STANFORD, Calif. -- No. 17 Stanford had more trouble than expected with Washington State, as the struggling Cardinal offense did just enough to provide Stanford with a 24-17 victory on Saturday at Stanford Stadium.
A Stanford defensive touchdown in the fourth quarter proved to be the decisive play for the Cardinal, which survived even though the Cougars outgained Stanford 385-256 and had 25 first downs compared with 13 for the Cardinal.
The Cougars nearly tied the game in the closing minutes, getting a first down at the Stanford 8-yard line with 40 seconds left. But Jeff Tuel was call for intentional grounding when he was rushed by Usua Amanan, and Henry Anderson sacked Tuel to end the game.
The Cougars (2-6, 0-5 Pac-12) lost their fifth in a row, but their defense kept them in the game against Stanford (6-2, 4-1).
The Cougars entered the game ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in rushing defense, but they limited Stanford's power run game. Stepfan Taylor, who had a career-high 189 yards last week against Cal, managed only 58 yards on 21 carries against Washington State.
Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes completed 7 of 15 passes for 136 yards, while Tuel was 43 of 60 for 401 yards and two scores. But he also had one costly interception. The Cougars did nothing on the ground, managing minus-16 rushing yards.
Stanford broke a 10-10 halftime tie with a 78-yard touchdown drive on its first possession of the third quarter. A 20-yard pass to Zach Ertz, a 23-yard pass to Drew Terrell and a pass interference call on the Cougars were the key plays on the drive, which ended with a 1-yard TD run by Ryan Hewitt that gave the Cardinal a 17-10 lead.
The Cardinal gave itself some breathing room when Ed Reynolds got his fourth interception of the season and returned it 25 yards for a Stanford touchdown that made it 24-10 with 10:43 left.
However, Washington State marched 75 yards for a touchdown to make it 24-17, with Tuel hitting Kristoff Williams on a 10-yard scoring pass with 6:29 to go.
Stanford was fortunate to be tied 10-10 at halftime as the Cardinal offense did very little in the first two quarters. Nunes was 3 for 8 for 74 yards in the first half, and almost all of those yards came on a 70-yard touchdown pass.
Taylor had 13 yards on six carries at halftime.
Meanwhile, Tuel completed 27 of 34 first-half passes for 253 yards, and he led the Cougars on a late second-quarter drive that culminated in a game-tying field goal on the final play of the half.
Tuel was sacked seven times in the first half, when the Cougars had minus-30 yards rushing.
Stanford took an early 3-0 lead on Jordan Williamson's 42-yard field goal on the Cardinal's first possession. The Cardinal took advantage of good field position, taking over at its 42-yard line before going 33 yards to set up the field goal with 8:23 left in the opening quarter.
Washington State took a 7-3 lead at 8:13 of the second period with an 88-yard scoring drive. A 43-yard reception by Dominique Williams was the key play, putting the ball at the Cardinal 6-yard line. After a roughing-the-passer penalty, Williams caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from Tuel in the back left corner of the end zone.
Stanford regained the lead two plays later when Nunes connected with a wide-open Jamal-Rashad Patterson on a 70-yard pass to make it 10-7.
Washington State tied the score 10-10 when Andrew Furney kicked a 24-yard field goal on the final play of the half. That came one play after Tuel completed a 20-yard pass to Kristoff Williams.
NOTES: Despite sunny, 77-degree weather, Stanford Stadium was only about one-quarter full when the game started. Presumably, the caliber of Stanford's opponent and the San Francisco Giants' participation in Game 3 of the World Series on Saturday accounted for the poor attendance ... Tuel replaced Connor Halliday as Washington State's starting quarterback on Saturday. It was Tuel's first start since the Sept. 8 game against Eastern Washington. Tuel left that game with a leg injury, and Halliday started the next five games, although Tuel played in the past three games when Halliday was ineffective. ... Stanford wide receiver Ty Montgomery missed his third straight game with a leg injury.