No. 7 Stanford seeks 14th straight win
Seventh-ranked Stanford will be looking to set a school record with a 14th consecutive victory on Saturday. Washington State will be looking to avoid another fourth-quarter collapse.
Actually, Washington State might be pleased to be leading in the fourth quarter of a game in which they are 21-point underdogs at home in Pullman.
Stanford (5-0, 3-0 Pac-12) is averaging 46 points per game while allowing only 10, and has yet to face a stiff challenge this season.
''They have not been in a close game,'' Washington State coach Paul Wulff said. ''We know we've got a great challenge on our hands.''
Washington State (3-2, 1-1) is much improved over the past three dreadful seasons, but has to figure out a way to slow Heisman Trophy candidate Andrew Luck and the rest of the Cardinal offense.
''They look more athletic,'' Stanford coach David Shaw said. ''They've given up a couple of big plays, but they've done a good job of slowing teams down.''
Luck has completed 73 percent of his passes for 1,383 yards, with 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Luck made his first start in Pullman in 2009, leading Stanford to victory.
''They've always played us tough, and they're definitely on the rise,'' Luck said. ''It's always tough in Pullman on the road up there.''
Chris Owusu is the top receiver, with 25 catches for 309 yards. But tight ends Coby Fleener (five), Zach Ertz (three) and Levine Toilolo (one) have accounted for nine of Stanford's 15 touchdown receptions. They provide a unique offensive weapon for the Cardinal.
''We are able to put them on the field and have a run-heavy formation with two tight ends,'' Shaw said. ''On the next play, with the same group of guys, we can spread them out and look like a four-receiver set.''
Stanford's defense is equally impressive. The Cardinal have allowed 53 points in five games, on a total of six touchdowns, and registered 17 sacks. Chase Thomas has five sacks.
''Chase is slippery,'' Shaw said. ''He's got all the moves.''
Washington State's losses involved fourth quarter collapses where it relinquished leads at San Diego State and UCLA. Still, the Cougars are averaging 40 points per game behind backup quarterback Marshall Lobbestael and a solid receiving corps.
Lobbestael has played since starter Jeff Tuel fractured his collarbone early in the first game. He has completed nearly 65 percent of his passes for 1,570 yards, with 15 touchdowns and four interceptions.
''We had an opportunity to be 5-0,'' Wulff said. ''Not a lot of people can say that when the backup quarterback is playing.''
Tuel was cleared to play earlier this week, but Wulff said it would be a game time decision if he sees any action.
The top WSU receivers are Marquess Wilson (31 catches, 638 yards) Isiah Barton (26 catches, 317 yards) and Jared Karstetter (24 catches, 254 yards). The Cougars also average 142 yards on the ground.
But Wulff acknowledged his offense is likely to struggle.
''We'll do everything we can to move the ball and score points,'' Wulff said. ''But we're going to have to make some plays on defense, be solid against the run.''
Wulff said that if his team doesn't turn the ball over and can control the clock for 36 minutes, as it did in the loss to UCLA, ''that's a great way to have chance to win the ballgame.''
Shaw said his team has played well, but needs better production from its receivers.
''To hit on all cylinders we've got to continue to use those receivers and get plays from them,'' Shaw said.
He expects Washington State to get plenty of passing yards, and isn't too worried about that. The Cardinal allow 240 passing yards per game, but only have given up four touchdown passes.
''Passing yards given up is the biggest misleading stat there is,'' Shaw said. ''We've had large leads so teams pass the ball more. We are able to stop teams from scoring touchdowns and field goals.''
The Cardinal lead the Pac-12 in rushing defense, total defense, scoring defense and sacks per game. They have not been scored on in the first quarter and have allowed six points in the third quarter this season.