Cougars come to The Farm to face a Cardinal team eager to pick up their first win of the season
Editor's note: On Friday afternoon, the Pac-12 announced that Saturday night's scheduled game between Washington State and Stanford had been canceled due to COVID-19 concerns with the Cougars' roster.
The Cougars (1-1) are not going to make things easy for the struggling Cardinal. Washington State remains explosive on offense under new head coach Nick Rolovich and brings a more balanced attack than it did under Mike Leach. Frequent passing is still a staple of the run-and-shoot, but the Cougars also have legitimate playmakers in the run game. Senior running back Deon McIntosh ranks third in the Pac-12 in total rushing yardage with 239 yards.
The Cardinal (0-2) are still trying to create a more balanced attack on offense. Stanford showed more life in the passing game with Davis Mills back in action. Mills led the Cardinal on a pair of long fourth-quarter touchdown drives in a 35-32 loss to Colorado last weekend. The senior quarterback missed Stanford's opener against Oregon because of COVID-19 test results. With him back on the field, the Cardinal were able to move the ball and threaten late.
Stanford leads the series 40-29-1. Washington State has beaten the Cardinal four straight seasons. The Cougars are looking for their fifth straight win in the series for the first time since running off eight consecutive victories over Stanford from 1957 to 1964.
Washington State at Stanford
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 21 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Stanford -2.0
When Washington State Has the Ball
The Cougars have shed some of their one-dimensional tendencies on offense this season. Washington State is delivering a more balanced attack split between the run and the pass game. It bodes well for the Cougars going forward.
Deon McIntosh has been a revelation at running back. He's had two of the three highest single-game rushing totals of his career in the first two games of the season. McIntosh is averaging 7.0 yards per carry and is tied for second in Pac-12 with 10 plays of 10-plus yards after coming into the season with fewer than 500 career rushing yards. His breakout performance has helped Washington State survive Max Borghi's absence in the backfield.
Jayden de Laura is already showing signs of becoming the next star quarterback to roll through Pullman but Wazzu must make do without him on Saturday after testing positive for COVID-19 earlier this week. It will be tough to overcome his absence, as de Laura, a true freshman, has thrown for 548 yards and four touchdowns while completing 59.7 percent of his passes in his first two games while taking all of the snaps thus far. Redshirt sophomore Cammon Cooper could end up getting his first start at quarterback. He will at least have Renard Bell and Travell Harris to throw to. The two wide receivers have combined for 419 yards and four touchdowns and are sure to test the Cardinal secondary with their speed and nose for the ball, provided the new quarterback can get it to them.
When Stanford Has the Ball
The Cardinal have shown a split personality on offense. Stanford ran well against Oregon in the opener and struggled to run against Colorado. It worked out the opposite way with the passing game. The Cardinal were average through the air against the Ducks and then excelled in that area against the Buffaloes a week later.
Keeping Davis Mills on the field will go a long way toward establishing consistency. Mills threw for 327 yards and a touchdown against Colorado. He only completed 55.4 percent of his passes in his first game back. A better running attack this week should help improve the accuracy. Mills attempted 56 passes against the Buffaloes largely while trying to rally his team from a 19-point fourth-quarter deficit.
Austin Jones and Nathaniel Peat were ineffective in the backfield against Colorado after combing for 193 rushing yards against Oregon. Jones had his first career 100-yard game against the Ducks only to manage nine yards on nine carries against the Buffaloes. Peat went from totaling 93 yards on the ground against Oregon to gaining 21 yards on five carries against Colorado. If both players can find their week one form, it will make a huge difference in Stanford's ability to dominate possession like the Cardinal teams of the past could do well.
Washington State has had Stanford's number for the past few seasons and seems to be in a prime position to extend its winning streak in the series. The Cardinal have struggled with converting third downs and also can't get off the field defensively on third downs. It has led to slow starts and large deficits in both of their games so far. The Cougars are clicking on offense and, even with their starting quarterback out, as long as their defense can get enough stops, they will have enough of an edge to best Stanford again.
Prediction: Washington State 31, Stanford 28
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports, and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.