After two straight wins against Power 5 competition, it looked like Stanford (3-6, 1-6 Pac-12) would rewrite the premature narrative that fans had on the season.
The defense played elite during that stretch, holding their opponents to 14 points in each game. Additionally, junior kicker Josh Karty played superbly, notching eight field goals in those two games. Unfortunately, that stretch of play now looks like a blip in the radar. After getting blown out by No. 10 UCLA (8-1, 5-1 Pac-12) in the Rose Bowl last weekend, Stanford lost to Washington State (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12) by a score of 52-14 on Saturday.
The Cougars had three touchdowns on three drives to start the game. On the second play from scrimmage, running back Nakia Watson broke off a 65-yard run to put Washington State in the red zone. A couple plays following the big run, Leyton Smithson punched it in from three yards out to give the Cougars a quick 7-0 lead.
During the drive, several Stanford defenders sustained injuries that would take them out of the game. This included fifth-year safety Patrick Fields, fifth-year linebacker Ricky Miezan, fifth-year safety Kendall Williamson and senior linebacker Levani Damuni.
“[I’ve] never been involved in a game where we lost four defensive starters on the opening drive,” said head coach David Shaw after the game. “We prepare our backups to play, get them out there. Try to get them going. But that was really difficult today, really difficult.”
After a three-and-out and an abysmal 28-yard punt, the Cougars got the ball on their own 45-yard line. They utilized the great field position to their advantage, rattling off an eight-play, 55-yard touchdown drive capped off by a seven yard touchdown pass to receiver Anderson Grover. Stanford’s offense had another three-and-out before giving the ball back to Washington State. On this drive, the Cougars used their passing game to march down the field in a hurry. Quarterback Cameron Ward ran it in from 15 yards out on the final play of the drive to give WSU a whopping 21-0 lead.
Shaw had high praise for Ward’s play during the game. “We had him dead to rights for [tackles for loss] and he got out,” Shaw said. “He set records at Incarnate Word and has been a very good quarterback this season.”
On the Cardinal’s next offensive possession, junior quarterback Tanner McKee found junior tight end Benjamin Yurosek and senior receiver Elijah Higgins on back-to-back plays to put the Cardinal in Wazzu territory for the first time. Freshman Ashton Daniels came into the game and completed a 23-yard pass to sophomore running back Mitch Leigber to put Stanford on the one yard line. Two plays later, Daniels used his legs to cross the goal line to give the Cardinal their first points of the game.
After a series of punts and a fumble at the end of the first and beginning of the second quarter, the Cougars got a scoop-and-score, as defensive back Jaden Hicks recovered a Daniels fumble and took it to the house from 21 yards out.
“Can’t lose four fumbles, in particular in a half,” Shaw said. “Turnovers [have] been hurting us all year, in particular fumbles.”
From here, the game got out of sorts for the Cardinal, as the Cougars were able to compile two more touchdowns in the second quarter, while the Cardinal fumbled the ball two more times. By halftime, Washington State held an enormous 42-7 lead, which put the game out of reach for Stanford.
Daniels was able to tack on another touchdown for Stanford in the second half, but Wazzu put up 10 more points to augment their lead. In the fourth quarter, the Cougars subbed in their backups and were able to burn up the clock to secure a 52-14 win.
When asked about what he told the team after the game, Shaw told the media that he tried appealing to the team’s dignity. “I’m just appealing to their pride,” Shaw said. “There are things we can’t do anything about. Injuries we can’t do anything about. But the things we can do things about, that’s what I’m gonna hold them accountable for.”
From here on out, the Cardinal will have no room for error if they want to make a bowl game. At 3-6, if the Cardinal lose another game, they will be out of bowl contention. However, Stanford will have their hands full next week, as they will take on the No. 12 Utah Utes in Salt Lake City. Following the game against Utah, Stanford will return to the Bay Area to take on Cal and BYU in their final two games.
Kickoff next week is set for 7 p.m. PT.