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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Bully Stanford holds off Cougars

STANFORD, Calif. – The setting was ripe for an upset. A tepid crowd came to watch a team on the brink of falling out of the national rankings against a team that is much more dangerous than its record indicates. The Pac-12’s resident bully overmatched Washington State in size and speed, but the Cougars made plenty of the plays that can overcome such deficiencies. But they didn’t make enough of them, especially early, and No. 25 Stanford staked an early lead and held off the Cougars for a 34-17 win. The assumption in any game involving the Cardinal is that physicality will play a large role, and the home team attempted to use its speed and strength to intimidate WSU into shirking early. It worked for a couple drives. “We have to play harder – we have to play better,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “I think their defensive line and their offensive line exposes any misses, you know, we have to be sharper technically to offset it because they’re bigger and stronger.” Stanford made it hell on WSU quarterback Connor Halliday throughout the game, sacking him four times and hitting him as he threw seemingly twice as many times. The WSU offense struggled to get in a rhythm and converted just five on 19 third-down attempts, albeit with four conversions on fourth down. “I don’t know if Stanford’s physicality threw us out of sync, but it limits what we can do,” Halliday said. “We can’t call downfield passes, we don’t really have time for downfield passes. We got people open all night, we were just unable to hit ’em.” When the Cougars did pass downfield the result was often a pass broken up by Stanford’s ball-hawking secondary, which is more naturally equipped to be successful in a game where the officials were allowing a lot of contact between defensive backs and receivers on both sides. The game was everything but over when the Cougars, down 27-17, punted with 2:15 left on fourth down with 33 yards to go. Halliday was limping after taking a hit and the Cougars conceded the unlikely play in favor of an unlikely pair of stops and scores. Washington State was without a number of players and subbed in freshman cornerback Pat Porter when Charleston White left the game after breaking up a third-down pass. The WSU secondary already starts three freshmen, including White, and the Cardinal depth became apparent late in the physical contest. But as the postgame fireworks bombarded a tiny tent outside Stanford Stadium, Leach sat and refused to acknowledge that his team of underclassmen couldn’t have traded blows with Stanford’s giants. “We’ve got to quit being young,” Leach said. “Part of young is young but the other part’s a state of mind we’ve got to come out of that. … The opportunity we have, we have to go play the best we can and we don’t have time to grow up.” The Cougars (2-5, 1-3) have set national records in the last two weeks and they’ve gone toe-to-toe for most of four quarters against the two-time defending Pac-12 champion Cardinal (4-2, 2-1). But they didn’t beat either of the Bay Area teams and head into their first bye week with a banged-up team and a mandate to be nearly perfect to have any chance at the postseason. “We’re on the brink of doing a lot of good things, there’s no question about it,” Leach said. “We just have to mature more quickly and part of that’s a state of mind and part of that is we as coaches have to get that out of our players.” Down 10-0 early, the Cougars put together a touchdown drive thanks to two fourth-down conversions and a 41-yard pass from Halliday to Vince Mayle. The Cougars kept it close in the second half, cutting the Stanford lead to 24-17 with just 5 minutes left in the fourth quarter. But Stanford put together a field-goal drive thanks to a key third-down pass by Kevin Hogan and a roughing-the-passer penalty. A linebacker intercepted Halliday when Isiah Myers appeared to pull up short on a route over the middle, and 10 penalties cost the Cougars. “The roughing-the-passer penalty killed us, the hands-to-the-face killed us,” Halliday said. “We’re making dumb plays. We’re not old enough to understand that, I guess.”
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