Washington State likes to throw the football. The Cougars have certainly made no secret of that, not after fifth-year senior quarterback Connor Halliday set an FBS record with 734 yards in last week’s 60-59 loss to Cal, bringing his total for the season up to 3,052 yards through only six games and earning Pac-12 Player of the Week honors in the process. The team also leads the FBS with 523 passing yards per game, 90 more than the next closest team.
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However, despite the Cougars’ tendency to air it out offensively and their poor passing defense on the other side of the ball (they rank 107th in the FBS with 280.2 passing yards allowed per game), Stanford football head coach David Shaw insists that the Cardinal don’t feel the need to throw the ball equally as much to keep up offensively.
“That’s almost a trap to a certain degree,” said Shaw of the Cougars’ statistically porous passing defense. “They had the lead so a lot of teams had to throw it on them. I think when you play this team you feel compelled to try and keep up. Hopefully, I think if we play good defense we’ll still be able to be balanced, run and pass.”
Just last week against Cal, Washington State surrendered 527 yards through the air in an offensive showcase for both sides. For Stanford, which hasn’t posted more than 216 yards passing since its 13-10 loss to USC, the contest against Washington State could be the best opportunity to regain its rhythm and success in the passing game.
“We kind of just have our base game plan and work beyond that,” said sophomore tight end Austin Hooper. “In terms of statistics, we haven’t really looked at that area. We’re just going to try and take advantage of them as if they were any other opponent.”
After opening up the season with 312 passing yards against UC Davis, the Card’s passing yardage has declined in each of their subsequent games, culminating in a season-low 158 against Notre Dame. To fix an offense that has also struggled as a whole, Shaw believes that most of the changes will come from behind the scenes.
“I don’t know that it’s going to be anything noticeable to anybody,” said Shaw about how the offense will change. “’Simplifying’ is probably not the right word as much as it is sticking to our core, doing things that we do and we believe in, and being efficient and not doing as much. I wouldn’t say ‘simplifying,’ but doing a little less and hopefully doing it better.”
Senior receiver Devon Cajuste (89) will be looking to find the end zone for the first time since Stanford’s romp over Army when Washington State visits Stanford Stadium on Friday evening.
“Yeah, we always talk about potential, but potential doesn’t matter,” added senior wide receiver Devon Cajuste, who is second on the team with 223 receiving yards and tied for first with three receiving touchdowns. “You just have to execute and that’s what we have to work on…It’s really just about execution, just coming together and knowing the playbook better,”
At least for the moment, the offense must improve in practice without the full services of senior quarterback Kevin Hogan, who has been limited in practice while nursing a leg injury. Senior Evan Crower has taken some of the first-team snaps in Hogan’s place. Though Hogan may not be able to practice to his full extent, Cajuste doesn’t think the offense will miss a beat.
“They’re both the same. A quarterback’s a quarterback,” he said about practicing with Crower rather than Hogan.
For the second time in as many seasons, junior Luke Kaumatule is making a position change.
Shaw revealed at practice on Tuesday that Kaumatule has officially moved from defensive end to outside linebacker, just under a year after moving from tight end to defensive end.
“He’s more natural for it,” Shaw said. “I mean when you really look at him, he reminds you of [former Cardinal outside linebacker Trent] Murphy. Very similar build – long and athletic, 6-foot-6 and 258, 260 pounds – and he can do some of the same things. I think it’s a natural position switch for him.”
Kaumatule will continue to take snaps at the defensive end position in nickel formations but will also serve as a backup to senior starting outside linebacker Kevin Anderson.
Contact Michael Peterson at mrpeters ‘at’ stanford.edu.