PULLMAN – Connor Halliday has no problem speaking truths that others won’t, so it was not surprising that Washington State’s quarterback most adequately summarized the magnitude of his team’s next game.
Fresh off a 42-0 whitewashing of an overmatched Idaho team, Halliday was asked to look ahead to WSU’s next challenge: a game Saturday against No. 5 Stanford at CenturyLink Field.
Forget that faceless-opponent stuff. This is a big one, and there’s no disguising that fact.
“Nobody lives to play Southern Utah,” Halliday said. “Nobody lives to play someone like that. You live to play the top five teams in the nation, and that’s where you can become something that they can say, ‘Hey, that’s where the Cougars turned their thing around. They got a big win. That was the 2013 group that started that.’ So that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Consider the stage set, then. Stanford has been a top-five team in both polls since the preseason, and cemented its status among the nation’s elite Saturday with a punishing 42-28 victory over previously-ranked Arizona State.
Adding to the spectacle is the relocation of the game to Seattle, where the Cougars will play against a conference opponent for the third consecutive season. That it’s Stanford – and that WSU enters with a 3-1 record and on a three-game winning streak – should add to the buzz already supplied by a 7 p.m. kickoff and a national television audience on ESPN.
The Cardinal (3-0, 1-0 in Pac-12) will have WSU’s full attention.
“After 12 o’clock tonight,” said defensive tackle Xavier Cooper, just after 11 p.m. Saturday, “we’re going to start looking at Stanford. I’m going to be dreaming about them.”
Cooper and his D-line cronies have been stout through four games, part of a defensive effort that has the Cougars ranked 10th nationally in total defense and 13th in scoring defense. Saturday’s showdown against a physical, grinding Stanford offense should provide a fair barometer of where WSU’s defensive front stands.
“We don’t really worry about what other people think. We believe in ourselves and we know what we’re capable of doing,” Cooper said. “Stanford, they’re a great team. They pound the ball, something different that you might not see in this conference, but like I said, our mentality is we come in and fight. We’re going to come into that game fighting. It’s going to be a great game.”
And if recent history is to inform about the expected competition, there’s reason to believe the Cougars have a legitimate chance to win. Last season, Stanford held on at home for a 24-17 win over WSU – recording 10 sacks in the process – but the Cougars had the ball as close as Stanford’s 9-yard line on the game’s final possession with a chance to tie.
Even in 2010, when the Cougars finished 2-10, they gave 12th-ranked Stanford and quarterback Andrew Luck a competitive game in a 38-28 loss.