It was an injury-depleted Stanford squad that was pelted last week in a 44-6 loss at Washington. And in this weekend’s suddenly critical matchup against Washington State, the Cardinal will likely again be without two of its most important defenders.
Coach David Shaw conceded on Tuesday during the weekly Pac-12 coaches teleconference that starting cornerbacks Alijah Holder and Quenton Meeks are “most likely out” against the Cougars. Holder led the team in pass breakups before he was injured, and Meeks intercepted two passes from WSU quarterback Luke Falk in last year’s 30-28 Stanford win.
Their presence may be sorely missed against a WSU team that ranks No. 1 in the conference in total offense and No. 2 in both passing and scoring offense.
Last week, UW quarterback Jake Browning completed 15 of 21 passes for 210 yards and three touchdowns against the Cardinal, and UW played most of the game with a substantial lead. Whether the Cougars lead against the Cardinal, however, Stanford’s former backup cornerbacks can expect to be tested substantially more often in the passing game.
That said, the Cougars have set rushing records under fifth-year coach Mike Leach in consecutive games. Even in those two games, however, quarterback Luke Falk attempted 84 total passes.
“They’re running the ball with very good efficiency, and combined with their pass attack, they’re very tough to stop,” Shaw said.
Furthermore, the Cougars are starting to open up their passing attack. Even though Falk is No. 2 in the conference with 206 pass attempts, his six passes of more than 30 yards is tied for No. 7 with UCLA’s Josh Rosen.
He attempted two against the Ducks, one early in each half — clearly taking advantage of something the Oregon defense was presenting. Do not be surprised if he takes a few early shots against Stanford’s new starting corners.
Alameen Murphy and Terrance Alexander started against UW last week, and neither recorded a pass breakup.
Shaw also said that receiver Francis Owusu likely will not be healthy in time to play against WSU.
LEACH ADDRESSES KICKING WOES
When asked about the latest and most puzzling of the Cougars’ botched field goals this season, Leach suggested the problem against Oregon lay more with kicker Erik Powell and holder Kaleb Fossum than with the protection.
The 22-yard attempt, from a not-ideal angle at the left hash marks, was blocked by 6-foot-6 defensive tackle T.J. Daniel.
“It was a combination of things,” Leach said. “I don’t think we struck the ball well. I don’t think we held it well. I think our operation time was too long, and we had a little bit of leakage. But the leakage I don’t think was the issue as much as the operation.”
Powell is now 0 for 4 in field goals this year after going 20 for 26 last season. He remains perfect in 80 career extra-point kicks, and Saturday’s unsuccessful field goal was just his second career miss from inside 30 yards.
Another special-teams blunder was without much precedent this season. The Cougars had been stellar in kickoff coverage until Oregon’s Charles Nelson returned four WSU kicks for 195 yards, including a 100-yard romp for a fourth-quarter touchdown.
HOMECOMING KICKOFF SET FOR 7:30 P.M.
Washington State’s homecoming game against UCLA on Oct. 15 will kick off at 7:30 p.m. and be televised nationally on ESPN or ESPN2.
This means that five of WSU’s first six games will be played in the evening, with four of them starting at 6:30 p.m. or later.
Last year, the Cougars won a thriller against UCLA in the Rose Bowl, 31-27, when Gabe Marks caught Falk’s 21-yard touchdown pass in the end zone with three seconds left to topple the 18th-ranked Bruins.
The Lewiston (Idaho) Tribune contributed to this story.