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Notebook: Washington State

Oct 14, 2021

THE FOUNDATION OF the Pac-12 was the Pac-8, a collection of schools from California and the Northwest affiliated since 1964. 

Stanford and Washington State, in particular, have been conference rivals continuously since 1962 in the six-team Athletic Association of Western Universities along with Cal, USC, UCLA, and Washington. But among Stanford's traditional foes, the rivalry with perhaps the least attention is the one against the Cougars, Stanford's opponent Saturday in Pullman. 

Yet, this series is at the top of the most hotly-contested Stanford plays. From 2001 to now, Stanford's most evenly matched conference series is with USC. They've split 22 meetings, playing thriller after thriller. But the next-closest in that span (discounting Colorado and Utah for sample size) is Washington State, with Stanford holding a 10-9 edge. Cal is next with the Cardinal holding an 11-9 advantage in that span.

It's an odd series, one that Stanford leads, 40-29-1. WSU has won the past four after a Stanford win streak of eight. In 1971, Stanford was in the midst of a Rose Bowl season only to lose at home to the Cougars, 24-21, on a last-second field goal. 

On Halloween night, 2015, Stanford's Rose Bowl campaign nearly was derailed in Pullman. Stanford, with Christian McCaffrey held largely in check, survived when Washington State missed a 43-yard field goal try as time expired. That 30-28 victory marks the last time Stanford has beaten the Cougars. 

"These games are all crazy, they're all different," said David Shaw, Stanford's Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. "We've played them on Halloween twice, in the middle of the night. We've played them in the rain and sleet … just crazy games that come down to the fourth quarter.

"I feel like we have a rivalry with the entire Northwest, and we play in a conference with evenly matched teams that have talent."


QB Kevin Hogan's running was vital in Stanford's most recent victory over Washington State, in 2015. Photo by Bob Drebin/

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STANFORD HAS POSITIVE news on an injury: Placekicker Joshua Karty is probable for Saturday -- welcome given that Karty's backup, Emmet Kenney, was injured on a made extra-point try against Arizona State last week. Punter Ryan Sanborn would handle the kicking duties again if Karty can't go. 

However, Stanford's receiving group took another hit with an injury to John Humphreys, who is out Saturday. With Michael Wilson and Brycen Tremayne also out, Elijah Higgins and tight end Benjamin Yurosek are the only regular pass-catchers active for this game. Higgins and Yurosek combined for 13 catches for 228 yards against ASU. The expected return of sophomore Bryce Farrell should help.

In Humphreys' place, Silas Starr could receives his first start. The sophomore out of Portland, Oregon, made his first collegiate catch last week, for eight yards. Two-way player Tucker Fisk (DE/TE) also is out with injury.
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IN FRIDAY'S 28-10 loss at Arizona State, Stanford crossed the 50-yard line on 10 of its 11 possessions. Though the Cardinal only reached the red zone twice, it scored both times. Stanford earned at least one first down on all but two possessions and its defense shut out ASU in the second half. 

"I don't believe we were outmatched," Shaw said. "We were outplayed."

Shaw cautions making judgments based on stats. For instance, Stanford was outrushed, 255-13, though the Cardinal outpassed the Sun Devils, 356-175. 

"We ran the ball decently at the beginning of the game, cracked a couple of runs in that first drive," said Shaw. But the Cardinal also had to react to what the ASU defense was doing, which often was loading the box with more defenders than blockers at the line of scrimmage and forcing Stanford to pass. By holding a lead, there was no reason for ASU to change.   

"We're going to take what the defense gives us, and it's not a negative," Shaw said. "I've got a quarterback (Tanner McKee) who throws for 350, because they're playing man and because we attacked down the field."
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STANFORD COMPLETED A demanding first half of the regular season at 3-3, playing five teams that have been ranked in the AP Top 25 and going 2-3 in those. After Saturday, the Cardinal receives a much-needed bye. 

"The challenge for us is to really get to that October groove and start playing our best football," Shaw said. "We've played a lot of really good football, but not our best as of yet. The slate that we've had ahead of us, that's now behind us. I don't know if anybody in America has played what we've played, with five ranked opponents."


Joshua Karty. Photo by Dave Bernal/

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MIDWAY THROUGH THE season, all but Arizona State (3-0) and Utah (2-0) have losses in Pac-12 play. In the North Division, led by Oregon State (2-1), all six have a loss. 

"As we've seen, in the Pac-12, all bets are off," outside linebacker Gabe Reid said. "It doesn't matter who's ranked and who's not. We have to play our best game every week to have a chance to win." 
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STANFORD FACES A Nick Rolovich-coached Cougar team for the first time. The Cardinal expects to see a run-pass option, but with a twist. 

"Their RPO game is dangerous," Shaw said. "A lot of people go RPOs and throw slants, and these guys go RPOs and throw it over your head. If you get caught looking back at the run, you don't give up an eight-yard slant, you give up a 40-yard touchdown. Handling their RPO game is going to be huge."

Stanford's defense can combat that, first, by getting a push from the defensive line into the Cougar backfield. 

"The pressure goes on a lot of the linebackers and the secondary," Shaw said. "Where are your eyes? Because if you're not looking for the run, they're just going to keep running. But if you lose your pass responsibility looking for the run, then it's the RPO game that kills you. 

"It's being able to mix up the coverages, mix up the looks, but at the same time have our guys have their eyes where they're supposed to be and handle the responsibilities."

Reid said the key is, "Being assignment sound. We have to play the run first and then rally. Let the guys in the defensive backfield take care of RPO pass stuff and make sure we're stopping the run." 
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Gabe Reid. Photo by Glen Mitchell/

REID IS A fifth-year senior originally recruited as part of the freshman class of 2015, before he took a two-year LDS mission to American Samoa. That class included Bryce Love, Justin Reid, Jake Bailey, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Trenton Irwin, and Quenton Meeks. Gabe Reid and sixth-year outside linebacker Jordan Fox are the only members of that class still on the team. 

With Reid recruited at least since his junior season at Utah's Timpview High, he's had involvement with the Cardinal football program since at least 2013. 

"It's been a while," Reid said. "I always get teased by the guys that I'm an old man. It feels like a long time, but at the same time, it feels like time has flown by. I've enjoyed every minute here at Stanford."

Reid had 10 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss against ASU. A week earlier, against Oregon, he had a key interception. Overall, he's having a strong year. He's leading the team in tackles for loss (4.5) and is tied for third on the team in tackles (34).

"it's just getting back to the basics and relying on my strengths," he said. "Being that it's my fifth year, I'm able to think less and play faster. That's been a big thing for me, not having to second guess myself when I'm dropping on a coverage or coming on a blitz. It's just really knowing my assignment and being able to just play fast and play to my strengths."
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THE FINAL WORD is from running back Nathaniel Peat, about finishing this opening seven-game stretch before the bye week: 

"We knew what was coming ahead of us and how tough our schedule was," Peat said. "So, managing to get through this first half, taking a break and resetting for this next half is very important for us, whether it's resting our bodies, our minds, or just getting through school."