Washington State's defense was expecting Stanford to line up and try to run it down the middle. They weren't prepared for the air assault the No. 5 Cardinal threw at them.
Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan picked apart the Cougars, throwing for 286 yards and three touchdowns, and Stanford won its 12th straight with a 55-17 rout of Washington State on Saturday night.
"You see Stanford, you think they're big and physical, you think they'll try to just run it down the middle," linebacker Darryl Monroe said. "What we saw from them tonight was a little different."
Washington State (3-2, 1-1) was riding its first three-game winning streak since 2006 and was trying to start 4-1 for the first time since 2003, the last time the Cougars went to a bowl game. Instead of pulling off a stunning upset that would have signaled another step in their resurgence, the Cougars were left physically beaten and battered by the Cardinal.
Hogan connected with Devon Cajuste on touchdowns of 57 and 33 yards in the first half then found Michael Rector on a 45-yard TD. That pass was part of a third-quarter blitz where the Cardinal scored 21 points as part of a stretch where they ran just two offensive plays and knocked out Washington State starting quarterback Connor Halliday.
"We've got playmakers outside and sooner or later people are going to have to respect them," Hogan said. "I'm just going to try and get the ball to them as much as I can."
Jordan Richards and Trent Murphy both returned interceptions 30 yards for touchdowns 2:04 apart in the third quarter as the Cardinal (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) quickly turned a 17-3 halftime advantage into a 38-3 lead.
Richards stepped in front of a pass from Halliday that floated toward the sideline after the quarterback was hit hard by Murphy. Halliday was slow to get up, but went out for the next play and after throwing a swing pass — without being hit — grabbed near his left hip and had to be helped off the field.
Stanford nearly knocked out his replacement, Austin Apodaca, on his second play when Apodaca stayed on the ground holding his midsection after a big hit from Kevin Anderson.
"I should have thrown it away," Apodaca said. "I got out of the pocket and got lit up pretty hard by some dude. It just kind of knocked the wind out of me, so I stayed on the ground trying to catch my breath a little bit."
On the next series, Murphy jumped and stole Apodaca's screen pass at the line of scrimmage for Stanford's second defensive touchdown.
"I just tried to do a little too much at the beginning," Apodaca said. "Actually, throughout the whole game I tried to do too much, to be honest with you."
Apodaca was 15 of 29 for 138 yards and two late TD passes. Halliday was 24 of 36 for 184 yards and an interception.
Hogan finished 16 of 25 passing, his only mistake coming on a second-quarter pass into the end zone that floated and was intercepted. Hogan was replaced early in the fourth quarter, but Stanford kept scoring, finishing with 560 total yards.
"They didn't make mistakes, we made mistakes," Washington State receiver Gabe Marks said.
Washington State's defense had been a strength during its strong start, but gave up 311 total yards in the first half, more than they had allowed in any game total during their winning streak.
Most of that was due to Hogan, who was nearly perfect before halftime. He missed on his first pass, then connected on six straight, including the touchdown tosses to Cajuste and was excellent on third down. Hogan was 3 of 4 passing on third down and added another conversion with his legs.
"They have good receivers and whatnot, but at times he had as long as he wanted to throw the ball," Washington State coach Mike Leach said.
The Cougars tied the game at 3 on Jordan Williamson's 28-yard field goal on their first possession, then were held scoreless on the next 11 drives as Stanford built a 48-3 lead.
Apodaca finally got Washington State into the end zone with a 47-yard pass to Marks with 8:24 left, and then threw for another score to Rickey Galvin in the final minute.