Stanford wins, but its offense needs to improve

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

Stanford's 24-17 victory over Washington State on Oct. 27 kept the No. 17 Cardinal in the Rose Bowl hunt, but it was far from a satisfying victory.
The Cougars (2-6, 0-5 in the Pac-12) lost their fifth straight game but outplayed the heavily favored Cardinal at Stanford Stadium in virtually every category and were in position to score the tying touchdown in the final minute.
The Cougars outgained Stanford 385 yards to 256 and had 25 first downs compared with 13 for Stanford (6-2, 4-1).
The Cougars had a first down at the Cardinal 9-yard line with 40 seconds left, but an intentional grounding penalty on Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel when he was rushed by Usua Amanam and a sack by Henry Anderson ended the game.
The Cardinal faces Colorado on the road in its next game, but then faces Oregon State, Oregon and UCLA in its final three regular-season games and will need to improve its offense to have success in those games.
The Cardinal defense again saved Stanford by producing a school-record 10 sacks.
That helped hold the Cougars to minus-16 rushing yards. It also helped counter the 401 passing yards Tuel produced while completing 41 of 63 passes.
The Stanford defense even scored what proved to be the deciding touchdown on a fourth-quarter interception return by Ed Reynolds, making up for a poor performance by the Cardinal offense.
Washington State entered the game ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in total defense, but it limited Stepfan Taylor, who had a career-high 189 yards last week against Cal, to just 58 yards on 21 carries.
Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes was 7-for-15 for 136 yards, but more than half of his yards came on one play -- a 70-yard touchdown pass to Jamal-Rashad Patterson in the second quarter on a busted coverage by the Cougars.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Stanford plays at Colorado on Nov. 3, and despite its troubles on the road, the Cardinal will be heavily favored against the Buffaloes, who yielded 70 points to Oregon while falling to 1-7. After that, though, come games against Oregon State, Oregon and UCLA, who have a combined record of 20-3.
--Washington State LB Justin Sagote illustrated Stanford's offensive limitations when he said, "We knew all we had to do was take away 33 and the tight ends."
No. 33 is Stepfan Taylor, who had a career-high 189 yards last week against Cal but managed only 58 yards on 21 carries against Washington State.
Stanford tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo had over half the team's receiving yardage coming into the game, but they combined for just one catch for 20 yards against Washington State.
With those three weapons neutralized, Stanford's offense was stymied.
--The Cardinal gave itself some breathing room when S 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. That was Reynolds' second touchdown on an interception return this season and the fourth touchdown scored by the Cardinal defense.
--Stanford has played six games decided by seven points or less, and it has won four of them. All but one was a low-scoring affair, and DE Ben Gardner said that's the way Stanford has to win games this season.
"We're not built to run up the score on teams," he said.
--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. The stadium was about half full by the third quarter.
KEEP AN EYE ON: The Stanford pass rush has been impressive in recent games. The 10 sacks against Washington State was a school record and gives the Cardinal 33 sacks for the season, which is tied for second in the country. Six different players had sacks against Washington State, but OLB Chase Thomas, considered the team's best pass rusher, was not one of them. OLB Trent Murphy and DB Usua Amanam each had 2.0 sacks against Washington State, and DE Ben Gardner had 1.5 sacks.
LOOKING GOOD: Stanford's front seven is among the best in the country, especially against the run. After allowing Cal to rush for just three yards on Oct. 20, Stanford held Washington State to minus-16 rushing yards. Granted, the Cougars may be the worst running team in the country, but their two running backs -- Marcus Mason and Carl Winston -- totaled minus-4 yards rushing on six attempts, with no run of more than three yards. Alabama still leads the nation in rushing defense, but the Cardinal is second and closing in. Stanford had a season-high 15 tackles for losses against Washington State, giving it 76 for the season, which leads the nation.
STILL NEEDS WORK: Every aspect of the Stanford offense was substandard, gaining just 256 yards against a Washington State defense that ranked 10th in the Pac-12 entering the game. The Cardinal did not run the ball well (Stepfan Taylor had just 58 yards), and it did not pass the ball well (Josh Nunes was 7-for-15 for 136 yards). Washington State focused on stopping Taylor and the Cardinal tight ends, and Stanford had no alternatives. Future opposing defenses figure to use the same approach.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It definitely wasn't the kind of game we wanted to play. Offensively, we've got to get going." - Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes after the Cardinal's poor offensive showing against Washington State.

--RB Stepfan Taylor, who had a career-high 189 rushing yards against Cal, had just 58 on 21 carries against Washington State, an average of 2.8 yards per carry. It gives him 904 yards for the season, leaving him 96 yards shy of his third straight 1,000-yard season.
--OLB Trent Murphy had 2.5 tackles for loss against Washington State, giving him 11.5 for the season.
--DE Ben Gardner had 2.5 tackles for loss, giving him 11.0 for the season.
--WR Jamal-Rashad Patterson had just one reception, but it was for a 70-yard touchdown. Those 70 yards were a team high for the game and ended a streak of six straight games in which a tight end led the team in receiving yardage.
--QB Josh Nunes completed just seven passes against Washington State, the first time he had completed fewer than 12 passes this season.

--WR Ty Montgomery sat out his third straight game with a leg injury, but there's a chance he'll play in the next game against Colorado.
--Redshirt freshman QB Kevin Hogan got a little more playing time in the packages designed for him to make use of his ability as a runner. He rushed for just three yards on four carries, including a sack.
--CB Alex Carter made his second career start against Washington State and he is one of two true freshmen to have started games this season.
--G Joshua Garnett made his first career start against Washington State, becoming the second Stanford freshman to start a game this season.
--Freshman WR Kodi Whitfield made his first career reception in the first period against Washington State.

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