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Stanford Avoids Huge Upset

Yesterday's near debacle brought back some good memories. No, really.

Tony Medina

Washington State's final drive in Stanford's much-too-close-for-comfort 24-17 win yesterday brought back some good memories, which was nice, because I can't forget the rest of the game soon enough.

After the Cardinal called timeout with 48 seconds to play and Washington State facing a 4th and 21 from the Stanford 34, Cougars quarterback Jeff Tuel completed a 25-yard pass over the middle to Bobby Ratliff. Wazzu's upset hopes were alive, just as Stanford's were five years ago when Tavita Pritchard and Richard Sherman hooked up for an equally improbable 4th and 20 conversion on a similar route at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Thanks to Henry Anderson's sack -- the Cardinal's school record 10th of the game -- Marquess Wilson didn't get a chance to play Mark Bradford. The Cougars weren't exactly 41-point underdogs, but a Stanford loss yesterday would've been the most stunning in a Pac-12 season full of head-scratching results.

When you hold a team to minus-16 yards rushing, get a defensive touchdown and register double-digit sacks, your backup quarterback should be orchestrating the offense in the fourth quarter. That was the case yesterday, but not because the Cardinal managed to put away the Cougars early.

Washington State had a chance to force overtime, or, knowing Mike Leach, possibly go for the win in the final seconds because the offense played like crap and the Stanford secondary made Jeff Tuel look like the second coming of Matt Barkley Scott.

Josh Nunes was 7-for-15 for 136 yards and a touchdown, with more than half of his production coming on a gift-wrapped 70-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Jamal-Rashad Patterson. There were drops, sure, but Marqise Lee and Tavon Austin wouldn't have made Nunes look like even an average Division I quarterback yesterday. Switching QBs midseason normally doesn't work, but the offense can't possibly look any more broke than it did against the Cougars. Here's a proposal: open next week's game against Colorado with 10 consecutive passing plays. If Nunes doesn't complete at least seven of them, put in Kevin Hogan.

The Stanford rushing offense wasn't much better against a team that allowed Cal to rush for 318 yards two weeks ago. Considering Washington State had finished with negative rushing yards in as many games (2) as it had eclipsed 50 yards on the ground, the Cougars' defensive effort was almost as impressive as the Cardinal's. Stepfan Taylor finished with 58 yards on 21 carries, a death blow to his Heisman Runner-Up campaign.

"We played to about 70-75 percent of our capabilities," Shaw said after the game. "We did not play as well as we practiced. We played hard, but the execution was lacking."

A common refrain to be sure. The Cardinal can afford to play to about 50-55 percent of their capabilities and still beat Colorado next week. They might need to find a way to play to about 150 percent of their capabilities to be competitive against Oregon.