When non-conference play ended, it was pretty much anticipated that the Cougars would be 2-1. Anything less would be cause for serious concern and going 3-0 would require an upset victory over Auburn on the road. The Cougars were expected to be 2-1, and that's just where they are as Pac-10 play begins with Stanford.
The Cardinal, meanwhile, is 0-3 and struggling badly. Graduation has weakened the Stanford defense while injuries have decimated the offensive skill positions. The spiffy new Stanford stadium already has tumbleweeds blowing through the vacant seats during games, and grumblings have started regarding Coach Walt Harris and whether he's the right man for the job. Nevertheless, Stanford never fails to give the Cougars trouble. Last year, the Cougars came out less than flat against Stanford in Pullman and gave up an ugly loss without ever holding the lead.
The Pac-10 schedule is going to be tough, and Stanford looks to be the easiest game on the list. Every game is a must win – yadda yadda – but this one is a "must MUST win." The Cougars need to find at least four Pac-10 wins between now and the final gun at the Apple Cup and it doesn't look like it will be easy. Stanford is not looking good and offers a prime opportunity to snag a third win before the Cougs host USC in Pullman. Here's our CougZone Keys to the Game:
1) Limit Trent Edwards: Edwards is the Cardinal's most talented player and most effective offensive weapon. He can throw, he can scramble, he can do a lot of things to hurt you. At the same time, right now he's about the only proven threat on Stanford's offense. He has NFL skills, but last year the Cougars made him look like a first round draft pick as he picked the secondary apart and ran for positive yards at will. This year's defense looks better, but they need to prove it Saturday. Edwards will do some good things because he's flat out good, but the Cougars need to contain him and prevent him having a banner game like last season.
2) Find success with the run: After running the ball very well against both Auburn and Idaho, the Cougars found their running game basically stuffed by Baylor last Saturday. Negative yards in the first half, 51 net yards on the game – those are not good numbers. If the Cougs go one-dimensional again, it could give Stanford the edge they need to frustrate WSU's offense. Stanford has been giving up rushing yards in bunches so far. The Cougars need to get the ground game going and take advantage of Stanford's generous run defense. This might be a tough one given the injuries to Bobby Byrd and Dan Rowlands, losses that deplete an already thin O-line.
3) Attitude: After the Baylor game, Coach Bill Doba said he had been worried the Cougs might be flat because he didn't like the way the team had traveled to the game. Not so much logistics as focus. The results were obvious on the field as the Cougars very nearly gave up an upset and sputtered offensively for much of the game. That was just a little trip cross state to Seattle. If the Cougars go all the way to Palo Alto and have the same degree of focus or lack thereof, Stanford is still a Pac-10 team and has the potential to make WSU pay. The Cougar players need to use the Baylor game as a wake-up call and come into the new Stanford stadium ready to play.