PULLMAN – Bryce Love is returning to the field for Stanford Saturday afternoon, but the nation’s leading rusher might be careful how he plants his foot when he jolts into the second level and tries to cut around a crimson-colored obstacle.
The playing surface at Martin Stadium may not be too forgiving by the time the 18th-ranked Cardinal (6-2, 5-1) and 25th-ranked Cougars (7-2, 4-2) arrive for a 12:30 p.m. date in Pullman. Latest weather reports anticipate a 50/50 chance of morning snow showers and temperatures should hover in the 30’s for this high-stakes Pac-12 North tilt that might go a long way in determining who represents the division next month at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
So whether the field is slippery or slushy, it could very well be something of a minefield for college football’s most productive running back, who was nursing a bum ankle earlier in the week and wasn’t declared fit to play until Friday afternoon.
But even if Love and the Cardinal do see a blanket of frost stretched across the artificial turf in Pullman when they take the field for warm-ups, they’re confident it won’t freeze their spirits or their high-scoring offense, which was putting up nearly 38 points per game before being held to 15 by Oregon State last week with Love on the sideline.
“A little snow. That’s OK,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “I spent four years in Michigan. Playing football in the snow is fun, it’s exciting. It’s worse for the fans and coaches than it is for the guys.”
Although, if forecasts hold up, it’ll be the first time Stanford has played in such conditions since 1936, according to the school’s Director of Athletic Communications, Alan George. Eighty-one years ago, snowflakes descended on a game between the Cardinal and Columbia in New York City. Stanford hasn’t seen snow since.
Earlier that same season, the Cardinal – at the time, nicknamed the Indians – and the Cougars met on the gridiron for the first time. Stanford won a nail-biter, 14-13, and went on to claim 39 of the next 66 games between the future Pac-12 North foes.
But the class of Cougar seniors that’ll be commemorated before WSU’s final home game might be leaving Pullman with a rare two-game win streak against the Cardinal, and this particular game is significant for more reasons than the fact it’ll be their swan song at Martin Stadium.
Said WSU coach Mike Leach: “To be perfectly honest, it means very little because we’re going to be preoccupied to go out there and play a game, and then we’re going to have three more games after that, at least.”
They’re eyeing a fourth.
Despite faltering twice in the last three weeks, the Cougars, along with Stanford and Washington, are all still in the running for a berth in the Pac-12 title game, and by winning this week and next, WSU would set up another pseudo Pac-12 North championship game with the Huskies in the Apple Cup.
WSU’s seniors hope this home finale won’t also mark the season’s crescendo, and a few of them might rather bypass the pregame festivities, well aware of how significant these next four quarters are. But the school will pause to celebrate the group anyway. Fourteen of the 20 seniors arrived at WSU in 2013 and have won 33 games with the Cougars.
Among them is Luke Falk, the fourth-year starting quarterback who could have a few reasons to celebrate by the time his Senior Day wraps up. Falk’s not one to beam about the numerous Pac-12 passing records he’s set during his time as the WSU QB, but in order to guide to the Cougars to a win over Stanford, he’ll almost certainly have to break the Pac-12 career passing yards record held by Sean Mannion. Falk needs just 132 yards to arrive at that mile-marker.
He’s coming off a sluggish game at Arizona in which he was replaced in the second quarter by Tyler Hilinski, but Falk has seldom had two poor showings in a row and the Cardinal are perfectly aware of the many ways he’s able to dissect a defense.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a quarterback as calm in the pocket,” Stanford defensive lineman Harrison Phillips said. “He’s able to make throws that no one else can really make and he’s able to read defenses very well.”
And Falk hasn’t lost a home game this season. Among everything else the Cougars are gunning for, they’ll be able to cap a perfect season at Martin Stadium by beating the Cardinal.
“These guys have been lights out at home,” said Shaw. “They play great defense, they’re active and physical up front on the defensive line, they have opportunistic playmakers on the back end, and the quarterback play has been outstanding – thrown for a lot of yards and scored a lot of touchdowns.”
Among the other seniors WSU will recognizes is running back Jamal Morrow, who’s been a multi-faceted offensive weapon for the Cougars since his redshirt freshman year in 2014. Morrow is third all-time at WSU with 3,929 all-purpose yards. The Cougars will also honor three starters on the offensive line, including Cody O’Connell, who could be on the verge of a second straight All-American season. Six defensive players who began the season starting at their respective positions will be recognized, along with kicker Erik Powell.
The complete list of players who’ll be commemorated is as follows: Mitchell Cox (P), Nate DeRider (LB), C.J. Dimry (WR), Isaac Dotson(LB), Daniel Ekuale (DL), Luke Falk (QB), Dylan Hanser (RUSH), Robert Lewis (WR), Frankie Luvu (RUSH), Cole Madison (OL), Garrett McBroom (DL), Jamal Morrow (RB), Cody O’Connell (OL), Kirkland Parker (DB), Peyton Pelluer (LB), Marcellus Pippins(CB), Erik Powell (K), B.J. Salmonson (OL), Robert Taylor (S) and Gerard Wicks (RB).