Stanford-Washington St. Preview
The eighth-ranked Cardinal can build an almost insurmountable lead over the second-place Cougars with an eighth straight win in the series Saturday night.
While the Pac-12 South is clustered, Stanford (6-1, 5-0) has risen to the top of the North and looks headed for the conference championship game Dec. 5 in Santa Clara.
After a tight win over then-No. 6 Southern California on Sept. 19, Stanford has rolled to four more Pac-12 victories by an average of 23.5 points.
Washington State (5-2, 3-1) stands in the way and could make things interesting with a fourth straight conference victory. The Cougars have ridden a high-octane passing attack to at least 45 points in wins over Oregon, Oregon State and Arizona.
''It will be a test of wills all night,'' defensive end Aziz Shittu said. ''Washington State is a great team and they will be throwing the ball 40-50 times.''
At least that much. The Cougars have attempted 75, 52 and 62 passes in their three conference wins, most thrown by Luke Falk - who leads the nation in attempts (387), completions (282) and completion percentage (72.9) while topping the Pac-12 in yards (2,885), yards per game (412.1) and touchdowns (26).
Falk has hooked up with Gabe Marks 57 times for 717 yards and 10 touchdowns.
But the first big test for Washington State's passing offense comes against the conference's top defense. Stanford leads the Pac-12 with 339.3 total yards allowed per game, 204.7 of which have come through the air.
Then comes Stanford's recent success against the Cougars. The Cardinal have allowed 15.1 points while averaging 41.7 in seven straight wins in the series, with the last Washington State victory coming Nov. 10, 2007.
"We've had a long history of losing around here, and we're sick of it," Falk said. "We haven't achieved our goals yet, and we've still got a long season ahead of us. You know, 5-2 feels good, but 6-2 would feel a lot better."
Though it prides itself on its defense, Stanford doesn't slouch on the offensive end. The Cardinal lean on the all-around game of running back Christian McCaffrey, who ran for 109 yards and caught five passes for 112 during a 31-14 win over Washington last week.
After opening with 124 rushing yards in his first two games, McCaffrey has amassed more than 100 in each of the last five. Those were the first five 100-yard games of the sophomore's career, and he added his first six rushing touchdowns over his last three games.
McCaffrey heads a Stanford rushing attack that posted more than 300 yards in each of its previous three games before running for 188 against Washington. He has carried the ball 153 times - second-most in the conference - while catching 21 passes, a workload coach David Shaw is aware of.
''We're conscious of it and try to take care of it to a certain degree during the week,'' Shaw said. ''He only knows two speeds: On and Off.''
Stanford might get a boost on defense if senior outside linebacker Kevin Anderson is able to return from an unspecified injury that has kept him out five games. Anderson, who had 32 tackles, 5 1/2 sacks and a fumble recovery during his junior season, joined Blake Martinez as the two returning starters on defense.
''He practiced a little bit and he'll go a little bit more,'' Shaw said. ''At the end of the week we'll see where he is.''