By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
It wasn't the crisp game Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh envisioned following a bye week, but he won't complain too much. After all, a win is a win no matter what you want to call it.
The 12th-ranked Cardinal football team beat visiting Washington State, 38-28, in a Pac-10 contest Saturday, giving Stanford (3-1, 6-1) its best start since 1970, a year in which the school reached the Rose Bowl.
"We wish this could have been our best game of the season," Harbaugh said. "But you're always pleased with victories and there were a lot of good things."
Stepfan Taylor rushed for 142 yards and scored twice, Andrew Luck threw for 190 yards on 20-of-28 passing and three scores as the Cardinal officially became bowl eligible for the second consecutive year.
"We got the win and a win's a win no matter how you slice it," Luck said. "But a little disappointing, a little sluggish, not sharp. I didn't feel like we ever got in a rhythm. I think that sentiment is shared by the guys on the offense. Just a little frustrated that we couldn't do better."
Stanford is at Washington next Saturday for a 4 p.m. kickoff and Harbaugh figures there's plenty of work ahead.
"We'll get back to the basics and make sure the simple stuff will get done," Harnaugh said. "We would have liked to see guys doing their job, doing what they're supposed to be doing. We did what we had to do."
Stanford took a 38-14 lead when Luck found Coby Fleener with a four-yard touchdown pass midway through the final quarter. The Cougars scored twice in the final 3:46 to make it more respectable.
On that final scoring drive for Stanford, Luck was 2-for-2 for 11 yards while Taylor and Anthony Wilkerson accounted for the 70 yards on seven plays. Wilkerson finished with 55 yards on the ground.
"He and Taylor have asserted themselves the last three or four weeks," Harbaugh said. "Late in the third quarter and the fourth quarter they were grinding it out, getting first downs and gaining yards after contact."
Cardinal receiver Ryan Whalen, who suffered a dislocated elbow, returned to the lineup, just in time to replace Chris Owusu, who missed the game with a left hand injury.
"We missed on a few plays offensively. We were a little bit sloppy there," Whalen said. "But it feels good to come back and get a win."
Whalen caught six passes for 71 yards, including a seven-yard scoring toss that gave Stanford a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. Nate Whitaker recorded his 11th field goal less than three minutes into the contest.
Doug Baldwin had five receptions for 49 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown pass. Baldwin also rushed once for 31 yards.
Whalen missed action for the first time in his career as a result of an injury.
"I'm not used to it," Whalen said. "I just tried to be the biggest leader I could."
Owen Marecic picked off his second pass of the year and Taylor Skaufel also intercepted a pass. Shayne Skov recovered a fumble and recorded a sack. Thomas Keiser also had a sack. Johnson Bademosi led Stanford with eight tackles.
The Cardinal are also eligible to go to a bowl game for the second straight season for the first time since 1995-96, but still have their goals set much higher.
"Coach Harbaugh set a standard here," Luck said. "That standard certainly isn't just being bowl eligible."