Sports

Pass-happy Cougars may present problem for Stanford

 

Knowing that Washington State's record-setting quarterback Connor Halliday will throw the ball about 75 percent of the time won't made defending him any easier.

It will, however, give Stanford's defensive backs the challenge of the season.

"The ball is going to be thrown around a lot," Cardinal strong safety Jordan Richards said. "There's going to be a lot of opportunities for the defensive backs. It's exciting when you know the ball will be in the air."

Friday night's 6 p.m. kickoff (ESPN) between the 25th-ranked Cardinal (1-1 Pac-12, 3-2 overall) and unranked Cougars (1-2, 2-4) pits the top passing offense in the universe against the nation's second-best passing defense.

It's either going to be a dream matchup or a nightmarish experience for Richards and his teammates in the secondary.

"Our first responsibility is the pass," Richards said. "We'll show up in the run game when needed, but they also use their running backs in the passing game a lot."

Halliday threw for a FBS-record 734 yards in Washington State's 60-59 loss to California last weekend in Pullman. He completed 49 of his 70 pass attempts, six for touchdowns and zero for interceptions.

East Palo Alto resident Devonte McClain, who attended College of San Mateo, is one of the linemen charged with protecting Halliday. He's listed second on the Cougars depth chart at left guard.

Halliday, the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week, has thrown for 1,151 yards in his past two games combined, better than 53 FBS teams have done for the season. His season total of 3,052 yards puts him on pace to eclipse B.J. Symons (5,833) as the single-season passing yardage leader in FBS history. Symons, who set the record in 2003 at Texas Tech, also was coached by WSU head coach Mike Leach.

"He's better," Stanford coach David Shaw said of Halliday, who is averaging 508.7 passing yards a game. "He gets the ball out quicker and is seeing the field faster. He's fully trained in their offense. He has a quick, tight release and his throws are accurate. He can play in any offense."

The Cougars average 523 passing yards per game while Stanford allows just 107.4 passing yards. The Cardinal, however, allowed Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson to throw for 241 yards in its 17-14 loss to the Irish last weekend. Golson only threw the ball 43 times, completing 20 of them.

Halliday presents even more of a problem, as the Cougars tend to use wholesale substitutions to keep receivers fresh. They have four ranked among the top 25 in receiving yardage.

"It's like a hockey line change," Richards said. "Four come in, four go out."

The pace of Washington State's game is also hockey-like. Stanford will have to match the Cougars with its own constant reinforcements in the secondary. Fortunately for the Cardinal, strong safety Kodi Whitfield and cornerback Ra'Chard Pippens appear to be fully recovered and ready to play in a game that will produce its own set of fireworks far earlier than the scheduled postgame fireworks show. Tell the folks not to wait up, it's going to be a long evening.

"I feel bad for their running backs," Stanford running back Remound Wright said. "They don't get to run the ball. Every running back loves to carry the ball."

Washington State's rushing attack actually outperformed Stanford's rushing attack last week. The Cougars gained 78 yards on the ground on 25 carries. The Cardinal managed 47 yards on 32 carries. Wright had 29 of those yards.

It was Stanford's lowest rushing total since being held to a minus-8 on the ground in a 23-6 loss at Oregon State on Oct. 27, 2007.

Washington State averages 38 points a game. Stanford has allowed fewer than 30 points in each of its past 28 games, the longest active streak in the nation. The Cardinal has allowed 20 or fewer in each of the past 13 games.

Stanford scores at a rate of 24.8 points a game, while leading the nation in scoring defense, allowing 8.6 points.

You might get the feeling Washington State will be more than happy to skew those numbers.

Of course, the Cougars can give almost as well as they can take, giving up 35.2 points and 438.2 yards a game. In last year's meeting, Stanford rolled up 55 points and 560 total yards.

The Cardinal owns a six-game winning streak in the series and will seek to improve to 9-0 following a loss under Shaw.

Stanford has not lost consecutive games since midway through the 2009 season and has won 39 of its past 43 home games.

Stanford plays at home for the first time in nearly a month and for the first time while school is in session. The players will wear all-black uniforms on Friday.

The Cardinal has been ranked in the AP top 25 poll for a school-record 71 consecutive week, which dates to September of 2010.

Kevin Hogan's next touchdown pass will match him with John Paye (38) for seventh on Stanford's all-time list. Paye currently helps the football program at his alma mater Menlo School.

Hogan is expected to start on Friday after playing against Notre Dame with a leg injury.

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