With one of the most prolific offenses in the country taking on a Heisman Trophy caliber running back, few predicted the game between Washington State and Stanford would come down to the running ability of Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan. That's exactly what happened, however, with Hogan using his legs to erase a WSU lead and the Cougars making one too many costly mistakes to win. The No. 8 Cardinal instead escaped Pullman with a 30-28 win as a game-winning WSU field goal missed right as time expired.
Going up against a team as good as Stanford, there isn't a very big margin for error. Not only do you need to limit costly mistakes, but you need to capitalize on opportunities when they arise. Washington State did not take full advantage early on. WSU's defense was dominant early and limited the Cardinal to three first half points. That presented a golden opportunity for the Cougar offense to separate from Stanford. Instead, WSU punted on its first three possessions and failed to finish the next, instead settling for field goals.
Early in the second half, the Cougars kicked another field goal to take a 15-3 lead. At that point the Cougars had dominated the Cardinal, but instead of leading by 24 or more like they should have, the Cougars were up just 12 points.
That eventually proved to be a problem. The Cardinal started incorporating Hogan as a runner and suddenly the Cougar defense went from stifling to leaky. Hogan ripped off huge chucks of yardage -- including a 59-yard touchdown run. It changed the game and WSU did not have an adequate counter punch. Back-to-back Hogan rushing touchdowns gave Stanford it's first lead of the game.
In previous seasons, that may have been enough. The Cougars may have faded away. The officials were bad. Stanford is really good. The weather made it hard to run the offense. The excuses were all there, ready to be used. WSU didn't go out that way this time. Instead, the Cougars punched right back with a 15-play touchdown drive to re-take the lead.
Even with the fight back, WSU couldn't escape itself enough to finish the game. Leading 28-27, WSU had the ball with a chance to put the game away. Instead Falk was intercepted on a screen pass. Stanford didn't let a similar opportunity waste away. Christian McCaffrey churned the ball down the field to give Stanford the lead right back with a field goal.
The game finished in the hands of Falk and the offense. A field goal drive and the upset was WSU's. It just wasn't there. The Cougars dinked-and-dunked initially and didn't make much progress. Then, Falk connected with Dom Williams and the Cougars were in business. Erik Powell has been great all season and was nails all night, hitting his first five field goals. He needed to make number six -- a 43-yarder -- and WSU pulls the upset.
Wide right. Cardinal win 30-28. Heartbreak.
Costly mistakes, missed opportunities and a tough call -- or five -- were enough, just barely enough, to keep WSU from pulling the upset. Just barely enough is still enough, however, as Cougar fans know all too well.