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Football: Sloppy Cardinal holds off late Wazzu challenge, 24-17

Senior linebacker Chase Thomas (44) and the rest of the Stanford defense had no problem putting pressure on Washington State, but Wazzu nearly pulled off a late comeback before faltering on the final drive of the Cardinal's 24-17 win on Saturday (ROGER CHEN/The Stanford Daily).

About the only thing pretty about No. 17 Stanford’s 24-17 win over Washington State was the sunset over the hills at Stanford Stadium. The relatively pedestrian game had plenty of drama in the closing seconds however, as the Cougars drove all the way down to the nine-yard line before sophomore Henry Anderson sacked Wazzu quarterback Jeff Tuel on the final play of the game.

Despite having lost four-straight games heading into the game, sporting the nation’s 90th rushing defense, and having one of the worst rushing offenses in the country, the Cougars put up quite a fight against a seemingly uninterested Stanford team.

The Cardinal defense did its job for the most part, putting pressure on Tuel with its front seven. Senior linebacker Trent Murphy had two sacks, and Ed Reynolds picked off his fourth pass of the year. But Mike Leach’s spread offense sliced and diced through soft secondary coverage for 401 yards in the air on a variety of stunts, slants and screens.

And it was on offense where Stanford was particularly anemic. A week after torching Cal’s defense for a career-high 189 yards, senior running back Stepfan Taylor was held to just 58 yards on 21 carries. Quarterback Josh Nunes finished 7-15 for 136 yards and a touchdown, but 70 of those yards came on a blown coverage by Washington that let wide receiver Jamal Rashad-Patterson rumble to the end zone untouched.

After an opening drive netted the Cardinal three points on a 42-yard field goal by kicker Jordan Williamson, Stanford was forced to punt on three of its next four possessions, gaining a total of four yards combined.

At the half, the score was tied 10-10 but the Cardinal was being roughed up all over the field. Tuel had 27 completions for 253 yards, and Wazzu outgained Stanford 223-112 while running 30 more plays and maintaining possession for 21 minutes of the first 30.

Senior linebacker Chase Thomas (44) and the rest of the Stanford defense had no problem putting pressure on Washington State, but Wazzu nearly pulled off a late comeback before faltering on the final drive of the Cardinal’s 24-17 win on Saturday (ROGER CHEN/The Stanford Daily).

Stanford’s defense tightened the screws in the second half, forcing two punts in the third quarter. When safety Ed Reynolds picked off Tuel and returned the interception 25 yards to pay dirt, it appeared as though Stanford was finally safe with a 24-10 lead and 10:43 to play.

Tuel marched straight down the field, however, capping the drive off with a 10-yard strike to Kristoff Williams.

When Nunes and company couldn’t convert on third down for the seventh time in 12 tries, Tuel nearly brought Wazzu back once more. A conversion on fourth-and-21 on a beautiful catch by Bobby Ratliff took the Cougars to Stanford’s nine-yard line with a minute to play.

But Usua Amanam came off the end unblocked on a cornerback blitz and sacked Tuel while drawing an intentional grounding penalty, and Anderson’s sack with four seconds to play had the few fans left at Stanford Stadium breathing a sigh of relief.

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