STANFORD, Calif. — After opening the season with losses to lower-division Eastern Washington and Boise State, Washington State has staged a dramatic turnaround and is now overwhelming the Pac-12’s recent powerhouses.
The Cougars followed a lopsided win over Oregon that was fueled by a dominant running attack with a thorough beating of No. 15 Stanford led by the play in the trenches.
Luke Falk threw for 357 yards and four touchdowns and the defensive line shut down Christian McCaffrey and the Cardinal offense in a 42-16 victory on Saturday night.
“We had to realize there’s no good finesse teams in football,” receiver Gabe Marks said. “Even the teams you guys like to call finesse teams, they really aren’t. … We had to come back to basics and just grind it out.”
The Cougars (3-2, 2-0) held the Cardinal (3-2, 2-2) to 296 yards of offense and didn’t allow an offensive score until the final play of the game. The offensive line managed to protect Falk well enough to allow him to find his receivers downfield.
Falk connected with Tavares Martin Jr. twice in the first half and added second-half TD passes to Marks and River Cracraft to help the Cougars follow up last week’s 51-33 win over Oregon by ending an eight-game losing streak to Stanford. The Ducks and Cardinal have combined to win the past seven conference titles.
That streak is in serious jeopardy this year as the Cardinal got blown out for the second straight game, losing in back-to-back weeks for the first time in six seasons under coach David Shaw. Stanford lost 44-6 at Washington last week. The Ducks are 0-3 in conference play.
“Stanford has been the class of the conference for a while now,” Marks said. “Since I’ve been here, they’ve been a powerhouse. For us, these past two weeks have really been important to finally see the work pay off and realize our potential and becoming what we thought we would be.”
Making matters worse for the Cardinal was the fact that last year’s Heisman runner-up McCaffrey went to the locker room in the second half with an injury and didn’t return to the game. McCaffrey came back to the sideline and had his helmet on, but didn’t re-enter the game.
“There was no reason to put him in late in the game,” Shaw said. “We just left him out. We’ll see how he is during the course of the week.”
Washington State: The Cougars got their first win against a team ranked in the top 15 since knocking off No. 5 Texas in the 2003 Holiday Bowl. Falk stepped up in key spots, connecting on a 29-yard score to Martin on fourth-and-7 to make it 14-3 in the second quarter. After letting Stanford back into the game with an interception that Frank Buncom returned for a TD, Falk hit Marks for a score on third-and-goal from the 17 to make it 28-10.
Stanford: The Cardinal offense struggled to do anything as the offensive line was dominated in the trenches and Ryan Burns missed on chances for a few big plays. McCaffrey was held to 35 yards on eight carries and one catch for 5 yards. Stanford allowed four sacks after giving up eight last week and the only big play came on a 44-yard pass to Michael Rector on the final play of the first half. Shaw said the Cardinal missed four potential TD passes and the offense didn’t reach the end zone until the final play. Even the usually reliable Conrad Ukropina missed two field goals.
“So we’ve got to hit those opportunities.” Shaw said. “You know, it’s not just one of those. We’ve got to hit multiple. If those things are there, we’ve got to hit them.”
Cougars coach Mike Leach didn’t want to blame a couple of false starts on the noise, even if he did say the public address speakers were especially loud.
“It was loud and it sounded good,” he said. “I thought they played good music, too. I mean, some of the music I could do without, but I thought Stanford has great taste in music. Who would have thunk it?”
Stanford should plummet again after dropping eight spots last week in the AP Top 25 poll .
Washington State: The Cougars return home to host UCLA.
Stanford: The Cardinal take a break from conference play to travel to struggling Notre Dame (2-4).
AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org
This story has been corrected to fix Washington State’s conference record to 2-0.