WSU quarterback Connor Halliday is coming off a record-breaking 734-yard performance, but it will be much tougher sledding against Stanford on Friday night. The Cardinal feature the top-ranked defense in S&P+ and allowing an average of 8.6 points per game.
Stanford's ability to stop opponents in the backfield has been key to its success. The Cardinal have averaged 7.2 tackles for loss per game so far, tied for 17th-most in the country.
The Cougars faced the top team in TFL two games ago, and Utah sacked Halliday three times as part of nine total TFL. The good news? That total was actually lower than Utah's average of more than 10 per game.
But still don't expect as clean a pocket as Halliday had against Cal last Saturday, where he dropped back 73 times without a sack. Stanford will get in the backfield, especially with linebackers.
The team's top sack-getter is sophomore Peter Kalambayi with four in just five games. Kalambayi likely owes some of his pass rushing skills to his ability to carry on in distracting situations:
College is weird.
Of course, Stanford isn't one of the best defenses in the country simply because it can get into the backfield. Inside linebacker Blake Martinez leads the Cardinal in tackles with 37, and he may be one of the last college football players (who don't go to the NFL) to experience this feeling:
Finally I am officially in a video game!!! Such a cool accomplishment!! And many more to achieve! http://t.co/n4RXr9UDyt— Blake Martinez (@Big_Blake4) July 10, 2013
Miss you, NCAA football video game. Especially since WSU was coming off a bowl and for once might not have been obnoxiously terrible.
On the back end, Jordan Richards leads a secondary that has helped Stanford to the 4th-best passing S&P. Richards is the team's solo tackles leader with 21 - along with 2.5 TFL and an interception.
But Richards is the only Stanford defensive back with an interception this season, and the team has just four overall. That could be a good sign for WSU, or it also could show just how good Stanford has been straight up on defense. The Cardinal been dominant without turnovers.
It's not as if opponent passes are flying about totally without harassment. Cornerback Wayne Lyons leads the team with three passes defensed.
Its time for a good ol episode of the Fresh Prince on Netflix! !— Wayne Lyons (@wlyons21) September 20, 2014
WSU's Air Raid offense is performing at its highest level since Leach's arrival, but there's no denying that Stanford is the best defense the Cougars have faced. That might mean two things: This will be a true test as to how far the Cougs have come with Halliday in charge OR it won't be much of good measuring stick, because the Cardinal are so absurdly good on defense that to expect another major offensive explosion is probably asking a little much.
If (and that's a big if) the Cougs put up three touchdowns on Friday night, it should probably be considered a success - and given how Stanford's offense has performed it may be enough to give WSU a shot to win.