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First Look: Stanford at Washington State

Time: 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Martin Stadium

TV: Versus

Records: WSU (3-2, 1-1 in Pac-12); Stanford (5-0, 3-0)

Last week: WSU lost to UCLA, 28-25; Stanford defeated Colorado, 48-7

Last time: Stanford defeated WSU at Stanford, 38-28, in 2010

The line: Stanford by 21

What it means for WSU: The Cougars have to bounce back from a tough road loss at UCLA and show they have built a foundation based on character. There are three possible outcomes: A nation-shocking upset; a close, competitive defeat; and a blowout loss. The first two would show WSU has developed the mettle it needs in the past year, the last one would be a step backward.

What it means for Stanford: Everything. That’s what every game means right now. The Cardinal, winners of 13 consecutive games, have their eyes set on a BCS bowl, possibly even the national title game. With soon-to-be NFL top draft pick Andrew Luck at the controls and the conference’s top-ranked defense in yardage (302.4 per game) and scoring (10.6 points), they have all the tools to make that type of run. But any type of misstep, especially against a 21-point underdog, would kill their chances.

Key matchup: Stanford outside linebacker Chase Thomas vs. WSU tackles David Gonzales and Dan Spitz.

The Cardinal sit atop the Pac-12 in sacks, averaging more than three per game. And it’s the 6-foot-4, 240-pound redshirt junior Thomas who leads the way. Blitzing off the edge in the Cardinal’s 3-4 package, Thomas has sacked the quarterback four times by himself and twice more with his teammates. It will be up to Gonzales and, more than likely Spitz (in relief of usual starter Wade Jacobson), to protect the quarterback so the Cougars receivers can do their work. The Cardinal pass defense has only one interception but it has also yielded just four touchdown passes all season. Marshall Lobbestael will start at quarterback for the Cougars if Jeff Tuel isn’t declared healthy enough to play.

Vince Grippi

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

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