Stanford football marches onto Seattle to battle WSU

Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinal don't seem to have lost a step on their way to defending their Pac-12 championship. David Lombardi of The Bootleg stops by to answer five questions about Stanford.

1. Watching Stanford against a quality conference opponent, what looked like the Cardinal's greatest strength in dominating the Devils?

Stanford was just physically superior to Arizona State. They carved up the Sun Devils through a pretty combination of power running, perimeter running, downfield passing, and screen passing. There was so much balance in their attack, and that really flummoxed Arizona State. On the defensive end, the Cardinal made a mockery of the Sun Devils' offensive line. As expected, ASU couldn't run the football. But they couldn't adequately protect Taylor Kelly or even their punter, either. Stanford's front seven frequently ruptured the line of scrimmage, blocking a pair of punts along the way.

2. There were many stars of Stanford's win over ASU. Who were the biggest impact players on offense and defense?

I think Devon Cajuste's impact cannot be overstated. He again brought both speed and physicality to the perimeter for Stanford. He pushed an ASU defensive back 20 yards downfield to lead the way for Kelsey Young's 33-yard end around in the first quarter. Just a couple plays later, Cajuste made a beautiful 34-yard diving reception over the middle of the field to set up a touchdown. He was simply everywhere during the Cardinal's first half run.
Defensively, I think Trent Murphy made it all tick for Stanford. He's coordinator Derek Mason's 'joker,' meaning that he can line up anywhere to confuse and intimidate opposing offenses. Josh Mauro's interception set the tone of this game. On that play, Murphy -- an outside linebacker -- collapsed the pocket by lining up over center. I'll tell you what: Stanford really did some abusive stuff to ASU in that game.

3. Stanford let Arizona State hang around near the end and forced the starters back on the field to finish the job. Was it a wise decision by Shaw to rest the starters so early against an up-tempo offense that can score quickly like ASU's?

Shaw should have at least allowed his reserves to play creatively. During his two possessions of work, back-up quarterback Evan Crower was only allowed to hand the ball off for gut runs against a goal line defense six straight times. Had Stanford not crawled into such a predictably conservative shell, the back-ups would have maintained a large lead. I think Saturday's ending will force the Cardinal rethink their fourth quarter strategy moving forward.

4. Looking around the rest of the Pac-12, who outside of Oregon looks like the most intimidating foe and biggest matchup problem for the Cardinal?

This week, Stanford is down a few pieces as they play a pass-happy Washington State team, so this next game shouldn't be overlooked. But it's the showdowns with Washington and UCLA that really loom large in October. Those teams are both athletic and balanced, and they obviously pose a threat given the high level of football we've seen from them so far. I'm not forgetting about Oregon State, either. Reser Stadium is a tough place to play, especially in Halloween season.

5. Stanford played a very close matchup against WSU last year when they were still really struggling as a team. What concerns you the most about the improved Cougars and could you envision a close game?

That 24-17 Stanford win was Josh Nunes' last full game as the Cardinal's starter. Kevin Hogan entered the following week and Stanford magically transformed from a 7-5 team to a Rose Bowl champion. Despite 2012's close score, Stanford's defense was excellent against Washington State last year. They allowed -16 rushing yards and sacked Jeff Tuel 10 times. If the Cardinal can actually be productive offensively this time around, they should be able to really curtail the Cougars' passing attack given extra rest on the defensive end. Stanford's secondary issues (Ed Reynolds suspended for a half, Barry Browning likely hurt) are concerning against a team expected to throw the ball 60 times, though. Washington State also appears to have improved immensely on the defensive side of the ball (only 17 points allowed their past three games), so Stanford will have to bring solid execution to the hostile environment of CenturyLink Field.

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