So much for the curse of CenturyLink Field, and so much for the Cardinal being just a 10-point favorite.
On a rainy, windy Saturday night in Seattle, No. 5 Stanford (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) collected two pick-sixes to score 21 points in the third quarter and annihilated Washington State (3-2, 1-1) in a 55-17 blowout. The victory marked the most points that the Cardinal has scored in regulation since its 65-21 rout of Washington in 2011.
In a game in which Stanford utterly dominated on both sides of the ball, junior quarterback Kevin Hogan completed 16 of his 25 passes for 288 yards — a career high — and three touchdowns, including a pair to junior wide receiver Devon Cajuste, to improve to 9-0 as a starter.
“That’s been the difference between us this year and last year. If people drop safeties down, we have the speed and ability to go deep,” said head coach David Shaw. “Kevin’s been playing great because he’s not throwing it just to throw it. He’s throwing it when it’s there. We had a lot of opportunities tonight — we didn’t hit all of them, but we hit more than we missed. And that has to be part of who we are.”
Junior safety Jordan Richards and fifth-year senior linebacker Trent Murphy, meanwhile, each returned an interception for a touchdown. The Cardinal had a 35-point lead midway through the third quarter, after which second- and third-string Stanford players were put in to finish the game.
More importantly, the Cardinal players dedicated their win to left guard David Yankey; in Georgia earlier on Saturday, Yankey had attended the funeral for his father, who passed away at the age of 54 last Tuesday. Yankey’s replacement, backup sophomore left guard Josh Garnett, wore the number “54” — Yankey’s jersey number — on his wristband during the game.
Stanford and Washington State traded field goals early in the first quarter, but the Cardinal soon pulled ahead when Hogan found Cajuste on a skinny post for a 57-yard touchdown. The Cougars failed to keep pace, and one possession later, Hogan connected with Cajuste once again for a 33-yard score to give the Cardinal a 17-3 lead. It appeared as if Stanford would continue to build on its advantage late in the second quarter when its offense was marching in the red zone, but Hogan underthrew a fade to Cajuste and ended up getting picked off in the end zone.
Hogan’s interception was not the only sloppy moment for Stanford before the half, as the Cardinal also uncharacteristically committed six penalties in the first two quarters, two of which were delay-of-game infractions.
But when the second half started, the Cardinal defense transformed from merely a dominant unit into a scoring machine.
On the Cougars’ second drive of the third quarter, Murphy exploded into the backfield to lower the boom on quarterback Connor Halliday, who would leave the game two plays later. Halliday got rid off the ball just in time, but Richards was there to swoop away the lob — extending Stanford’s takeaway streak to 28 consecutive games — and then proceeded to bolt into the end zone, thanks to a bone-crunching block delivered by fifth-year senior defensive end Ben Gardner.
Not to be outdone, Murphy matched Richards’ feat shortly after Hogan found junior wide receiver Michael Rector for a 45-yard score in the middle of the third quarter.
In a sequence almost identical to his big play against Washington at CenturyLink Field last year, Murphy tipped backup quarterback Austin Apodaca’s pass to himself and then ran for dear life until he reached into the end zone to essentially put the game away.
On paper, Stanford’s four tackles for loss weren’t nearly as impressive as its 15-tackle-for-loss performance against the Cougars last season. But the Cardinal effectively shut down Mike Leach’s air raid, allowing Washington State to convert just four of its 16 third-down conversion attempts. The Cardinal also held its pass-happy opponent to 51 rushing yards.
There was no fourth-quarter letdown this time, as Stanford continued its domination even when the backups came took the field. First, it was junior Remound Wright who broke free for a 55-yard touchdown run; then, midway through the fourth quarter, sophomore Barry Sanders scored the first touchdown of his college career on a 22-yard scamper.
“That’s what we expect from [Sanders],” Shaw said. “He made three guys miss. All those reps are going to pay off for our young guys in the future.”
Stanford now returns home to host No. 16 Washington — one of only two teams to beat the Cardinal last season — this Saturday in a pivotal Pac-12 North showdown.
Contact George Chen at gchen15 ‘at’ stanford.edu.