Stanford Staves Off Washington State
STANFORD, Calif. -- This was the type of football game fraught with danger for No. 12 Stanford, coming off a bye week and playing a last-place team. Therefore, the closeness of the result - a 38-28 Stanford victory over Washington State on Saturday at Stanford Stadium - should have been predictable.
Stanford (6-1 overall, 3-1 in the Pac-10) built a 31-7 third-quarter lead, but was unable to coast, with the Cougars outscoring the Cardinal, 21-7, down the stretch. Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck was hit hard and often, especially early in the game, and the Cardinal had to withstand two onsides kicks in the final minutes.
"We got the win, and a win is a win," Luck said. "It was a little disappointing. We were a little sluggish, not sharp. We didn't get in a rhythm. We are a bit frustrated. We know we can do better."
But, in praise of the Cardinal, the team did what it had to do, even when off its game:
Sophomore running back Stepfan Taylor rushed for 143 yards on 27 carries and scored two touchdowns. It was his fourth consecutive 100-yard performance, making him one of four in school history - joining Toby Gerhart, Darrin Nelson and Tommy Vardell - to accomplish the feat.
Andrew Luck had an efficient day as well, completing 20 of 28 passes for 190 yards and three touchdowns, with one interception.
In all, a 439-yard offensive effort was below the team average of 471. And the Cardinal's 388 yards allowed also was slightly subpar from its average of 358. However, Stanford exceeded its rushing average of 210 by 39 yards. And not only did Taylor have a big day, but freshman Anthony Wilkerson gained a collegiate-high 55 yards in nine carries.
But such are the fortunes of the Stanford football team these days, when it can improve to 6-1 - its best start since its 1970 Rose Bowl season - despite not playing its best game. Stanford also played without starting strong safety Delano Howell and receiver/kick returner Chris Owusu, both out with injuries.
"We did more things right today than they did and got the win," Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said. "Always happy with a win, especially in conference."
Stanford did most of its damage in the second quarter after the Cougars (1-7, 0-5) closed to within 10-7 on the first of Jeff Tuel's four touchdown passes with 10:50 left in the second quarter. With a quick response to WSU's score, Stanford re-took the momentum. The Cardinal embarked on a 21-0 surge.
Stanford put its offense in his hands and the Texas native responded by running for 51 of Stanford's 73 yards on the team's ensuing drive. On the next, Stanford drove 80 yards, mostly by going to the air.
Luck hit tight end Coby Fleener for 19 yards down the left sideline, and later threw twice to Whalen, first getting a pass interference call, and then picking up 28 yards to the 5. Moments later, Stanford lined up with three linemen and two tight ends on the right side in a power alignment and Taylor followed them into the end zone with 47 seconds left in the half for a 24-7 lead.
An interception by Taylor Skaufel off teammate Shayne Skov's tip gave Stanford another opportunity that the Cardinal converted into points with a 17-yard pass to Doug Baldwin in the deep left corner. Baldwin leaped over a defender to make a spectacular grab for a 31-7 lead.
"It was a perfect throw," Baldwin said. "You expect no less from Andrew Luck. He placed the ball where the defender didn't matter."
A 4-yard touchdown pass from Luck to tight end Fleener - just over the outstretched fingertips of a defender -- with 6:06 left gave Stanford a 38-14 lead that was enough to prevent the Cougars from a realistic comeback attempt. But Tuel's 74-yard pass in stride to Marquess Wilson with 35 seconds left - Tuel's third touchdown pass of the quarter -- made the score much more interesting.
The Cardinal must toughen up as it heads to Seattle to play Washington next Saturday, before returning home for another tough one, against Arizona on Nov. 6.
"We need to work on everything," Luck said. "Things can run away from you like that and we have an opportunity to do something special. We better take that opportunity and make something happen."