Let's get one thing clear, this Washington State team is not the same pushover that lost to Portland State to begin the season. The Cougars are vastly improved on both sides of the ball and came into this matchup looking to prove that they belong as pushed the Cardinal to the precipice on Saturday night, as only a missed FG at the end separated the two squads.
The weather on Saturday in the Palouse was nothing short of dreadful; couple that fact with the driven nature of the Cougars, and it seemed that the College Playoff dreams for Cardinal fans were flying away into the Pacific Northwest.
It took the fortitude of Senior QB Kevin Hogan and the outstanding play of young Freshman CB Quenton Meeks to drive the Cardinal to victory on Saturday night.
During Halftime, Stanford Head Coach David Shaw said that he was waiting for his team to show up and start playing, as they were getting beat on both sides of the ball.
Shaw would challenge his senior leaders to step up, and challenged them to fight for their Playoffs dreams. Hogan took this to heart, and put the Cardinal offense on his back and led the team to victory.
Here is an analysis and report card of the game:
Cardinal Offense: B-
Much like the Charles Dickens novel; the Cardinal offense was a "Tale of Two Halves". The first half offense for the Cardinal was anemic; they could not get a solid drive together for anything. The line could not block, and QB Kevin Hogan could not complete a pass as he looked like a golfer with the "yips". Then, the team took to Coach Shaw's challenge, and looked like the team everyone has seen for the past 7 weeks. The Cardinal were able to put up 27 points, behind the superior run blocking of the offensive line, and rode the legs of Hogan and Sophomore RB Christian McCaffrey to keep their playoff dreams alive. The Cardinal struggled mightily in the passing game, but Head Coach David Shaw steered into the skid and went to his bread and butter in the run game. Many in College Football circles will say that the good teams comeback in games; great teams take the best from their opposition and still find a way to win.
Senior QB Kevin Hogan struggled the entire first half. He missed several open targets, and just seemed to be rattled under center. Now the weather was atrocious and the ball was wet, but that is no excuse for how his passes were completely off line to start the game. Hogan settled down into the 2nd half; and knew that his ability to run out of the pocket was going to be the key to victory. Hogan broke off several runs, and calmly led his team to victory. Hogan just wins games; but the Cardinal will need him to make better decisions in the passing game if they are to realize their playoff dreams.
Running Backs: A-
Sophomore RB Christian McCaffrey rushed for 107 yards, and was a steady force for the Cardinal attack on Saturday night. McCaffrey does not shy away from contact, and showed that even when teams put 8 or 9 men in the box, he can still break off a big run. Senior Remound Wright made one of the biggest runs of the night when he picked up a 1st down on a tough 3rd down and short that kept an early drive going for the Cardinal.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: C
The receivers for the Cardinal were about as absent as you could be on Saturday night. They were not able to get off from the Cougars corners, and were not a factor at all in the game. QB Kevin Hogan did struggle something fierce, but the Cardinal receivers were not making his job any easier. The Cardinal were already without the services of Devon Cajuste, and it showed on Saturday night. The Cardinal rely heavily upon the play of TEs Austin Hooper and Greg Taboada, and will need all of the other receivers step up their play for continued success this season.
Offensive Line: B-
The Cardinal offensive line on Saturday night could best be described as "Jekyll and Hyde". In the 1st half, the Cardinal line could not keep their blocks, and looked like a shell of their former selves. In the 2nd half, Seniors Josh Garnett and Kyle Murphy took over and were an absolute force along the left side. The Stanford offense will go as far as the O-Line will take them. The Cardinal still need to shore up their pass blocking, as Tackle Casey Tucker has been taken advantage of by strong pass rushers the last few weeks. The line needs to keep their feet moving, head up, and give Hogan at least 3.5 seconds to make a play.
Cardinal Defense: B
The Cardinal defense again employed the bend, but don't break philosophy and did enough to get the victory on Saturday night. The defensive front 4 for the Cardinal had their best game of the season and kept constant pressure on the Cougars all game. The Cardinal did give up 442 yards of offense and allowed 354 yards in the air to the Cougars, but limited the damage to five field goals instead of what could have been game ending touchdowns. The Cardinal defense is not the same dominant force as in years past, but they make the big plays when it matters most.
Defensive Line: A-
The Cardinal Defensive Line were solid on Saturday night. Azziz Shittu, Kevin Anderson, and Brennan Scarlett constantly pressured Washington State QB Luke Falk the entire game. The Cougars Offensive Line could not contain the Cardinal front and were huge in opening up the linebackers to make plays. The Cardinal Defensive Line has steadily improved every week, and went from a possible liability early in the season, to a stalwart force in 2015.
Cardinal LB Blake Martinez is a tackling machine. Period. The Senior Linebacker just flies around the field, and he made the Cougars offense have to account for him on every play. However, due to the Cougars "Air Raid" offense, the other linebackers were not on the field, as the Cardinal played in Nickel and Dime packages for the bulk of the game.
There is a bright shining light that has emerged in the last few weeks with the emerging play of Freshman CB Quenton Meeks. The young freshman was able to pick off two critical passes, and made several huge plays on Saturday night. The play of Meeks did not transfer to all of the Cardinal Secondary however, as they were torched for 354 yards in the air. The Cardinal Secondary will be tested the next few weeks against similar offenses and will need to step up their game for the Cardinal to have any chance at a PAC 12 title game.
Special Teams: C
The Cardinal Special Teams play was very uneven on Saturday night. The Cougars avoided Christian McCaffrey at all costs, so the Cardinal were limited in the return game. The kickers had an uneven game as they were able to get a couple of solid field goals including the game winning score; but also kickoffs out of bounds that gave the Cougars solid field position. The Cardinal need a "clean sheet" from the Special Teams to be successful for the future.
To say that Stanford Head Coach David Shaw is a "patient man" is a giant understatement. Coach Shaw stuck to his game plan, even when it was painfully obvious that his QB was in bad shape to start the game, and rode his belief that his QB would lead the team to victory. Many will question why Coach Shaw did not try harder to score a TD on the last possession for the Cardinal, and utilized an extremely conservative approach. All of these questions are answered with simply one response: Coach David Shaw is a winner, and knows how to get his team the big win. Shaw steered into the skid on Saturday night, stuck to what he knows, and led his team to victory.