The Washington State Cougars are feeling very confident as they take on the No. 5 Stanford Cardinal in Century Link field today. Part of that is the pair of tune-up games that WSU dominated in the last two weeks on both offense and defense. Another might be the fact that Stanford won’t be at full strength at kickoff. But if the Cougs hope to pull off the upset today, their run defense will have to step up in a major way.
Mike Leach teams aren’t generally known for their defensive abilities, but this WSU team has looked strong so far this season defensively. They held the USC Trojans to just seven points in their 10-7 upset to kick off the conference schedule in Week 2 and secured the shutout last week against the rival Idaho Vandals. The most impressive aspect of this defense has been the secondary as Wazzu ranks No. 2 in the country in pass defense but against Stanford they need more from their front seven.
Stanford plans to set the tone with their running game as always do. The Cardinal are averaging over 200 yards per game on the ground as they pound the ball between the tackles to wear their opponents down and control the tempo with time of possession. Washington State has gotten gashed by both of the solid running teams they’ve faced this season (Auburn Tigers and USC) and need to plug the holes up front in a hurry.
They’ll get some help with the absence of All-American David Yankey in the Stanford offensive front. The senior leader will be away from the team dealing with a family issue which opens up a void of leadership and talent in the Stanford interior that David Shaw will have to cover up. That could give WSU a “weak link” to attack to get penetration and create negative plays in the running game.
If they can bottle up the Stanford rushing attack, that will force the Cardinal into an uncomfortable position of needing long pass plays down the field. So far this season, the WSU secondary has been tough in coverage and has made some big plays with turnovers. Forcing turnovers and keeping Stanford off the scoreboard will be absolutely pivotal in their upset big today.
It won’t be easy and they’ll need a Herculean effort from their front seven, but WSU has a clear plan of attack when trying to upset Stanford. They have to sell out on stopping the run and keep the Cardinal bottled up, forcing them to do things on offense they aren’t used to doing.
If they can’t get Kevin Hogan and the Cardinal offense out of their comfort zone by taking away the running game, the Cougs will find it nearly impossible to trip up the Pac 12 heavyweight.