him to throw at least one costly interception. Plus, he’ll have to deal with some key injuries along the offensive line charged with protecting him from the Stanford pass rush.
And don’t expect the Cougars to have any substantial running game to help Tuel out. WSU has one of the weakest running games in America, and only produces an average of 80 yards per game on the ground. Senior running back James Montgomery, the team’s most productive runner, has yet to break 300 rushing yards for the season and has only run for 100 yards or more in a game once this season. (It’s worth mentioning that his 116-yard game came against Montana State.) Behind him is an even more disappointing ensemble of tailbacks, the most efficient of whom (sophomore Logwone Mitz) has only rushed for 146 yards in 2010. In other words, the Cougar offense revolves around Tuel and the passing game. Against a Stanford defense that is strongest along the line and the linebacking corps, don’t expect the Washington State running game to be a factor.
On the other side of the ball, Washington State allows over 40 points per game. Only 2 teams have been unsuccessful in scoring 35 points or more on the Cougars, and the two that failed were Montana State and Arizona, after star Wildcat quarterback Nick Foles got injured during the WSU-Arizona game last Saturday. Oklahoma State put up 65 points on WSU, USC scored 50, and Oregon scored 43. Even UCLA, who didn’t score at all against Stanford, managed 42 points against the Cougars.
It’s almost certain that Stanford will move the ball methodically down the field on nearly every drive, and score between 40 and 50 points. This is the sort of game where the Card’s final score will depend largely upon Jim Harbaugh’s mercy (or lack thereof), which means Stanford could put up some Wake Forest-like number of points. Andrew Luck should be able to exploit a very weak Cougar secondary and perhaps get himself back into the Heisman conversation, but look for the Stanford coaching staff to use this cupcake game to test out different looks in the run game. Stepfan Taylor has looked good the last several weeks, but the Cardinal should be looking for a viable #2 tailback, both to give Taylor some snaps off and to be sure that a backup is ready to take over the #1 role if Taylor gets hurt. Right now, that backup will likely be true freshman Anthony Wilkerson, who has played very well in limited carries.
Was this preview less interesting, shorter, and generally much less remarkable than our normal weekly football previews? Good. Saturday’s game will be no different.
Verdict: Stanford beats Washington State, 48-17
Willys DeVoll is the editor-in-chief and founder of The Daily Axe, a Stanford sports site.