I didn’t know what to think of Washington State’s chances to beat Stanford going into Saturday’s game. The Cougs were coming off a 58-37 defeat at Arizona, and I not only wondered about the defense but couldn’t figure out how Luke Falk would react to his benching in Tucson. I also thought the return of Bryce Love from a sprained ankle would be a huge lift for Stanford, which looked awful the week before in a 15-14 win at Oregon State.
It all worked out as the Cougs beat the Cardinal 24-21. Falk played well and became the all-time Pac-12 passing leader with 13,601 yards. The defense showed up and stuffed Love – aside from a 52-yard touchdown run, Love gained 17 yards on his other 15 carries.
Erik Powell deserves mention for saving two possible touchdowns by making surprisingly great tackles for a kicker on kickoff returns. Two other notes of interest – the Cougs went 7-0 at home for the first time ever, and Stanford had won its last 45 games when it led after three quarters. That streak ended Saturday at Martin Stadium.
After that bruising loss to Arizona, everyone knew the Cougs still had a shot at the Pac-12 North championship if they won out against Stanford, Utah and Washington. But I had my doubts. Now it’s certainly more realistic. The Cougars are one-point favorites over the Utes, and if WSU wins in Salt Lake City, it gets two weeks to prepare for the Apple Cup. I know we haven’t beaten the Huskies since 2012, and I know we’ll be double-digit underdogs, and I know the game’s at Husky Stadium this year, but gimme that puncher’s chance.
The Huskies are good, but Arizona State proved that they’re not unbeatable. Plus they’re not as good as they were last year when they made the Final Four. Their defense might be as good as last year’s defense, but the offense isn’t. There’s a part of me that thinks Falk will spend a lot of time on his back on the Husky Stadium turf, but there’s another part that thinks he could dissect that Husky defense while sprinkling in runs by Jamal Morrow and Gerard Wicks here and there.
I’m getting ahead of myself, but what difference does it make? No one ever said posts on websites had to take it one game at a time. Utah could very well spoil the scenario, but when I think of a Utes’ victory over the Cougs, I remember that Utah was blown out at home last month by Arizona State and got trampled by the Ducks in Eugene. Conversely, the Cougs trampled the Ducks in Eugene, and when I recall WSU-Utah matchups in Salt Lake City from seasons past, I like to think of the one when Connor Halliday rallied the Cougars from 21 points down to a 28-27 victory on a rainy night in 2014.
Washington and Stanford can also win the Pac-12 North by winning out, but Stanford would need Washington to beat Washington State in the Apple Cup. Stanford and Washington play Friday night in Palo Alto, and based on what we saw from the Cardinal in Pullman, I don’t give the Cardinal much of a shot at beating the Dawgs with K.J. Costello as the quarterback. Also doubt that Love will have much of a night against the Husky defense. At least the game is in Palo Alto, where Stanford is unbeaten in three games, winning by an average of 25 points over UCLA, ASU and Oregon.