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WSU vs. Stanford football preview: Chase Thomas and the Cardinal defense

The WSU Air Raid attack will face one of the best defenses in the country on Saturday.

Jonathan Daniel

The WSU Cougars visit the Stanford Cardinal at 3:15 p.m. PT on Saturday afternoon. The game will be televised on Pac-12 Networks as Mike Leach and Washington State try to solve a stout Cardinal defense.

No sense in wasting time, straight to the depressing charts:


Stanford's defense is good. Like fifth-best in the country in S&P good. Those looking for some improvement in the Cougar offense as the players adapt to the Air Raid might want to look past this game, especially considering how well the Cardinal have done against the pass. Stanford is No. 5 in passing S&P, 55.5 percent better than average. WSU's passing game has been almost 11.4 percent worse than the mean, so this isn't a match-up many would consider "favorable."

The Cardinal are led by 34th-year senior Chase Thomas, who leads the team with 45 tackles, to go along with 10.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. Sophomore Jordan Richards leads the defensive backfield with 36 tackles, two interceptions, and eight pass breakups.

The Cougar offense has been among the worst in the naton at generating successful plays, and Stanford has made all of their opponents look just as bad, as the chart below shows.


Again, the only thing the WSU offense is good at is performance on passing downs. The Cougs are improving on every other down, as their success rate jumped from before the Cal game. That shouldn't come as a surprise, as Jeff Tuel was able to complete a number of short passes to put his team in more favorable situations. If WSU can keep trending in the right direction in success rate, then better offensive output will surely follow.

Unfortunately, Stanford's defense is going to make it tough to be successful. They've been brutal on standard downs, where the Cougars have struggled the most. The Cardinal defense is almost 50% better than average on non-passing downs. WSU may need to continue their solid performance in passing situation to have a chance to move the ball in this one.

Of course, Stanford is pretty damn good on passing downs as well.

Much of Stanford's success has come from their ability to control the line of scrimmage, and force negative yardage plays.


The Cardinal get a tackle for loss once every eight plays, and are sacking the quarterback once every 15 dropbacks. That is about the same as WSU gives up. So, three sacks in 45 attempts would be a decent guess for Stanford tomorrow.

WSU might be able to deal with negative yardage plays better than some because of its performance on passing downs, but converting third and longs is not a sustainable approach. The Cougars will have to complete those quick hitters to avoid Stanford's relentless front seven.

Running will surely be difficult. The Cougars don't run much, but have been moderately successful when handing it to the backs, gaining about four yards a carry. The Cardinal have been giving up less than that per rush, so the element of surprise on the run game may be the only thing WSU has going for it tomorrow.

If there is any silver lining, it is that Stanford's one poor defensive performance on the year came against the Arizona Wildcats. Matt Scott shredded the Cardinal defense through the air with short completions, connecting on 45/69 for 491 yards and three touchdowns. Overall, Arizona put up 617 yards and 48 points on Stanford.

The Cougars' offense isn't as good as Arizona's, but if there is any hope against one of the best defenses in the country, that is where it may come from. However, it is far more likely that the WSU offense has trouble moving the ball on Saturday.