STANFORD, Calif. - In a sign of how far Stanford has come since coach Jim Harbaugh arrived four years ago, a conference win that made the Cardinal bowl eligible was viewed with more disappointment than elation.
Andrew Luck threw for 190 yards and three touchdowns and No. 12 Stanford withstood three fourth quarter touchdown passes from Jeff Tuel to beat Washington State, 38-28, on Saturday to post its best record after seven games in 40 years.
“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.”
The Cougars (1-7, 0-5 Pacific-10 Conference) lost for the third week in a row to a ranked opponent, following losses to Oregon and Arizona. Washington State has lost 16 straight games against Football Bowl Subdivision teams and 14 straight in the Pac-10.
Tuel went 21-for-28 for 298 yards and four touchdown passes. He also threw interceptions on the first possessions of both halves, leading to Stanford touchdowns.
The third-quarter turnover came after the Cougars forced Stanford into its first punt of the game to open the second half and then drove into Cardinal territory with a chance to make the game competitive.
But on third-and-12 from Stanford’s 34, Tuel’s pass over the middle was tipped by linebacker Shayne Skov and landed in safety Taylor Skaufel’s hands for his first career interception.
“Turnovers hurt us,” Washington State coach Paul Wulff said. “I thought we came out in the second half and fought. I think the key moment was the turnover on our first drive, and then in the second half, we’re heading down (the field) and we turn it over. That was tough.”
Stanford was not sharp early in its first game back from a bye week in front of a half-filled stadium. The Cardinal settled for a field goal on their first drive despite taking over at the WSU 7 following an interception by two-way star Owen Marecic.
The Cardinal’s Stepfan Taylor ran for 142 yards and two touchdowns for the Cardinal (6-1, 3-1 Pac-10), who hadn’t won six of seven to open a season since Heisman Trophy winner Jim Plunkett helped them do it in 1970 on the way to the Rose Bowl.
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.”
Luck went 20-for-28 with touchdown passes to Ryan Whalen, Doug Baldwin and Coby Fleener – the fourth time this season he’s thrown for at least three TDs.