SPOKANE, Wash. — Washington State crushed Oregon last weekend to get a promising season back on track. Now the Cougars face a bigger challenge when they travel to No. 15 Stanford on Saturday.
Stanford (3-1, 1-1 Pac-12) is coming off a 44-6 loss at No. 5 Washington, and likely itching for redemption.
“Stanford is one of those teams that has a lot of ability and has had a lot of success,” Washington State coach Mike Leach said. “I think that (Washington) game is kind of an aberration. They got on their heels and couldn’t dig themselves back out.”
Washington State (2-2, 1-0 Pac-12) opened the season by losing to FCS Eastern Washington and No. 19 Boise State. But the Cougars scored more than 50 points each game in beating Idaho and Oregon.
“We just have to stay focused and keep competing with ourselves and get better every day,” Leach said. “We have no time to get complacent on anything.”
The key to a win in Palo Alto this weekend is no secret, Leach said.
“One thing that’s key with Stanford is to be physically strong enough to address the problems their offensive line gives you,” Leach said. “They’re very strong and physical.”
Running back Christian McCaffrey is Stanford’s main offensive threat, averaging 121 rushing yards.
But the Cougars largely contained him last season, giving up 107 rushing yards on McCaffrey’s 22 carries in their 30-28 loss in Pullman.
“We’ve got to do a better job this year,” Leach said. “We should have won last year and it’s our own fault.”
WSU is hoping to snap an eight-game losing streak against Stanford that dates to 2008.
One big issue is WSU’s kicking game. Junior Erik Powell has missed all four of his field goal attempts this year. Last season, he missed a 46-yarder in the closing seconds against Stanford that would have won the game.
Powell’s field goal slump has altered strategy, Leach said.
“I’m more inclined to go for it more on fourth down, which I kind of was anyway,” Leach said.
Powell has made all his extra points, and kicked off well, but the competition at kicker is open, Leach said.
“He hits the ball best,” Leach said of Powell. But, “we’ve got to be consistent at it to expect to be successful.”
Leach has been spending more time in recent weeks with his offensive linemen, a big key to the success of the Air Raid offense. He’s given up some of the time he spends with quarterbacks and wide receivers during one-on-one drills to coach up the linemen and running backs.
“I’ve noticed a difference in the pace of practice, especially for the offensive line,” said left tackle Andre Dillard. “Leach has been getting on us a lot more about getting off the ball, driving our feet every play and reaching our second level blocks.”
The extra coaching paid off in last weekend’s 51-33 win over Oregon. The Cougars rushed for 280 yards and six touchdowns and the running backs averaged 7.8 yards per carry.
Meanwhile, Stanford is dealing with injuries as it prepares for Saturday’s game.
Cornerbacks Alijah Holder and Quentin Meeks both missed the game against Washington due to injury, and Stanford coach David Shaw said Tuesday that both players are “still most likely out” when the Cardinal plays Washington State. That could create a big advantage for the pass-happy Cougars.