WASHINGTON STATE AT
It looks like there may be a changing of the guard in the Pac-12 North. Stanford has represented the division four times in the seven-year history of the Pac-12 Championship Game, but the Cougars are on the prowl and look as strong as ever.
Washington State enters the game at 6-1 and on a three-game winning-streak. The Cougars lone loss was on a short week at USC on a Friday night. WSU had a chance to kick a game-tying field in the final minutes of the game, but it was blocked and the Cougars lost, 39-36. Since then, Washington State beat Pac-12 South-leading Utah, 28-24, Oregon State, 56-37, and most recently, #12 Oregon, 34-20.
Stanford started the year 4-0, but stumbled at the end of September and early October with losses to Notre Dame, 38-17, and Utah, 40-21. The Cardinal came back last Thursday and beat a gritty Arizona State team, 20-13.
Statistically, Washington State dominates this game on paper. The Cougars have the top passing offense in the country and are ranked 20th in total offense. Surprisingly, the Washington State defense is actually ranked higher than the offense, checking in at 19th in total defense. Stanford, on the other hand, ranks 105th in total offense and 80th in total defense.
If Stanford wants any chance to keep this game competitive, they’ll need to have their best passing defense on display. The Cougars and senior quarterback Gardner Minshew, the reigning Rose Bowl Game Pac-12 Player of the Week, throw for 400 yards and score 40.7 points per game. Minshew spreads the ball around to a variety of receivers, with seven different Cougars have at least 20 catches this year. Minshew leads the country in passing attempts (364) and completions (254). He has thrown for 300 yards in every game this season and is second in the nation in passing yards (2,745).
Under head coach David Shaw, Stanford has typically had a power rushing attack. This season, however, Heisman-hopeful senior running back Bryce Love has had trouble staying healthy and on the field, leading to the Cardinal ranking 126th in rushing offense at only 91.6 yards per game. Love, who ran for 2,118 yards last season and eclipsed the 100-yard mark in 12 of 13 games, has surpassed the century mark just once this season. Against Arizona State last week, Love carried the ball just 11 times for 21 yards as he was bothered by an ankle injury that has kept him off the field in several games this season.
The one area that Stanford has a significant statistical advantage is in penalties and penalty yardage. The Cardinal are one of the most disciplined teams in the country, averaging just 5.5 penalties per game for 41 yards. Washington State averages nearly 8 penalties per game for 77 yards.
The odds seem to be stacked against Stanford, but if the Cardinal have a healthier Bryce Love, they should be able to finally find some running room and try to keep the vaunted Cougar offense off the field. If Washington State is able to get off to a fast start, Stanford will be forced to try to throw into the Cougar defense that allows just 180 yard per game through the air.