Palo Alto, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - An unstoppable force will meet an immovable object on Friday night, as the aerial assault of Washington State matches up with the defensive might of the Stanford Cardinal.
It may take all week for Washington State to catch its breath following last Saturday's showdown with California. Led by an NCAA-record 734 passing yards from Connor Halliday, the Cougars nearly toppled the Golden Bears, but a missed field goal in the waning moments saddled them with a 60-59 setback. Washington State has suffered a few close calls this season, falling to 2-4 despite tight games with Rutgers (41-38) and Oregon (38-31).
Stanford nearly dropped out of the national rankings after suffering a 17-14 loss at Notre Dame. The setback was another tough one for the Cardinal, who are 3-2 overall and ranked 25th in this week's AP poll, with their two losses coming by a combined six points. That includes a 13-10 setback against USC, part of a 1-1 split for Stanford in league play.
In a series that dates back to 1936, Stanford holds a 38-25-1 edge against Washington State. Last year's meeting was a brutal one for the Cougars, who were routed at home, 55-17. As a result, the Cardinal have won the last six encounters.
Halliday absolutely shredded the record books against California, breaking the NCAA record for passing yards in a single game. He did so on 49-of-70 passing while tallying six touchdowns. His work helped the Cougars set a school record with 812 yards of total offense. Unfortunately, the effort came in a loss.
"Aside from the record, we lost the game. Everyone is upset," said wide receiver River Cracraft, who had 172 yards and three scores on 11 catches in the losing effort. "We could've used some stops on defense and we could've used a couple extra touchdowns on offense. We just all need to play better."
It's tough to imagine the Cougars playing any better offensively, at least in terms of throwing the ball. With Halliday at the helm, the Cougars lead the nation in passing offense (523 ypg), averaging 90 yards more per game than No. 2 Western Kentucky.
Halliday is obviously the key to the attack and on pace to smash many more records as the season progresses. He has already eclipsed the 3,000-yard mark, while completing 67.8 percent of his pass attempts. He also has piled up 26 passing touchdowns, while tossing only seven interceptions in 369 pass attempts.
It is difficult to determine who Halliday's favorite receiver is, with so many different players getting in the mix. Vince Mayle (51 receptions, 703 yards, six TDs) leads the team in receptions and yards, but Isiah Myers (45 receptions, 574 yards, seven TDs), River Cracraft (43 receptions, 576 yards, six TDs) and Dom Williams (24 receptions, 496 yards, six TDs) are also enjoying phenomenal seasons.
At this point, it's futile to expect coach Mike Leach to turn to the run game. The Cougars have only 339 total rushing yards this season, while averaging 2.8 yards per carry.
It also seems unlikely that the Cougars are going to morph into a defensive power any time soon. Washington State may be ripping up opponents when it has the ball, but that has given the opposition plenty of chances, leading to an average allowance of 438.2 yards and 35.2 points per game.
That is good news for a Stanford offense that has talent but is struggling to score. The Cardinal are next-to-last in the Pac-12 in total yards (371.6 ypg) and at the very bottom in terms of points (24.8 ppg). The problem has been in the red zone, with the team sitting last in the conference in that area, recording scores on only 66.7 percent of their chances. Even when they do score, the Cardinal settle for field goals far too often, scoring touchdowns on only 47.6 percent of their red zone visits. No other team in the league is below 50 percent.
Kevin Hogan leads the team from under center. He has completed a solid 65.4 percent of his pass attempts for 1,041 yards with twice as many touchdowns (eight) as interceptions (four).
His best weapon is Ty Montgomery, who leads the team in receptions (30) and receiving yards (287) while tied for the most touchdown catches (three). However, his big-play ability has been limited as he is averaging only 9.6 yards per reception. Devon Cajuste (16 receptions, 223 yards, three TDs) is the second-best option.
There is no one lead back for the team, with Remound Wright (180 yards, TD), Barry Sanders (167 yards) and Kelsey Young (162 yards) all sharing the load.
What was perhaps most disappointing about Stanford's loss to Notre Dame was that a defensive misstep led to the winning score. With just over a minute to play, Fighting Irish quarterback Everett Golson threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Ben Koyack for what turned out to be the deciding score. For a team that is allowing a Pac-12-best 232.4 yards per game, such mistakes are surprising and difficult to live with.
"I was on the far side covering underneath, so I didn't get to see much of it," Junior safety Zach Hoffpauir said of the touchdown. "It's on the defense. We have to stop them no matter who it is. Not one play wins a game or loses a game."