PULLMAN, WA - This Saturday, Washington State is hosting the Stanford Cardinal in Pullman. Kick off is slated for 1:30 P.M. Both teams are coming into this game with a 4-5 season record, although Stanford has a 3-4 Pac-12 record, while WSU has enjoyed only one conference win out of their six tries; however, Washington State has enjoyed recent success against Stanford, as they have won the last three meetings against the Cardinal (2016-2018). Both teams are also coming off of losses in their previous games. WSU fell at the hands of Cal, and Stanford lost to Colorado. The Cougs have also seen three defensive players leave the program this past week. Linebacker Fa'avae Fa'avae has apparently transferred out of the program, and cornerbacks Daniel Isom and Trey Davis have reportedly been kicked off of the team for an unspecified violation of team rules. WSU has yet to comment on what rules the players may have violated. WSU's already thin defense, now has to adjust to losing three players in a week.
The Pac-12 overall has been full of inconsistency other than Oregon and Utah, so what can we expect from this matchup?
When Stanford has the ball:
The biggest question for Stanford's offense this week (as it has been all season), is the health of starting quarterback K.J. Costello. He has missed four games this season, as well as parts of others due to injury, and Cardinal head coach David Shaw has said that he is questionable for this Saturday. Stanford does have a reliable backup in Davis Mills waiting in the wings if Costello is unable to play, so Stanford isn't in disarray without their starter. Mills has played in six games this season, and has thrown five touchdowns against one interception in 110 passing attempts. He started and threw for 293 yards and a touchdown against Washington, and preceded that with a three-touchdown performance against Oregon State.
Stanford has a reliable receiving core in Connor Wedington, Michael Wilson, and tightend Colby Parkinson. However the receiver the WSU defense will need to keep it's eye on is Simi Fehoko, who is averaging nearly 30 yards per catch on his 12 receptions this season. He has four touchdowns, and he has topped the 90-yard mark in three of the last four games with just three catches each time. WSU ranks 75th nationally in explosive passing plays allowed rate, so Fehoko is likely salivating looking at a rather porous defense.
Fortunately for the Coug's defense, the Cardinal don't have an extremely strong rushing attack like in years past. Senior Cameron Scarlett has carried the ball the most, 172 times for 763 yards and five touchdowns. Stanford's offense has been below average overall this season, and a big part of that trend, has been Stanford's struggle on the offensive line, a surprising weakness considering Stanford has sent many offensive lineman to the NFL. Stanford’s offense has allowed the 108th highest havoc rate. That includes 57 tackles for loss, 22 of which have been sacks. Unfortunately, WSU hasn't been able to generate sacks regularly, so both teams might meet somewhere in the middle.
One thing Stanford has struggled to do is finish offensive drives with touchdowns. The Cardinal rank 101st in this category nationally, so if WSU can employ a bend but don't break mentality, they can likely force Stanford into multiple field goal scenarios.
Interestingly, that’s where WSU has been at its best. The Cougs are bad at most everything on defense, but they rank 45th in scoring opportunity touchdown rate—giving up six on 50 percent of those drives. Wazzu is 46th in redzone touchdown rate, allowing touchdowns about 60 percent of the time.
When WSU has the ball:
While Stanford doesn't know who will be starting at quarterback on Saturday, it will certainly be without their best defensive back in Paulson Adebo, who suffered an injury against Colorado. He has four of the team's seven interceptions. Coach Shaw has said the Cardinal may also be without starting safety Malik Antione, as he was listed as doubtful earlier this week.
Those are potentially two big blows to the Stanford defense, which ranks 120th in passing success rate, and it just so happens that it is facing a WSU offense that ranks third nationally in passing success rate. The Cardinal do a well enough job keeping big plays from happening, as they rank in the mid-50's when it comes to explosive plays, meaning WSU may have to nickel and dime their way down the field a little bit more.
Stanford has struggled mightily against the run, ranking 117th in the nation against the run; meaning WSU running back max Borghi could have himself another 100-yard rushing day. Cougs' quarterback Anthony Gordon will need to be aware of opportunities to gash into Stanford's defense with a well placed Borghi running play.
The inability to get into the endzone has been the Cougs kryptonite in their last two losses to Oregon and Cal. Stanford isn't quite on those teams' level of stopping their opponents at the goal line, but shouldn't be taken lightly either. If Stanford is able to limit big plays through the air, then WSU will have to capitalize on their scoring opportunities and convert them into touchdowns.
This game will likely come down to whoever executes best in the redzone... yes I realize that sounds obvious. WSU will likely be in position to score on a more regular basis throughout the game, so if they are executing well, the Cougs could have a chance to pull away, (Vegas has them favored by 12!) However, if Stanford is able to stop WSU in the redzone more often than not, plus break a few big plays on offense, they could quickly turn the tide in their favor.