A brutal stretch to close the season begins Saturday for No. 18 Stanford football (6-2, 5-1 Pac-12), as it takes on the No. 25 Washington State Cougars (7-2, 4-2) at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Washington.
The Cardinal are looking to avenge the 2016 loss to the Cougars, which snapped their eight-game winning streak against Washington State. Junior running back Bryce Love’s 1387 rushing yards on the season ranks first in the nation. Unfortunately, he is a game-time decision for Saturday’s prime matchup due to an ankle injury.
“He feels better,” Stanford head coach David Shaw said. “If he’s ready to go, he’ll go.”
Expect Harrison Phillips, a senior captain and star defensive lineman, to step up and set the stage. He leads the team with 60 tackles. Stanford leads the nation with 276 sacks since 2011.
Phillips also forced the fumble that set up the game-winning touchdown for the Cardinal against Oregon State last week.
“I didn’t really know during the play … it was pretty confusing,” Phillips said of the play. “There were a lot of bodies around and I was trying to hit a lot of people. Looking back at the tape, I ended up knocking the ball loose and PK tackled him.”
With the quarterback position competitive between senior Keller Chryst and sophomore KJ Costello, both expect to perform at the highest level in this important game. This will help keep the team balanced, as senior cornerback Alijah Holder, who was injured during the Oregon State game last week, is out for the season. Junior inside linebacker Mustafa Branch will round out the defense with added playing time.
Even with Holder out, Holder’s running mate, junior defensive back Quenton Meeks, is still optimistic in the quality of play from the secondary.
“[Holder’s] my brother. It was tough to see that on the field,” Meeks said. “Anytime you lose a leader like that, it’s gonna be tough. But we got great players coming into that role. Alameen Murphy’s gonna do a great job for us”
Washington State started the season strong, but have lost their last two out of three games on the road. They remain a physical and aggressive defensive team, with a formidable 7-0 record at home. Cougars quarterback Luke Falk had started the year as he topped the Heisman charts consistently. His recent performances have not been as good and have coincided with the Cougars’ two losses.
However, Falk is still one of the top passers in the Pac-12 and will have a significant home field advantage at Martin Stadium.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a quarterback as calm in the pocket,” Phillips said of Falk’s play. “He’s able to make throws that no one else can really make, and he’s able to read defenses very well.”
With Stanford playing a day game, expect an exciting matchup between two of the top teams in the Pac-12 North Division.
The weather could play a key factor in the game as temperatures are expected to be in the low 30s, with a chance of snowfall. However, a few of the players don’t think it will ultimately affect the outcome of the game.
“It’s not pleasant. It’s really something you just have to put in the back of your mind and really not think about it much,” junior cornerback Quenton Meeks said. “We just have to go out there and handle our business and not let the weather be an excuse.”
Shaw chose the half-glass full approach to the weather situation.
“The good news is, it’s not gonna rain,” Shaw said. “Rain is harder than snow. If it’s cold and snowy, it’s not that bad because the ball doesn’t get slick.”
The game kicks off at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday and will be broadcast on Fox.
Contact Matthew Bernstein at mbernste ‘at’ stanford.edu.