The Stanford Cardinal squeaked out a 24-17 victory over the Washington State Cougars on Saturday, improving to 6-2 (4-1) on the season.
The Cardinal and Cougars were tied at 10 at halftime, but Stanford was able to score two more touchdowns and held the Cougars out of the endzone in the game's final seconds.
Quarterback Josh Nunes struggled again, throwing for 136 yards and a touchdown on just 7-15 passing. Rule of Tree blogger Scott Allen weighed in on Stanford's passing issues following the game:
There were drops, sure, but Marqise Lee and Tavon Austin wouldn't have made Nunes look like even an average Division I quarterback yesterday. Switching QBs midseason normally doesn't work, but the offense can't possibly look any more broke than it did against the Cougars. Here's a proposal: open next week's game against Colorado with 10 consecutive passing plays. If Nunes doesn't complete at least seven of them, put in Kevin Hogan.
Despite the shaky quarterback play, the Cardinal improved to the No. 15 spot in the AP and USA Today Coaches Polls after the win. Next Saturday, Nov. 3, Stanford will take on the Colorado Buffaloes. The Buffaloes are 1-7 and were blown out by the Oregon Ducks over the weekend, 70-14.
Up 17-10 in the fourth quarter, the Cardinal got the cushion they needed when safety Ed Reynolds stepped in front of a Jeff Tuel pass and returned an interception 25 yards for a touchdown and a 24-10 lead.
Washington State staged a comeback, however, first when Tuel capped a 12-play, 75-yard drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Kristoff Williams. The Cougars got the ball one final time, and drove all the way to the Stanford 9-yard line with under a minute to play.
The game-tying drive ended when Tuel was forced into an intentional grounding (which comes with a ten-second runoff), then sacked. Washington State had no timeouts, and time expired.
The defensive score was huge for Stanford and its struggling offense. Washington State outgained the Cardinal, 385-256.
Box Score Hero: Wide receiverJamal-Rashad Patterson, Stanford. Patterson caught only one pass for the Cardinal, but it was for a 70-yard touchdown. The big play helped the limping Stanford offense do just enough for the win.
Rankings Ramifications: While the win was underwhelming, three teams directly ahead of Stanford lost, so the Cardinal may move up a slot or two anyway.
But Did They Cover? Stanford was a 25-point favorite, and did not cover.
The Cardinal opened the second half with a deliberate scoring drive, going 78 yards on 13 plays, capped when Ryan Hewitt scored a touchdown on a 1-yard run. Stanford ran the ball ten times on the drive, with a couple 20-plus-yard throws from Josh Nunes.
The two completions for 43 yards on the drive were good for Nunes, who is otherwise 6-14 for 129 yards on the day. Despite the lead, Stanford has been outgained by Washington State, 257-214. Stepfan Taylor has rushed 15 times for only 33 yards on the day. Jamal-Rashad Patterson leads the Cardinal in receiving with a 70-yard reception.
After taking a 10-7 lead in the second quarter, Stanford allowed a field-goal drive as Andrew Furney tied the game at 10-10 with a 24-yard kick as time expired in the first half.
The No. 17 Stanford Cardinal takes on the Washington State Cougars on Saturday, and Stanford fans would be forgiven for not being sure exactly which team is going to show up. Stanford's offense has been fairly inconsistent in 2012, scoring 50 or more points in two of their wins, but struggling to get to 21 points in three other victories. Neither loss the team has posted exceeded 13 points.
They mark six yards per play as the point the Cardinal needs to hit. They're 4-0 when they do so, and 1-2 when they don't. (The sole win being the 20-17 season-opener over the San Jose State Spartans.) Rule of Tree calls back to the 2009 Stanford vs. USC game, and highlights the way the running game closed things off:
This was pretty much the end of each game: the offensive line creating huge holes against tired defensive linemen, with Stepfan Taylor darting through to burn clock. At the time, the clock was more important than the score, and the offense accomplished that goal. (On the other hand, given the pillage the Stanford OL inflicted on each team, not scoring the dagger is a disappointment.)
So what happened? Those two performances suggest that the offense can be pretty functional against good-to-reasonably-good opposing defenses. Well, inefficiency: Jordan Williamson missed two eminently makeable field goals; the offense couldn't convert red zone opportunities; the offense had too many turnovers.
Rule of Tree concludes that switching out Josh Nunes isn't likely to help the offense. The junior has a 53-percent completion percentage on the season, for 1,484 yards with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions. The difference is likely to come down to execution: fewer penalties, fewer dropped balls. The full post contains a lot more, so don't miss it.